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SECOND DIVISION

A.C. No. 7250 [Formerly CBD Case No. 05-1448], April 20, 2015
ATTY. RICARDO M. ESPINA, Complainant, v. ATTY. JESUS G. CHAVEZ, Respondent.
DECISION
BRION, J.:
Before this Court is a Complaint for Disbarment/Suspension 1 that Atty. Ricardo M. Espina (Atty.
Espina) filed against Atty. Jesus G. Chavez (Atty. Chavez) with the Integrated Bar of the Philippines
(IBP) on March 23, 2005 for violation of Canon 19, Rule 19.01 of the Code of Professional
Responsibility.2

The IBP Report and Recommendation3 transmitted to this Court on May 29, 2006 recommended the
dismissal of the charge for lack of proof.

On August 28, 2006, Atty. Espina filed with this Court a Petition for Review on Certiorari4 questioning
the IBP findings. On February 28, 2007, Atty. Chavez filed his Comment on the Petition 5 in
compliance with our Resolution of December 11, 2006.
The Facts

On November 3, 2004, Atty. Espina and his law firm represented Atty. Espina's parents in an ejectment
suit filed against Remedios C. Enguio (Enguio) in the Municipal Trial Court (MTC) of Carmen, Agusan
Del Norte. Atty. Chavez who was then a Public Attorney III of the Public Attorney's Office, Regional
Office XIII, Butuan City represented Enguio. 6

On May 20, 2005, the MTC dismissed the ejectment suit for lack of cause of action. On February 13,
2007, the Regional Trial Court (RTC) affirmed the MTC decision. 7 Neither party appealed the RTC
decision.

During the pendency of the ejectment suit, Atty. Chavez committed an act apparently in his official
capacity, which prompted Atty. Espina to file his Complaint for Disbarment/Suspension with the IBP.

While the narratives of Atty. Espina and Atty. Chavez diverged on many points, the following facts are
undisputed and stipulated during the preliminary hearing before the IBP Commissioner on June 24,
2005:8
1. Atty. Espina's parents, represented by Atty. Espina, filed an ejectment complaint against Enguio,
represented by Atty. Chavez.
2. During the pendency of the ejectment case, Atty. Espina sent a letter 9 dated December 13, 2004
to the Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary captioned "Abrasive and harassment tactics of
Public Attorney IHJesus G. Chavez." The letter alleged that the Answer Atty. Chavez prepared
in the ejectment case contained offensive statements.10
3. Also while the ejectment case was pending, Atty. Chavez, as a Public Attorney, endorsed
through a letter (transmittal letter) to the Provincial Prosecutor,11 the filing of a criminal
complaint for Violation of Article 172 (Falsification by private individual and use of falsified
document) of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) against Atty. Espina, his wife (who is a partner in
his law office) and his parents.
4. The criminal complaint was based on the affidavit-complaint executed by Enguio.12 In this
affidavit-complaint, Enguio alleged that "in order to fashion a case for Ejectment, respondents
made an untruthful statement in the narration of facts (par. 4, Article 171)."

The Provincial Prosecutor dismissed the falsification complaint for lack of probable cause. 13

In the meantime, the DOJ Secretary endorsed Atty. Espina's letter captioned "Abrasive and harassment
tactics of Public Attorney III Jesus G. Chavez" to the Office of the Chief Public Attorney (Chief PAO)
for action.

The Chief PAO ordered Atty. Chavez to comment on the letter. Atty. Espina then filed his rebuttal to
Atty. Chavez's comment.

A portion of Atty. Espina's rebuttal letter reads: "Baka kulangpo ng indoctrination itong si Atty. Chavez
sa concept ng Torrens system, i-suspend nyo po muna siya not for the purpose of penalizing him but for
him to be given time to take continuing legal education on Torrens system. "

The Chief PAO, in her Resolution dated May 5, 2005, dismissed the complaint against Atty. Chavez.
The IBP Report and Recommendation14

Based on the facts and as stipulated by the parties, the IBP Commissioner distilled the issues to be
resolved as follows:
1. Whether or not PAO III Jesus G. Chavez violated Rule 19.01 of Canon 19 of the Code of
Professional Responsibility when he prepared and transmitted the complaint of Remedios
Enquio for falsification to the Provincial Prosecutor of Agusan del Norte.
2. Whether or not the complaint for falsification was an unfounded charge intended to obtain
improper advantage in a case or proceeding.

The IBP Commissioner noted that the complaint is anchored on the alleged indispensable assistance
extended by Atty. Chavez in the preparation and filing of the falsification complaint, as proven by the
transmittal letter to the Provincial Prosecutor.

The IBP Commissioner held that the preparation and transmittal of the criminal complaint to the
Provincial Prosecutor's Office is not per se an unfair and dishonest means employed by Atty. Chavez.

The IBP Commissioner found that the criminal charge endorsed by Atty. Chavez was not exactly
unfounded or wanting in basis. He observed that the complaint for ejectment contained conflicting
averments, i.e., while it is alleged that the discovery of Enguio's occupation of the disputed property
was made in November 2003, the letter demand to Enguio to vacate the property (which was attached
to the complaint) categorically stated that the defendant had been notified as early as 1997 that her
possession and/or occupation of the property was illegal.

The IBP Commissioner - based on her examination of the submitted facts and evidence - concluded
that Atty. Chavez was honestly mistaken when he construed the contradictory allegations in the
complaint for ejectment as criminal falsification under the Revised Penal Code. He noted that lawyers
are not liable for honest mistakes. He dismissed the complaint given the dearth of competent evidence
on record to substantiate Atty. Espina's allegation that the transmission of the complaint for falsification
was intended to gain an advantage in the civil complaint for ejectment.

The IBP Board of Governors adopted and approved in toto the IBP Commissioner's report and
recommendation.15
Our Ruling

We affirm the IBP Report and Recommendation.

The complaint is anchored on the alleged violation by Atty. Chavez of Canon 19, Rule 19.01 of the
Code of Professional Responsibility, viz:
Canon 1: A lawyer shall represent his client with zeal within the bounds of law.

Rule 19.01: A lawyer shall employ only fair and honest means to attain the lawful
objectives of his client and shall not present, participate in presenting or threaten to
present unfounded criminal charges to obtain an improper advantage in any case or
proceeding.

(Underscoring supplied.)

Atty. Espina contends that Atty. Chavez violated the above-quoted provisions when he indispensably
participated in the filing of the falsification complaint against him, his wife and his parents. The
falsification case was filed, according to Atty. Espina, solely for the purpose of gaining an improper
advantage and leverage in the ejectment case.16

Atty. Espina further argues that Atty. Chavez participated in the filing of the baseless criminal
complaint by (i) goading Enguio to file the criminal complaint and (ii) ensuring that the criminal
complaint was acted upon by the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor by sending the transmittal letter to
the said office under Atty. Chavez's signature.17

We find Atty. Espina's position unmeritorious and without basis.

What Rule 19.01 prohibits is the filing or the threat of filing patently frivolous and meritless appeals
or clearly groundless actions for the purpose of gaining improper advantage in any case or
proceeding.18

Two elements are indispensable before a lawyer can be deemed to have violated this rule: (i) the filing
or threat of filing a patently frivolous and meritless action or appeal and (ii) the filing or threat of filing
the action is intended to gain improper advantage in any case or proceeding.

Our jurisprudence is replete with cases on these points.

In Pena v. Atty. Aparicio,19 the lawyer sent a demand letter to his client's employer which contained
threats of filing criminal charges for tax evasion, falsification of documents and cancellation of
business license if the separation pay allegedly due to his client was not paid. The lawyer drafted the
demand letter in response to the notice to return to work sent by the employer.

We held that Atty. Aparicio did exactly what Canon 19 and its Rules prohibit. The threat to file the
cases against the employer was designed to secure leverage to compel the latter to give in to Atty.
Aparicio's demands. The letter in this case contained more than just a simple demand to pay. It
contained threat to file retaliatory charges against the complainant which had nothing to do with the
claim for separation pay. The letter was obviously designed to secure leverage to compel the employer
to yield to the client's claims. 20

In Ong v. Atty. Unto,21 we reprimanded a lawyer when he sent a demand letter which also contained the
threat of various charges against the complainant if the latter failed to comply with the lawyer's
demands. The lawyer, in fact, made good his promise when the complainant did not heed his warning.
The lawyer filed an array of criminal and administrative charges against the complainant, which
charges were irrelevant to his client's claim.

We held in Ong that:


It is evident from the records that he tried to coerce the complainant to comply with his
letter-demand by threatening to file various charges against the latter. When the
complainant did not heed his warning, he made good his threat and filed a string of criminal
and administrative cases against the complainant. We find the respondent's action to be
malicious as the cases he instituted against the complainant did not have any bearing or
connection to the cause of his client.22

In Atty. Briones v. Atty. Gimenez,23 Atty. Briones charged Atty. Gimenez (a special administrator of an
estate) for violating Rule 19.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. In this case, the Atty.
Gimenez filed a criminal complaint24 against Atty. Briones for resisting and seriously disobeying an
order of the trial court in an estate settlement proceeding, directing him (Atty. Briones) to deliver the
residue of the estate to the heirs.

We noted that before Atty. Gimenez assisted the heirs in filing the criminal complaint, he sent demand
letters to Atty. Briones to comply with the order to deliver the residue of the estate to the heirs. When
Atty. Briones did not reply to the demand letters, Atty. Gimenez filed the criminal complaint on behalf
of his clients against Atty. Briones for refusing to obey the lawful order of the court. 25

We held that Atty. Gimenez should have first filed the proper motion with the Regional Trial Court for
execution of the order instead of immediately filing the criminal complaint. We concluded that fair play
demands that Atty. Gimenez should have filed the proper motion with the Regional Trial Court to attain
his goal of having the residue of the estate delivered to his clients, instead of prematurely filing
criminal charges against Atty. Briones.26

It can be gleamed from the above-cited cases that Rule 19.01 is violated only when the criminal
complaint filed or threatened to be filed is patently frivolous, meritless and clearly groundless and is
aimed solely at gaining the sole purpose of improper advantage.

In Pena v. Atty. Aparicio, the demand letter was explicit and blatant in its threat of filing several actions
(which included tax evasion, a matter totally unrelated to the pending labor case) if the employer failed
to accede to the demand for payment of separation pay allegedly due to the employee. It was clearly
and obviously done to compel the employer to grant the demand for separation pay.

Similarly, in Ong v. Atty. Unto, the letter contained threats of criminal prosecution if the complainant
did not accede to the lawyer's demand. The lawyer subsequently filed totally unrelated and irrelevant
criminal and administrative cases against the complainant when the latter failed to comply with the
demand letter. Without doubt, these cases were filed to force the complainant to give in to the lawyer's
demands.

Finally, in Atty. Briones v. Atty. Gimenez, the criminal complaint was filed after the complainant did not
comply with the demand letter. There was also an available remedy in the civil action which could have
given effect to Atty. Gimenez's demand without having to file the criminal complaint.

The facts of the present case differed from the above-cited cases. We note that Atty. Espina did not
only fail to substantiate his allegation that Atty. Chavez masterminded the filing of the criminal
complaint for falsification; he also failed to show that the criminal complaint was patently frivolous,
meritless and groundless, and that it was filed to gain improper advantage in favor of his client.

First, the fact that Atty. Chavez endorsed the criminal complaint to the Provincial Prosecutor was, in
itself, not contrary to Rule 19.01.

We point out that Atty. Chavez was then a PAO lawyer. In this capacity, he had the duty to assist clients
who could not afford the services of a private lawyer. His assessment on the merit of the criminal
complaint might have been erroneous but the act of endorsing the affidavit-complaint to the Provincial
Prosecutor did not per se violate Rule 19.01.

Moreover, the affidavit-complaint for Falsification was signed and executed by Enguio and not by Atty.
Chavez. Atty. Chavez merely transmitted the affidavit-complaint to the Provincial Prosecutor for the
latter's consideration. We cannot conclude, solely given these facts and Atty. Espina's bare assertions,
that Enguio was goaded into filing the criminal complaint.

Second, the criminal complaint was not patently frivolous and groundless. It was not unreasonable for
Atty. Chavez to conclude (albeit incorrectly according to the assessment of the Provincial Prosecutor)
that there was a case for violation of Article 172 of the RPC.

Article 172 in relation to paragraph 4 of Article 171 of the RPC penalizes the making of untruthful
statements in a narration of facts. The basis of Enguio's affidavit-complaint was the contrary statements
in the ejectment complaint on when Atty. Espina's parents acquired knowledge of Enguio's alleged
illegal possession of the property.

The body of the ejectment complaint alleged that the plaintiffs discovered Enguio's illegal possession in
November 2003. On the other hand, the letter attached to the complaint explicitly indicated that Enguio
has been notified as early as 1997 that her possession and occupation of the land was illegal. This
explains Enguio's allegation in her affidavit-complaint that "in order to fashion a case for Ejectment,
respondent made an untruthful statement in the narration of facts."

As the IBP Commissioner correctly observed, the criminal complaint was not exactly unfounded or
wanting in basis. That it was later dismissed by the Provincial Prosecutor for lack of probable cause is
of no consequence. We cannot expect and require Atty. Chavez (or any lawyer for that matter) to be
infallible in his judgment on the merit of every criminal charge he endorses to the prosecutor. It is only
required that the complaint is not patently frivolous and filed solely to ensure improper advantage.

It is also unwise to characterize every criminal complaint that arose from or is connected with a
separate case or proceeding to be within the coverage of Rule 19.01. The better policy is to balance the
prohibition under Rule 19.01 with the equally important right of the State to prosecute criminal
offenses. We stress that the key test is whether the criminal complaint is patently meritless and clearly
filed to gain improper advantage.

Unless the criminal complaint is patently frivolous and obviously meant to secure an improper
advantage, a lawyer who files such criminal complaint should not be automatically deemed to have
violated Rule 19.01. Otherwise, lawyers who have a valid cause for filing a criminal action may be
compelled not to proceed because of fear of administrative sanctions.

Finally, unlike in the cases cited above, there is no clear and concrete proof that the falsification
complaint was filed to ensure improper advantage to Enguio.

Other than the fact that the falsification complaint arose from the narration of facts in the ejectment
complaint, Atty. Espina failed to show that the falsification complaint was meant to ensure improper
advantage to Enguio. Atty. Espina merely made this conclusion by inference but his basic premises
were not supported by evidence. We cannot presume that Enguio gained or stood to gain improper
advantage to the detriment of Atty. Espina's parents by the mere filing of the falsification complaint.
After all, both the ejectment and falsification complaints were eventually dismissed.

As a final point, we note with concern the excessive antagonism between Atty. Espina and Atty.
Chavez. It appears that this case is no longer about the alleged violation of the Code of Professional
Responsibility but a protracted and bitter fight between brothers in the legal profession. Both claim that
the other party is arrogant and ignorant of the law. The pleadings contained serious attacks on the
professional competence and personal integrity of one another. These are acts that this Court should not
allow to pass without comments.

We take this occasion to remind lawyers of their duties to their professional colleagues. Rule 8.01 of
Canon 8 of the Code of Professional Responsibility is clear: a lawyer shall not, in his professional
dealings, use language which is abusive, offensive or otherwise improper.

While the fervor shown by Atty. Espina and Atty. Chavez in defending their clients' respective claims
has been admirable, we find it unfortunate that they allowed their personal animosity and bruised egos
to affect their handling of these cases.

Although we dismiss the present complaint because of lack of merit, we strongly warn both counsels
that any future infraction of the Code of Professional Responsibility may warrant actual penalty.

WHEREFORE, premises considered, we hereby AFFIRM the recommendation of the Integrated Bar
of the Philippines and DISMISS the Disbarment/Suspension complaint against ATTY. JESUS G.
CHAVEZ. At the same time, we warn both counsels about their use of intemperate language in their
pleadings and in dealing with one another.

SO ORDERED.
Carpio, (Chairperson), Del Castillo, Mendoza, and Leonen, JJ., concur.

THIRD DIVISION

EVANGELINA MASMUD (as substitute


complainant for ALEXANDER J.
MASMUD),
G.R. No. 183385
Present:
Petitioner,
YNARES-SANTIAGO, J.,
- versus -
Chairperson,
NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS
COMMISSION (First Division) and ATTY. AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ,
ROLANDO B. GO, JR.,
CHICO-NAZARIO,
Respondents.
NACHURA, and

PERALTA, JJ.

Promulgated:

February 13, 2009

x------------------------------------------------------------------------------------x
RESOLUTION
NACHURA, J.:
Before the Court is a petition for review on certiorari[1] assailing the Decision[2] dated
October 31, 2007 and the Resolution dated June 6, 2008 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in
CA-G.R. SP No. 96279.
The facts of the case are as follows:

On July 9, 2003, Evangelina Masmuds (Evangelina) husband, the late Alexander J.


Masmud (Alexander), filed a complaint[3] against First Victory Shipping Services and
Angelakos (Hellas) S.A. for non-payment of permanent disability benefits, medical
expenses, sickness allowance, moral and exemplary damages, and attorneys fees.
Alexander engaged the services of Atty. Rolando B. Go, Jr. (Atty. Go) as his counsel.

In consideration of Atty. Gos legal services, Alexander agreed to pay attorneys fees on a
contingent basis, as follows: twenty percent (20%) of total monetary claims as settled or
paid and an additional ten percent (10%) in case of appeal. It was likewise agreed that
any award of attorneys fees shall pertain to respondents law firm as compensation.

On November 21, 2003, the Labor Arbiter (LA) rendered a Decision granting the
monetary claims of Alexander. The dispositive portion of the decision, as quoted in the
CA Decision, reads:

WHEREFORE, foregoing considered, judgment is rendered finding the [First Victory Shipping
Services and Angelakos (Hellas) S.A.] jointly and severally liable to pay [Alexanders] total permanent
disability benefits in the amount of US$60,000.00 and his sickness allowance of US$2,348.00, both in
Philippine currency at the prevailing rate of exchange at the time of payment; and to pay further the
amount of P200,000.00 as moral damages, P100,000.00 as exemplary damages and attorneys fees
equivalent to ten percent (10%) of the total monetary award.
[Alexanders] claim for payment of medical expenses is dismissed for lack of basis.
SO ORDERED.[4]
Alexanders employer filed an appeal before the National Labor Relations Commission
(NLRC). During the pendency of the proceedings before the NLRC, Alexander died.
After explaining the terms of the lawyers fees to Evangelina, Atty. Go caused her
substitution as complainant. On April 30, 2004, the NLRC rendered a Decision
dismissing the appeal of Alexanders employer. The employer subsequently filed a
motion for reconsideration. The NLRC denied the same in an Order dated October 26,
2004.

On appeal before the CA, the decision of the LA was affirmed with modification. The
award of moral and exemplary damages was deleted.[5] Alexanders employers filed a
petition for certiorari[6] before this Court. On February 6, 2006, the Court issued a
Resolution dismissing the case for lack of merit.

Eventually, the decision of the NLRC became final and executory. Atty. Go moved for
the execution of the NLRC decision, which was later granted by the LA. The surety
bond of the employer was garnished. Upon motion of Atty. Go, the surety company
delivered to the NLRC Cashier, through the NLRC Sheriff, the check amounting to
P3,454,079.20. Thereafter, Atty. Go moved for the release of the said amount to
Evangelina.

On January 10, 2005, the LA directed the NLRC Cashier to release the amount of
P3,454,079.20 to Evangelina. Out of the said amount, Evangelina paid Atty. Go the sum
of P680,000.00.

Dissatisfied, Atty. Go filed a motion to record and enforce the attorneys lien alleging that
Evangelina reneged on their contingent fee agreement. Evangelina paid only the amount
of P680,000.00, equivalent to 20% of the award as attorneys fees, thus, leaving a
balance of 10%, plus the award pertaining to the counsel as attorneys fees.

In response to the motion filed by Atty. Go, Evangelina filed a comment with motion to
release the amount deposited with the NLRC Cashier. In her comment, Evangelina
manifested that Atty. Gos claim for attorneys fees of 40% of the total monetary award
was null and void based on Article 111 of the Labor Code.

On February 14, 2005, the LA issued an Order[7] granting Atty. Gos motion, the fallo of
which reads:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, and further considering the substitute complainants initial
payment of 20% to movant-counsel of the monetary claims as paid, let the balance or unpaid twenty
(20%) per cent of attorneys fees due movant-counsel (or the amount of P839,587.39) be recorded as
lien upon all the monies that may still be paid to substitute complainant Evangelina Masmud.
Accordingly, the NLRC Cashier is directed to pay movant-counsel the amount of P677,589.96 which is
currently deposited therein to partially satisfy the lien.
SO ORDERED.[8]
Evangelina questioned the February 14, 2005 Order of the LA before the NLRC. On
January 31, 2006, the NLRC issued a Resolution[9] dismissing the appeal for lack of
merit.

Evangelina then elevated the case to the CA via a petition for certiorari.[10] On October
31, 2007, the CA rendered a Decision[11] partially granting the petition. The dispositive
portion of the decision reads:

WHEREFORE, the petition is PARTIALLY GRANTED. The Resolutions dated January 31, 2006
and July 18, 2006 are hereby AFFIRMED with MODIFICATION in that the Attorneys fees of
respondent Atty. Rolando B. Go, Jr. is declared fully compensated by the amount of P1,347,950.11 that
he has already received.
SO ORDERED.[12]
Evangelina filed a motion for reconsideration. However, on June 6, 2008, the CA issued
a Resolution[13] denying the motion for reconsideration for lack of merit.

Hence, the instant petition.

Evangelina presented this issue, viz.:

THE COURT OF APPEALS COMMITTED SERIOUS AND REVERSIBLE ERROR OF LAW IN ITS
DECISION DATED 31 OCTOBER 2007 AND RESOLUTION DATED 6 JUNE 2008 INSOFAR AS
IT UPHOLDS RESPONDENT LAWYERS CLAIM OF FORTY PERCENT (40%) OF THE
MONETARY AWARD IN A LABOR CASE AS ATTORNEYS FEES.[14]
In effect, petitioner seeks affirmance of her conviction that the legal compensation of a
lawyer in a labor proceeding should be based on Article 111 of the Labor Code.

There are two concepts of attorney's fees. In the ordinary sense, attorney's fees represent
the reasonable compensation paid to a lawyer by his client for the legal services
rendered to the latter. On the other hand, in its extraordinary concept, attorney's fees may
be awarded by the court as indemnity for damages to be paid by the losing party to the
prevailing party,[15] such that, in any of the cases provided by law where such award
can be made, e.g., those authorized in Article 2208 of the Civil Code, the amount is
payable not to the lawyer but to the client, unless they have agreed that the award shall
pertain to the lawyer as additional compensation or as part thereof.[16]
Here, we apply the ordinary concept of attorneys fees, or the compensation that Atty. Go
is entitled to receive for representing Evangelina, in substitution of her husband, before
the labor tribunals and before the court.

Evangelina maintains that Article 111 of the Labor Code is the law that should govern
Atty. Gos compensation as her counsel and assiduously opposes their agreed retainer
contract.

Article 111 of the said Code provides:

ART. 111. Attorney's fees. (a) In cases of unlawful withholding of wages the culpable party may be
assessed attorney's fees equivalent to ten percent of the amount of the wages recovered.
Contrary to Evangelinas proposition, Article 111 of the Labor Code deals with the
extraordinary concept of attorneys fees. It regulates the amount recoverable as attorney's
fees in the nature of damages sustained by and awarded to the prevailing party. It may
not be used as the standard in fixing the amount payable to the lawyer by his client for
the legal services he rendered.[17]

In this regard, Section 24, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court should be observed in
determining Atty. Gos compensation. The said Rule provides:

SEC. 24. Compensation of attorney's; agreement as to fees. An attorney shall be entitled to have and
recover from his client no more than a reasonable compensation for his services, with a view to the
importance of the subject matter of the controversy, the extent of the services rendered, and the
professional standing of the attorney. No court shall be bound by the opinion of attorneys as expert
witnesses as to the proper compensation, but may disregard such testimony and base its conclusion on
its own professional knowledge. A written contract for services shall control the amount to be paid
therefor unless found by the court to be unconscionable or unreasonable.[18]
The retainer contract between Atty. Go and Evangelina provides for a contingent fee.
The contract shall control in the determination of the amount to be paid, unless found by
the court to be unconscionable or unreasonable.[19] Attorney's fees are unconscionable
if they affront one's sense of justice, decency or reasonableness.[20] The decree of
unconscionability or unreasonableness of a stipulated amount in a contingent fee
contract will not preclude recovery. It merely justifies the fixing by the court of a
reasonable compensation for the lawyer's services.[21]
The criteria found in the Code of Professional Responsibility are also to be considered in
assessing the proper amount of compensation that a lawyer should receive. Canon 20,
Rule 20.01 of the said Code provides:

CANON 20 A LAWYER SHALL CHARGE ONLY FAIR AND REASONABLE FEES.


Rule 20.01. A lawyer shall be guided by the following factors in determining his fees:
(a) The time spent and the extent of the services rendered or required;
(b) The novelty and difficulty of the question involved;
(c) The importance of the subject matter;
(d) The skill demanded;
(e) The probability of losing other employment as a result of acceptance of the proffered case;
(f) The customary charges for similar services and the schedule of fees of the IBP Chapter to which he
belongs;
(g) The amount involved in the controversy and the benefits resulting to the client from the service;
(h) The contingency or certainty of compensation;
(i) The character of the employment, whether occasional or established; and
(j) The professional standing of the lawyer.
Contingent fee contracts are subject to the supervision and close scrutiny of the court in
order that clients may be protected from unjust charges.[22] The amount of contingent
fees agreed upon by the parties is subject to the stipulation that counsel will be paid for
his legal services only if the suit or litigation prospers. A much higher compensation is
allowed as contingent fees because of the risk that the lawyer may get nothing if the suit
fails.[23] The Court finds nothing illegal in the contingent fee contract between Atty. Go
and Evangelinas husband. The CA committed no error of law when it awarded the
attorneys fees of Atty. Go and allowed him to receive an equivalent of 39% of the
monetary award.

The issue of the reasonableness of attorney's fees is a question of fact. Well-settled is the
rule that conclusions and findings of fact of the CA are entitled to great weight on appeal
and will not be disturbed except for strong and cogent reasons which are absent in the
case at bench. The findings of the CA, which are supported by substantial evidence, are
almost beyond the power of review by the Supreme Court.[24]
Considering that Atty. Go successfully represented his client, it is only proper that he
should receive adequate compensation for his efforts. Even as we agree with the
reduction of the award of attorney's fees by the CA, the fact that a lawyer plays a vital
role in the administration of justice emphasizes the need to secure to him his honorarium
lawfully earned as a means to preserve the decorum and respectability of the legal
profession. A lawyer is as much entitled to judicial protection against injustice or
imposition of fraud on the part of his client as the client is against abuse on the part of
his counsel. The duty of the court is not alone to ensure that a lawyer acts in a proper
and lawful manner, but also to see that a lawyer is paid his just fees. With his capital
consisting of his brains and with his skill acquired at tremendous cost not only in money
but in expenditure of time and energy, he is entitled to the protection of any judicial
tribunal against any attempt on the part of his client to escape payment of his just
compensation. It would be ironic if after putting forth the best in him to secure justice
for his client, he himself would not get his due.[25]

WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the Decision dated October 31, 2007 and the
Resolution dated June 6, 2008 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 96279 are
hereby AFFIRMED.

SO ORDERED.
SECOND DIVISION
[A.C. No. 5108. May 26, 2005]
ROSA F. MERCADO, complainant, vs. ATTY. JULITO D. VITRIOLO, respondent.
DECISION
PUNO, J.:
Rosa F. Mercado filed the instant administrative complaint against Atty. Julito D. Vitriolo, seeking his
disbarment from the practice of law. The complainant alleged that respondent maliciously instituted a
criminal case for falsification of public document against her, a former client, based on confidential
information gained from their attorney-client relationship.
Let us first hearken to the facts.
Complainant is a Senior Education Program Specialist of the Standards Development Division, Office
of Programs and Standards while respondent is a Deputy Executive Director IV of the Commission on
Higher Education (CHED).[1]
Complainants husband filed Civil Case No. 40537 entitled Ruben G. Mercado v. Rosa C. Francisco, for
annulment of their marriage with the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Pasig City. This annulment case
had been dismissed by the trial court, and the dismissal became final and executory on July 15, 1992.[2]
In August 1992, Atty. Anastacio P. de Leon, counsel of complainant, died. On February 7, 1994,
respondent entered his appearance before the trial court as collaborating counsel for complainant.[3]
On March 16, 1994, respondent filed his Notice of Substitution of Counsel,[4] informing the RTC of
Pasig City that he has been appointed as counsel for the complainant, in substitution of Atty. de Leon.
It also appears that on April 13, 1999, respondent filed a criminal action against complainant before the
Office of the City Prosecutor, Pasig City, entitled Atty. Julito Vitriolo, et al. v. Rose Dela Cruz F.
Mercado, and docketed as I.S. No. PSG 99-9823, for violation of Articles 171 and 172 (falsification of
public document) of the Revised Penal Code.[5] Respondent alleged that complainant made false entries
in the Certificates of Live Birth of her children, Angelica and Katelyn Anne. More specifically,
complainant allegedly indicated in said Certificates of Live Birth that she is married to a certain
Ferdinand Fernandez, and that their marriage was solemnized on April 11, 1979, when in truth, she is
legally married to Ruben G. Mercado and their marriage took place on April 11, 1978.
Complainant denied the accusations of respondent against her. She denied using any other name than
Rosa F. Mercado. She also insisted that she has gotten married only once, on April 11, 1978, to Ruben
G. Mercado.
In addition, complainant Mercado cited other charges against respondent that are pending before or
decided upon by other tribunals (1) libel suit before the Office of the City Prosecutor, Pasig City;[6] (2)
administrative case for dishonesty, grave misconduct, conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the
service, pursuit of private business, vocation or profession without the permission required by Civil
Service rules and regulations, and violations of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, before the
then Presidential Commission Against Graft and Corruption;[7] (3) complaint for dishonesty, grave
misconduct, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service before the Office of the
Ombudsman, where he was found guilty of misconduct and meted out the penalty of one month
suspension without pay;[8] and, (4) the Information for violation of Section 7(b)(2) of Republic Act No.
6713, as amended, otherwise known as the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials
and Employees before the Sandiganbayan.[9]
Complainant Mercado alleged that said criminal complaint for falsification of public document (I.S.
No. PSG 99-9823) disclosed confidential facts and information relating to the civil case for annulment,
then handled by respondent Vitriolo as her counsel. This prompted complainant Mercado to bring this
action against respondent. She claims that, in filing the criminal case for falsification, respondent is
guilty of breaching their privileged and confidential lawyer-client relationship, and should be disbarred.
Respondent filed his Comment/Motion to Dismiss on November 3, 1999 where he alleged that the
complaint for disbarment was all hearsay, misleading and irrelevant because all the allegations leveled
against him are subject of separate fact-finding bodies. Respondent claimed that the pending cases
against him are not grounds for disbarment, and that he is presumed to be innocent until proven
otherwise.[10] He also states that the decision of the Ombudsman finding him guilty of misconduct and
imposing upon him the penalty of suspension for one month without pay is on appeal with the Court of
Appeals. He adds that he was found guilty, only of simple misconduct, which he committed in good
faith.[11]
In addition, respondent maintains that his filing of the criminal complaint for falsification of public
documents against complainant does not violate the rule on privileged communication between
attorney and client because the bases of the falsification case are two certificates of live birth which are
public documents and in no way connected with the confidence taken during the engagement of
respondent as counsel. According to respondent, the complainant confided to him as then counsel only
matters of facts relating to the annulment case. Nothing was said about the alleged falsification of the
entries in the birth certificates of her two daughters. The birth certificates are filed in the Records
Division of CHED and are accessible to anyone.[12]
In a Resolution dated February 9, 2000, this Court referred the administrative case to the Integrated Bar
of the Philippines (IBP) for investigation, report and recommendation.[13]
The IBP Commission on Bar Discipline set two dates for hearing but complainant failed to appear in
both. Investigating Commissioner Rosalina R. Datiles thus granted respondents motion to file his
memorandum, and the case was submitted for resolution based on the pleadings submitted by the
parties.[14]
On June 21, 2003, the IBP Board of Governors approved the report of investigating commissioner
Datiles, finding the respondent guilty of violating the rule on privileged communication between
attorney and client, and recommending his suspension from the practice of law for one (1) year.
On August 6, 2003, complainant, upon receiving a copy of the IBP report and recommendation, wrote
Chief Justice Hilario Davide, Jr., a letter of desistance. She stated that after the passage of so many
years, she has now found forgiveness for those who have wronged her.
At the outset, we stress that we shall not inquire into the merits of the various criminal and
administrative cases filed against respondent. It is the duty of the tribunals where these cases are
pending to determine the guilt or innocence of the respondent.
We also emphasize that the Court is not bound by any withdrawal of the complaint or desistance by the
complainant. The letter of complainant to the Chief Justice imparting forgiveness upon respondent is
inconsequential in disbarment proceedings.
We now resolve whether respondent violated the rule on privileged communication between attorney
and client when he filed a criminal case for falsification of public document against his former client.
A brief discussion of the nature of the relationship between attorney and client and the rule on attorney-
client privilege that is designed to protect such relation is in order.
In engaging the services of an attorney, the client reposes on him special powers of trust and
confidence. Their relationship is strictly personal and highly confidential and fiduciary. The relation is
of such delicate, exacting and confidential nature that is required by necessity and public interest.[15]
Only by such confidentiality and protection will a person be encouraged to repose his confidence in an
attorney. The hypothesis is that abstinence from seeking legal advice in a good cause is an evil which is
fatal to the administration of justice.[16] Thus, the preservation and protection of that relation will
encourage a client to entrust his legal problems to an attorney, which is of paramount importance to the
administration of justice.[17] One rule adopted to serve this purpose is the attorney-client privilege: an
attorney is to keep inviolate his clients secrets or confidence and not to abuse them.[18] Thus, the duty of
a lawyer to preserve his clients secrets and confidence outlasts the termination of the attorney-client
relationship,[19] and continues even after the clients death.[20] It is the glory of the legal profession that
its fidelity to its client can be depended on, and that a man may safely go to a lawyer and converse with
him upon his rights or supposed rights in any litigation with absolute assurance that the lawyers tongue
is tied from ever disclosing it.[21] With full disclosure of the facts of the case by the client to his
attorney, adequate legal representation will result in the ascertainment and enforcement of rights or the
prosecution or defense of the clients cause.
Now, we go to the rule on attorney-client privilege. Dean Wigmore cites the factors essential to
establish the existence of the privilege, viz:
(1) Where legal advice of any kind is sought (2) from a professional legal adviser in his capacity as
such, (3) the communications relating to that purpose, (4) made in confidence (5) by the client, (6) are
at his instance permanently protected (7) from disclosure by himself or by the legal advisor, (8) except
the protection be waived.[22]
In fine, the factors are as follows:
(1) There exists an attorney-client relationship, or a prospective attorney-client relationship, and it is by
reason of this relationship that the client made the communication.
Matters disclosed by a prospective client to a lawyer are protected by the rule on privileged
communication even if the prospective client does not thereafter retain the lawyer or the latter declines
the employment.[23] The reason for this is to make the prospective client free to discuss whatever he
wishes with the lawyer without fear that what he tells the lawyer will be divulged or used against him,
and for the lawyer to be equally free to obtain information from the prospective client.[24]
On the other hand, a communication from a (prospective) client to a lawyer for some purpose other
than on account of the (prospective) attorney-client relation is not privileged. Instructive is the case of
Pfleider v. Palanca,[25] where the client and his wife leased to their attorney a 1,328-hectare
agricultural land for a period of ten years. In their contract, the parties agreed, among others, that a
specified portion of the lease rentals would be paid to the client-lessors, and the remainder would be
delivered by counsel-lessee to client's listed creditors. The client alleged that the list of creditors which
he had confidentially supplied counsel for the purpose of carrying out the terms of payment contained
in the lease contract was disclosed by counsel, in violation of their lawyer-client relation, to parties
whose interests are adverse to those of the client. As the client himself, however, states, in the
execution of the terms of the aforesaid lease contract between the parties, he furnished counsel with the
confidential list of his creditors. We ruled that this indicates that client delivered the list of his creditors
to counsel not because of the professional relation then existing between them, but on account of the
lease agreement. We then held that a violation of the confidence that accompanied the delivery of that
list would partake more of a private and civil wrong than of a breach of the fidelity owing from a
lawyer to his client.
(2) The client made the communication in confidence.
The mere relation of attorney and client does not raise a presumption of confidentiality.[26] The client
must intend the communication to be confidential.[27]
A confidential communication refers to information transmitted by voluntary act of disclosure between
attorney and client in confidence and by means which, so far as the client is aware, discloses the
information to no third person other than one reasonably necessary for the transmission of the
information or the accomplishment of the purpose for which it was given.[28]
Our jurisprudence on the matter rests on quiescent ground. Thus, a compromise agreement prepared by
a lawyer pursuant to the instruction of his client and delivered to the opposing party,[29] an offer and
counter-offer for settlement,[30] or a document given by a client to his counsel not in his professional
capacity,[31] are not privileged communications, the element of confidentiality not being present.[32]
(3) The legal advice must be sought from the attorney in his professional capacity.[33]
The communication made by a client to his attorney must not be intended for mere information, but for
the purpose of seeking legal advice from his attorney as to his rights or obligations. The
communication must have been transmitted by a client to his attorney for the purpose of seeking legal
advice.[34]
If the client seeks an accounting service,[35] or business or personal assistance,[36] and not legal advice,
the privilege does not attach to a communication disclosed for such purpose.
Applying all these rules to the case at bar, we hold that the evidence on record fails to substantiate
complainants allegations. We note that complainant did not even specify the alleged communication in
confidence disclosed by respondent. All her claims were couched in general terms and lacked
specificity. She contends that respondent violated the rule on privileged communication when he
instituted a criminal action against her for falsification of public documents because the criminal
complaint disclosed facts relating to the civil case for annulment then handled by respondent. She did
not, however, spell out these facts which will determine the merit of her complaint. The Court cannot
be involved in a guessing game as to the existence of facts which the complainant must prove.
Indeed, complainant failed to attend the hearings at the IBP. Without any testimony from the
complainant as to the specific confidential information allegedly divulged by respondent without her
consent, it is difficult, if not impossible to determine if there was any violation of the rule on privileged
communication. Such confidential information is a crucial link in establishing a breach of the rule on
privileged communication between attorney and client. It is not enough to merely assert the attorney-
client privilege.[37] The burden of proving that the privilege applies is placed upon the party asserting
the privilege.[38]
IN VIEW WHEREOF, the complaint against respondent Atty. Julito D. Vitriolo is hereby
DISMISSED for lack of merit.
SO ORDERED.
Austria-Martinez, Callejo, Sr., and Chico-Nazario, JJ., concur.
Tinga, J., out of the country.
Republic of the Philippines
SUPREME COURT
Manila
FIRST DIVISION
A.C. No. 10567 February 25, 2015
WILFREDO ANGLO, Complainant,
vs.
ATTY. JOSE MA. V. VALENCIA, ATTY. JOSE MA. J. CIOCON, ATTY. PHILIP Z. DABAO,
ATTY. LILY UYV ALENCIA, ATTY. JOEY P. DE LA PAZ, ATTY. CRIS G. DIONELA, ATTY.
RAYMUNDO T. PANDAN, JR.,* ATTY. RODNEY K. RUBICA,** and ATTY. WILFRED
RAMON M. PENALOSA, Respondents.
DECISION
PERLAS-BERNABE, J.:
This is an administrative case stemming from a complaint-affidavit1 dated December 4, 2009 filed by
complainant Wilfredo Anglo (complainant) charging respondents Attys. Jose Ma. V. Valencia (Atty.
Valencia), Jose Ma. J. Ciocon (Atty. Ciocon ), Philip Z. Dabao (Atty. Dabao ), Lily Uy-Valencia (Atty.
Uy-Valencia), Joey P. De La Paz (Atty. De La Paz), Cris G. Dionela (Atty. Dionela), Raymundo T.
Pandan, Jr. (Atty. Pandan, Jr.), Rodney K. Rubica (Atty. Rubica), and Wilfred Ramon M. Penalosa
(Atty. Penalosa; collectively, respondents) of violating the Code of Professional Responsibility (CPR),
specifica1ly the rule against conflict of interest.
The Facts
In his complaint-affidavit, complainant alleged that he availed the services of the law firm Valencia
Ciocon Dabao Valencia De La Paz Dionela Pandan Rubica Law Office(law firm), of which Attys.
Valencia, Ciocon, Dabao, Uy-Valencia, De La Paz, Dionela, Pandan, Jr., and Rubica were partners, for
two (2) consolidated labor cases2 where he was impleaded as respondent. Atty. Dionela, a partner of
the law firm, was assigned to represent complainant. The labor cases were terminated on June 5, 2008
upon the agreement of both parties.3
On September 18, 2009, a criminal case4 for qualified theft was filed against complainant and his wife
by FEVE Farms Agricultural Corporation (FEVE Farms) acting through a certain Michael Villacorta
(Villacorta). Villacorta, however, was represented by the law firm, the same law office which handled
complainant’s labor cases. Aggrieved, complainant filed this disbarment case against respondents,
alleging that they violated Rule 15.03, Canon 15 and Canon 21 of the CPR,5 to wit:
CANON 15 – A LAWYER SHALL OBSERVE CANDOR, FAIRNESS AND LOYALTY IN ALL HIS
DEALINGS AND TRANSACTIONS WITH HIS CLIENTS.
xxxx
RULE 15.03 – A lawyer shall not represent conflicting interests except by written consent of all
concerned given after a full disclosure of the facts.
xxxx
CANON 21 – A LAWYER SHALL PRESERVE THE CONFIDENCES AND SECRETS OF HIS
CLIENT EVEN AFTER THE ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATION IS TERMINATED.
In their defense,6 respondents admitted that they indeed operated under the name Valencia Ciocon
Dabao Valencia De La Paz Dionela Pandan Rubica Law Office, but explained that their association is
not a formal partnership, but one that is subject to certain "arrangements." According to them, each
lawyer contributes a fixed amount every month for the maintenance of the entire office; and expenses
for cases, such as transportation, copying, printing, mailing, and the like are shouldered by each lawyer
separately, allowing each lawyer to fix and receive his own professional fees exclusively.7 As such, the
lawyers do not discuss their clientele with the other lawyers and associates, unless they agree that a
case be handled collaboratively. Respondents claim that this has been the practice of the law firm since
its inception. They averred that complainant’s labor cases were solely and exclusively handled by Atty.
Dionela and not by the entire law firm. Moreover, respondents asserted that the qualified theft case
filed by FEVE Farms was handled by Atty. Peñalosa, a new associate who had no knowledge of
complainant’s labor cases, as he started working for the firm after the termination thereof.8 Meanwhile,
Atty. Dionela confirmed that he indeed handled complainant’s labor cases but averred that it was
terminated on June 13, 2008,9 and that complainant did not have any monthly retainer contract.10 He
likewise explained that he did not see the need to discuss complainant’s labor cases with the other
lawyers as the issue involved was very simple,11 and that the latter did not confide any secret during
the time the labor cases were pending that would have been used in the criminal case with FEVE
Farms. He also claimed that the other lawyers were not aware of the details of complainant’s labor
cases nor did they know that he was the handling counsel for complainant even after the said cases
were closed and terminated.12 The IBP’s Report and Recommendation
In a Report and Recommendation13 dated September 26, 2011, the IBP Commissioner found
respondents to have violated the rule on conflict of interest and recommended that they be
reprimandedtherefor, with the exception of Atty. Dabao, who had died on January 17, 2010.14 The IBP
found that complainant was indeed represented in the labor cases by the respondents acting together as
a law firm and not solely by Atty. Dionela. Consequently, there was a conflict of interest in this case, as
respondents, through Atty. Peñalosa, having been retained by FEVE Farms, created a connection that
would injure complainant in the qualified theft case. Moreover, the termination of attorney-client
relation provides no justification for a lawyer to represent an interest adverse to or in conflict with that
of the former client.15
In a Resolution16 dated February 12, 2013, the IBP Board of Governors adopted and approved the IBP
Commissioner’s Report and Recommendation with modification. Instead of the penalty of reprimand,
the IBP Board of Governors dismissed the case with warning that a repetition of the same or similar act
shall be dealt with more severely.
Complainant filed a motion for reconsideration17 thereof, which the IBP Board of Governors granted
in its Resolution18 dated March 23, 2014 and thereby (a) set aside its February 12, 2013 Resolution
and (b) adopted and approved the IBP Commissioner’s Report and Recommendation, with
modification, (1) reprimanding the respondents for violation of the rule on conflict of interest; (2)
dismissing the case against Atty. Dabao in view of his death; and (3) suspending Atty. Dionela from the
practice of law for one year, being the handling counsel of complainant’s labor cases.
The Issue Before the Court
The essential issue in this case is whether or not respondents are guilty of representing conflicting
interests in violation of the pertinent provisions of the CPR.
The Court’s Ruling
Rule 15.03, Canon 15 and Canon 21 of the CPR provide:
CANON 15 – A LAWYER SHALL OBSERVE CANDOR, FAIRNESS AND LOYALTY IN ALL HIS
DEALINGS AND TRANSACTIONS WITH HIS CLIENTS.
xxxx
RULE 15.03 – A lawyer shall not represent conflicting interests except by written consent of all
concerned given after a full disclosure of the facts.
xxxx
CANON 21 – A LAWYER SHALL PRESERVE THE CONFIDENCES AND SECRETS OF HIS
CLIENT EVEN AFTER THE ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP IS TERMINATED.
In Hornilla v. Atty. Salunat,19 the Court explained the concept of conflict of interest in this wise:
There is conflict of interest when a lawyer represents inconsistent interests of two or more opposing
parties.1âwphi1 The test is "whether or not in behalf of one client, it is the lawyer’s duty to fight for an
issue or claim, but it is his duty to oppose it for the other client. In brief, if he argues for one client, this
argument will be opposed by him when he argues for the other client." This rule covers not only cases
in which confidential communications have been confided, but also those in which no confidence has
been bestowed or will be used. Also, there is conflict of interests if the acceptance of the new retainer
will require the attorney to perform an act which will injuriously affect his first client in any matter in
which he represents him and also whether he will be called upon in his new relation to use against his
first client any knowledge acquired through their connection. Another test of the inconsistency of
interests is whether the acceptance of a new relation will prevent an attorney from the full discharge of
his duty of undivided fidelity and loyalty to his client or invite suspicion of unfaithfulness or double
dealing in the performance thereof.20
As such, a lawyer is prohibited from representing new clients whose interests oppose those of a former
client in any manner, whether or not they are parties in the same action or on totally unrelated cases.
The prohibition is founded on the principles of public policy and good taste.21 In this case, the Court
concurs with the IBP’s conclusions that respondents represented conflicting interests and must
therefore be held liable. As the records bear out, respondents’ law firm was engaged and, thus,
represented complainant in the labor cases instituted against him. However, after the termination
thereof, the law firm agreed to represent a new client, FEVE Farms, in the filing of a criminal case for
qualified theft against complainant, its former client, and his wife. As the Court observes, the law firm’s
unethical acceptance of the criminal case arose from its failure to organize and implement a system by
which it would have been able to keep track of all cases assigned to its handling lawyers to the end of,
among others, ensuring that every engagement it accepts stands clear of any potential conflict of
interest. As an organization of individual lawyers which, albeit engaged as a collective, assigns legal
work to a corresponding handling lawyer, it behooves the law firm to value coordination in deference
to the conflict of interest rule. This lack of coordination, as respondents’ law firm exhibited in this case,
intolerably renders its clients’ secrets vulnerable to undue and even adverse exposure, eroding in the
balance the lawyer-client relationship’s primordial ideal of unimpaired trust and confidence. Had such
system been institutionalized, all of its members, Atty. Dionela included, would have been wary of the
above-mentioned conflict, thereby impelling the firm to decline FEVE Farms’ subsequent engagement.
Thus, for this shortcoming, herein respondents, as the charged members of the law firm, ought to be
administratively sanctioned. Note that the Court finds no sufficient reason as to why Atty. Dionela
should suffer the greater penalty of suspension. As the Court sees it, all respondents stand in equal fault
for the law firm’s deficient organization for which Rule 15.03, Canon 15 and Canon 21 of the CPR had
been violated. As such, all of them are meted with the same penalty of reprimand, with a stern warning
that a repetition of the same or similar infraction would be dealt with more severely.
As a final point, the Court clarifies that respondents' pronounced liability is not altered by the fact that
the labor cases against complainant had long been terminated. Verily, the termination of attorney-client
relation provides no justification for a lawyer to represent an interest adverse to or in conflict with that
of the former client. The client's confidence once reposed should not be divested by mere expiration of
professional employment.22
WHEREFORE, respondents Attys. Jose Ma. V. Valencia, Jose Ma. J. Ciocon, Lily Uy-Valencia, Joey P.
De La Paz, Cris G. Dionela, Raymundo T. Pandan, Jr., Rodney K. Rubica, and Wilfred Ramon M.
Penalosa are found GUILTY of representing conflicting interests in violation of Rule 15.03, Canon 15
and Canon 21 of the Code of Professional Responsibility and are therefore REPRIMANDED for said
violations, with a STERN WARNING that a repetition of the same or similar infraction would be dealt
with more severely. Meanwhile, the case against Atty. Philip Dabao is DISMISSED in view of his
death.
Let a copy of this Resolution be furnished the Office of the Bar Confidant, to be appended to
respondents' personal records as attorneys. Further, let copies of this Resolution be furnished the
Integrated Bar of the Philippines and the Office of the Court Administrator, which is directed to
circulate them to all courts in the country for their information and guidance.
SO ORDERED.
ESTELA M. PERLAS-BERNABE
Associate Justice
WE CONCUR:
A.C. No. 11504
ARIEL G. PALACIOS, for and in behalf of the AFP Retirement and Separation Benefits System
(AFP-RSBS), Complaint,
vs.
ATTY. BIENVENIDO BRAULIO M. AMORA, JR., Respondent
DECISION
PER CURIAM
The instant administrative case arose from a Complaint dated March 11, 20081 filed by Ariel G.
Palacios, in his capacity as the Chief Operating Officer and duly authorized representative of the AFP
Retirement and Separation Benefits System (AFP-RSBS), seeking the disbarment of respondent Atty.
Bienvenido Braulio M. Amora, Jr. for alleged violation of: (1) Canon 1, Rules 1.01 to 1.03; Canon 10,
Rules 10.01to10.03; Canon 15, Rule 15.03; Canon 17; Canon 21, Rule 21.01 and 21.02 of the Code of
Professional Responsibility (CPR); (2) Section 20, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court; (3) Lawyer's Oath;
and (4) Article 1491 of the Civil Code.
The Facts
The facts as found by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Board of Governors (IBP-BOG), are as
follows:
Complainant is the owner[-]developer of more or less 312 hectares of land estate property
located at Barangays San Vicente, San Miguel, Biluso and Lucsuhin, Municipality of
Silang, Province of Cavite ("property"). Said property was being developed into a
residential subdivision, community club house and two (2) eighteen[-]hole, worldclass
championship golf courses (the "Riviera project"). In 1996, complainant entered into
purchase agreements with several investors in order to finance its Riviera project. One of
these investors was Philippine Golf Development and Equipment, Inc. ("Phil Golf'). On 07
March 1996, Phil Golf paid the amount of Php54 Million for the purchase of 2% interest on
the Riviera project consisting of developed residential lots, Class "A" Common Shares,
Class "B" Common Shares, and Class "C" Common Shares of the Riviera Golf Club and
Common Shares of the Riviera Golf Sports and Country Club.

On 02 June 1997, complainant retained the services of respondent of the Amora and
Associates Law Offices to represent and act as its legal counsel in connection with the
Riviera project (Annex "C" to "C-5" of the complaint). Respondent's legal services under
the said agreement include the following: issuance of consolidated title(s) over the project,
issuance of individual titles for the resultant individual lots, issuance of license to sell by
the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board, representation before the SEC, and services
concerning the untitled lots included in the project. For the said legal services, respondent
charged complainant the amount of Php 6,500,000.00 for which he was paid in three
different checks (Annexes "D" to "D3" of the complaint).

On 10 May 1999, complainant entered into another engagement agreement with respondent
and the Amora Del Valle & Associates Law Offices for the registration of the Riviera
trademark with the Intellectual Property Office (Annex "E" of the complainant) where
respondent was paid in check in the amount of Php158,344.20 (Annex "F" of the
complaint).
On 14 March 2000, another contract for services was executed by complainant and
respondent for the latter to act as its counsel in the reclassification by the Sangguniang
Bayan of Silang, Cavite of complainant's agricultural lot to "residential commercial and/or
recreational use" in connection with its Riviera project (Annexes "G" to "G4" of the
complaint). Under this contract, respondent was hired to "act as counsel and representative
of AFP-RSBS before the Sangguniang Bayan of Silang, Cavite in all matters relative to the
reclassification of the subject properties from agricultural to non-agricultural uses." On 21
March 2000, respondent furnished complainant a copy of Resolution No. MI-007, S of
2000 of the Sangguniang Bayan of Silang dated 21 February 2000 ("resolution") approving
the conversion and was paid the amount of Phpl.8M (Annex "H" of the complaint).
Notably, the resolution was passed on 21 February 2000 or a month before the signing of
the said 14 March 2000 contract. Clearly, when [the] 14 March 2000 contract was V signed
by complainant and respondent, there was already a resolution of the Sangguniang Bayan
of Silang approving the conversion of complainant's properties to residential/commercial.
Clearly, the Php 1.8M demanded and received by respondent is not justifiable for the sole
and simple reason that respondent could not have performed any service under the 14
March 2000 contract considering that the result sought by the complainant (reclassification)
has been fulfilled and completed as early as 21 February 2000. Respondent, must therefore,
be ordered to return this amount to complainant.

On 06 November 2000, complainant entered into another contract for legal services with
respondent for which the latter was paid the amount of Php 14,000,000.00 to secure
Certificate of Registration and License to Sell from the SEC (Annexes "I" to "I-5" of the
complaint). In addition, complainant further paid respondent the following checks as
professional fees in obtaining the Certificate of Registration and Permit to Offer Securities
for shares and other expenses: EPCIB Check No. 443124 dated 13 February 2003 in the
amount of Phpl,500,000.00, CENB Check No. 74001 dated 29 February 2000 in the
amount of Php6, 754.00, CENB Check No. 70291 dated 15 September 1999 in the amount
Php261,305.00, and LBP Check No. 48691 dated 26 January 2001 in the amount of
Php221,970.00.

As complainant's legal counsel, respondent was privy to highly confidential information


regarding the Riviera project which included but was not limited to the corporate set-up,
actual breakdown of the shares of stock, financial records, purchase agreements and
swapping agreements with its investors. Respondent was also very familiar with the Riviera
project[,] having been hired to secure Certificate of Registration and License to Sell with
the BLURB and the registration of the shares of stock and license to sell of the Riviera Golf
Club, Inc. and Riviera Sports and Country Club, Inc. Respondent further knew that
complainant had valid titles to the properties of the Riviera project and was also
knowledgeable about complainant's transactions with Phil Golf

After complainant terminated respondent's services as its legal counsel, respondent became
Phil Golf’s representative and assignee. Respondent began pushing for the swapping of Phil
Golf’s properties with that of complainant. Respondent sent swapping proposals to his
former client, herein complainant, this time in his capacity as Phil Golf’s representative and
assignee. These proposals were rejected by complainant for being grossly disadvantageous
to the latter. After complainant's rejection of the said proposals, respondent filed a case
against its former client, herein complainant on behalf of a subsequent client (Phil Golf)
before the BLURB for alleged breach of contract (Annex "R" of the complaint). In this
HLURB case, respondent misrepresented that Phil Golf is a duly organized and existing
corporation under and by virtue of the laws of the Philippines because it appears that Phil
Golf’s registration had been revoked as early as 03 November 2003. Despite Phil Golf’s
revoked Certificate of Registration, respondent further certified under oath that he is the
duly authorized representative and assignee of Phil Golf. Respondent, however, was not
authorized to act for and on behalf of said corporation because Phil Golf’s corporate
personality has ceased.

The Director's Certificate signed by Mr. Benito Santiago of Phil Golf dated 10 May 2007
allegedly authorizing respondent as Phil Golf’s representative and assignee was null and
void since the board had no authority to transact business with the public because of the
SEC's revocation of Phil Golf’s Certificate of Registration.2

Due to the above actuations of respondent, complainant filed the instant action for disbarment.
The IBP's Report and Recommendation
After hearing, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Commission on Bar Discipline (IBP-CBD) issued a
Report and Recommendation dated June 21, 2010, penned by Investigating Commissioner Victor C.
Fernandez, recommending the dismissal of the complaint, to wit:
PREMISES CONSIDERED, it is respectfully recommended that the instant complaint be
dismissed for lack of merit.

Respectfully submitted.3

On review, the IBP-BOG reversed the recommendation of the IBPCBD and recommended the
suspension from the practice of law of respondent for a period of three (3) years and ordering the return
of the amount of PhPl.8 Million to the complainant within six (6) months. The dispositive portion of
the Extended Resolution dated December 28, 2015,4 reads:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Board RESOLVED to unanimously REVERSE
the Report and Recommendation dated 21 June 2010 recommending the dismissal of the
Complaint dated 11 March 2008 and instead resolved to suspend respondent from the
practice of law for a period of three (3) years and ordered the latter to return the amount of
Php 1.8 Million to the complainant within six (6) months.

SO ORDERED.5

The IBP-BOG found that respondent violated Rules 15.01,15.03,21.01 and 21.02 of the CPR, as well as
Article 1491 of the Civil Code.
As provided in Section 12(b), Rule139B of the Rules of Court, 6 the IBP Board forwarded the instant
case to the Court for final action.
Issue
The singular issue for the consideration of this Court is whether Atty. Amora should beheld
administratively liable based on the allegations on the Complaint.
The Court's Ruling
The Court modifies the finding soft he IBP-BOG and the penalty impose don’t he respondent who
violated the Lawyer's Oath and Rules 15.01, 15.03, 21.01 and 21.02 of the Code of Professional
Responsibility.
Respondent represented
Conflicting interests
The Lawyer's Oath provides:

I___________of__________do solemnly swear that I will maintain allegiance to the


Republic of the Philippines; I will support its Constitution and obey laws as well as the
legal orders of the duly constituted authorities therein; I will do no false hood, nor consent
to the doing of any court; I will not wittingly nor willingly promote or sue any groundless,
false or unlawful suit, or give aid nor consent to the same; I will delay no man for money or
malice, and will conduct myself as a lawyer according to the best of my knowledge and
discretion with all good fidelity as well to the courts as to my clients; and I impose upon
myself this voluntary obligations without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion. So
help me God. (Emphasis supplied)

While Rules 15.01 and 15. 03 of the Code state:


Rule 15.01.-A lawyer ,in conferring with a prospective client, shall as certain as soon as
practicable whether the matter would involve a conflict with another client or his own
interest, and if so, shall forth within form the prospective client.

Rule 15.03.-A lawyer shall not represent conflicting interests except by written consent of
all concerned given after a full disclosure of the facts.

The requirement under Rule 15.03 is quite clear.


A lawyer must secure the written consent of all concerned parties after a full disclosure of the facts.
Respondent, however, failed to present any such document. He points to the fact that complainant
approved several transactions between him and the complainant. In his Position Paper dated October 2,
2008,7 respondent argues that AFP-RSBS gave its formal and written consent to his status as an
investor and allowed him to be subrogated to all the rights, privileges and causes of action of an
investor.8
This purported approval, however, is not the consent that the CPR demands.
In Gonzales v. Cabucana ,Jr. ,9 the Court ruled that a lawyer's failure to acquire a written consent
from both clients after a full disclosure of the facts would subject him to disciplinary action:
As we explained in the case of Hilado vs .David:
xxxx

In the same manner, his claim that he could not turn down the spouses as no other lawyer is
willing to take their case cannot prosper as it is settled that while there may be instances
where lawyers cannot decline representation they cannot be made to labor under conflict of
interest between a present client and a prospective one. Granting also that there really was
no other lawyer who could handle the spouses 'case other than him, still he should have
observed the requirements laid down by the rules by conferring with the prospective
client to as certain as soon as practicable whether the matter would involve a conflict
with another client then seek the written consent of all concerned after a full
disclosure of the facts. These respondent failed to do thus exposing himself to the charge
of double dealing.10 (Emphasis supplied citation omitted)

Absent such written consent, respondent is guilty of representing conflicting interests.


Moreover, as correctly pointed out by complainant, respondent did not merely act as its invest or at his
own behest. In a letter dated April 26, 2007,11 the respondent wrote AFP RSBS stating: "Further to our
letter dated 24 April 2007 and on behalf of my principal, Philippine Golf Development and Equipment,
Inc., xxx" Plainly, respondent was acting for and in behalf of Phil Golf.
Worse, at Phil Golf’s instance, he caused the filing of a Complaint dated October 10, 200712 against
complainant with the BLURB, stating that he is the duly authorized representative and assignee of Phil
Golf and that he caused the preparation of the complaint.13
In Hornilla v. Salunat,14 We explained the test to determine when a conflict of interest is present thus:
There is conflict of interest when a lawyer represents in consistent interests of two or more
opposing parties. The test is "whether or not in behalf of one client, it is the lawyer's duty to
fight for an issue or claim, but it is his duty to oppose it for the other client. In brief, if he
argues for one client, this argument will be opposed by him when he argues for the other
client."This rule covers not only cases in which confidential Communications have been
confided, but also those in which no confidence has been bestowed or will be used. Also,
there is conflict of interest if the acceptance of the new retainer will require the attorney to
perform an act which will injuriously affect his first client in any matter in which he
represents him and also whether he will be called upon in his new relation to use against his
first client any knowledge acquired through their connection. Another test of the
inconsistency of interests is whether the acceptance of a new relation will prevent an
attorney from the full discharge of his duty of undivided fidelity and loyalty to his
client or invite suspicion of unfaithfulness or double-dealing in the performance
thereof.15 (Emphasis supplied)

Without cavil, or further need of elucidation, respondent's representation of Phil Golf violated the rules
on conflict of interest as he under took to take up the causes of his new client against the interest of his
former client.
In Ylaya v. Gacott,16 the Court was succinct in saying that a lawyer should decline any employment
that would involve any conflict of interest:
The relationship between a lawyer and his client should ideally be imbued with the highest
level of trust and confidence. Necessity and public interest require that this be so. Part of
the lawyer's duty to his client is to avoid representing conflicting interests. He is duty
bound to decline professional employment, no matter how attractive the fee offered maybe,
if its acceptance involves a violation of the proscription against conflict of interest, or any
of the rules of professional conduct. Thus, a lawyer may not accept a retainer from a
defendant after he has given professional advice to the plaintiff concerning his claim; nor
can he accept employment from another in a matter adversely affecting any interest of
his former client. It is his duty to decline employment in any of these and similar
circumstances in view of the rule prohibiting representation of conflicting interests.17
(Emphasis supplied)

It thus becomes quite clear that respondent's actions fall short of the standard set forth by the CPR and
are in violation of his oath as a lawyer. By representing the interests of a new client against his former
client, he violated the trust reposed upon him. His violation of the rules on conflict of interest renders
him subject to disciplinary action.
Respondent used confidential
Information against his former
client, herein complainant
Additionally, by causing the filing of the complaint before the HLURB, the IBP-BOG correctly points
out that respondent must have necessarily divulged to Phil Golf and used information that he gathered
while he was complainant's counsel in violation of Rules 21.01 and 21.02 of the CPR, which state:
CANON 21-A LAWYER SHALL PRESERVE THE CONFIDENCE AND SECRETS OF
HIS CLIENT EVEN AFTER THE ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONIS TERMINATED.

Rule 21.01-A lawyer shall not reveal the confidences or secrets of his client except;

(a)When authorized by the client after acquainting him of the consequences of the
disclosure;

(b)When required by law;

(c)When necessary to collect his fees or to defend himself, his employees or


associates or by judicial action.

Rule 21.02-A lawyer shall not, to the disadvantage of his client, use information acquired in
the course of employment, nor shall he use the same to his own advantage or that of a third
person,unless the client with full knowledge of the circumstances consents thereto.

The IBP-BOG properly found thus:


Using confidential information which he secured from complainant while he was the latter's
counsel; respondent accused his former client of several violations. In the process,
respondent disclosed confidential information that he secured from complainant thereby
jeopardizing the latter's interest. As discussed below, respondent violated his professional
oat hand the CPR.

xxxx

xxxx In the instant case, despite the obvious conflict of interest between complainant and
Phil Golf, respondent nevertheless agreed to represent the latter in business negotiations
and worse, even caused the filing of a law suit against his former client, herein
complainant, using information the respondent acquired from his former professional
employment.18

In Pacana, Jr. v. Pascual-Lopez, 19 the Court reiterated the prohibition against lawyers representing
conflicting interests:
Rule15.03, Canon 15 of the Code of Professional Responsibility provides:

Rule15.03-A lawyer shall not represent conflicting interests except by written


consent of all concerned given after full disclosure of the facts.
This prohibition is founded on principles of public policy, good taste and, more importantly,
upon necessity. In the course of a lawyer-client relationship, the lawyer learns all the
facts connected with the client's case, including its weak and strong points. Such
knowledge must be considered sacred and guarded with care. No opportunity must be
given to him to take advantage of his client; for if the

confidence is abused, the profession will suffer by the loss thereof. It behooves lawyers
not only to keep in violate the client's confidence, but also to avoid the appearance of
treachery and double-dealing for only then can litigants be encouraged to entrust
their secrets to their lawyers, which is paramount in the administration of justice. It is
for these reasons that we have described the attorney-client relationship as one of trust and
confidence of the highest degree.

Respondent must have known that her act of constantly and actively communicating with
complainant, who, at that time, was be leaguered with demands from investors of Multitel,
eventually led to the establishment of a lawyer-client relationship. Respondent cannot
shield herself from the inevitable consequences of her actions by simply saying that
the assistances her endered to complainant was only in the form of" friendly
accommodations," precisely because at the times he was giving assistance to
complainant, she was already privy to the cause of the opposing parties who had been
referred to herby the SEC.20 (Emphasis supplied)

It is undeniable that, in causing the filing of a complaint against his former client, respondent used
confidential knowledge that he acquired while he was still employed by his former client to further the
cause of his new client. And, as earlier stated, considering that respondent failed to obtain any written
consent to his representation of Phil Golf's interests, he plainly violated the above rules. Clearly,
respondent must be disciplined for his actuations.
No basis for th ereturn of
PhP1.8 Million
Rule 131, Section 3, par. (f) provides:
Sec. 3. Disputable presumptions.-

The following presumptions are satisfactory if uncontradicted, but may be contradicted and
over come by other evidence:

xxxx

(f)That money paid by one to another was due the latter;

xxxx

By alleging that respondent was not entitled to the payment of PhPl.8 Million, it was incumbent upon
complainant to present evidence to overturn the disputable presumption that the payment was due to
respondent. This, complainant failed to do.
Complainant alleged that:
At the time of the signing of said contract, there was already a resolution approved by the
Sangguniang Bayan of Silang approving the conversion of AFP-RSBS' properties to
residential/commercial .Atty. Amorac ould not,thus,have acteda sAF P-RSBS' legal counsel
and representative during the said proceedings, which was conducted a month before he
was hired by AFP-RSBS. However, he charged AFP-RSBS and was paid by the latter the
amount of 1.8million pesos for not doing anything. He did not represent AFP-RSBS and
was not instrumental in having the resolution passed and approved by the
Sangguniang Bayan of Silang.21 (Emphasis supplied)

Notably complainant never presented any evidence to prove that the resolution was passed without the
intervention of respondent. This it could have done by asking the Sangguniang Bayan of Silang
whether respondent represented AFP-RSBS before them. This, complainant did not do.
The amount of PhP1.8 Million is a substantial amount that, in normal humane xperience, no person
would pay to someone who did not render any service.
Further, the mere fact that the contract was executed after the issuance of the resolution does no tips of
acto mean that respondent did not have any hand in its issuance.
Verily, complainant failed to overcome the above mentioned disputable presumption. Mere allegations
can not suffice to prove that respondent did not render any service to complainant and, therefore, not
entitled to the payment of PhPl.8Million.
The Court adopts the findings of Commissioner Fernandez of the IBP-CBD that respondent actually
rendered the legal services in connection with the Sangguniang Bayan Resolution converting the land
from agricultural to residential/commercial and that respondent is legally entitled to the payment. The
Court finds that the explanation of respondent is credible and it clarifies why the Agreement came after
the issuance of the Resolution, viz:
The amount of Php1.8 Million was paid by complainant AFPRSBS for fees and expenses
related to the approval of Sangguniang Bayan Resolution No. ML-007, Series of 2007.
Based on the usual practice during that time, respondent performed the work upon the
instruction of AFP-RSBS even without any written agreement regarding his fees and
expenses. When respondent secured the Sangguniang Bayan Resolution, he then sent a
billing for the fees and expenses amounting to Php1,850,000.00.It was addressed to Engr.
Samuel Cruz, the then Project Director of RSBS-Riviera Project. However, since At That
time, AFPRSBS had a new President, the Head of its Corporation Holding and Investment
Group (Col. Cyrano A Austria) instructed respondent to draw a new contract to comply
with the new policies and requirements.1âwphi1 Thus, respondent and complainant entered
into a contract for services if only to document the service already performed by respondent
in accordance with the new policy of AFP-RSBS.22

As such, there is no basis to order respondent to return the PhP1.8Million.


Respondent did not acquire
Property of a client subject of
litigation
Moreover, with regard to the finding of the IBP-BOG that respondent violated Article 1491 of the Civil
Code,We have to digress.The Article reads:
Art.1491.The following persons cannot acquire by purchase, even at a public or judicial
uction,either in person or through the mediation of another:
xxxx

(5)Justices, judges, prosecuting attorneys, clerks of superior and inferior courts, and other
officers and employees connected with the administration of justice, the property and rights
in litigation or levied upon an execution before the court within whose jurisdiction or
territory they exercise their respective functions; this prohibition includes the act of
acquiring by assignment and shall apply to lawyers, with respect to the property and
rights which may be the object of any litigation in which they may take part by virtue
of their profession.

xxxx (Emphasis supplied)

On this point, We sustain the respondent's position that the prohibition contained in Article 1491 does
not apply in this case.
"The subject properties which were acquired by respondent Amora were allegedly not in litigation
and/or object of any litigation at the time of his acquisition."23
The Court in Sabidong v.Solas, clearly ruled:
"For the prohibition to apply, the sale or assignment of the property must take place during the
pendency of the litigation involving the property."24
Under the circumstances,
Atty. Amara must be suspended
Notwithstanding the respondent's absolution from liability under Article 1491 of the Civil Code, the
gravity of his other acts of misconduct demands that respondent Amora must still be suspended.
Section 27, Rule 138 of the Revised Rules of Court provides:
SEC.27. Disbarment or suspension of attorneys by Supreme Court; grounds therefor.-A
member of the bar may be disbarred or suspended from his office as attorney by the
Supreme Court for any deceit, malpractice, or other gross misconduct in such office,
grossly immoral conduct, or by reason of his conviction of a crime involving moral
turpitude, or for any violation of the oath which he is required to take before admission
to practice, or for a willful disobedience of any lawful order of a superior court, or for
corruptly or willfully appearing as an attorney for a party to a case without authority so to
do.The practice of soliciting case sat law for the purpose of gain, either personally or
through paid agents or brokers, constitutes malpractice. (Emphasis supplied)

While the Court cannot allow a lawyer to represent conflicting interests, the Court deems disbarment a
much too harsh penalty under the circumstances.1âwphi1 Thus, in Francia v. Abdon, the Court opined:
In Alitagtag v. Atty. Garcia, the Court emphasized, thus:
Indeed, the power to disbar must be exercised with great caution, and may be imposed only
in a clear case of misconduct that seriously affects the standing and the character of the
lawyer as an officer of the Court and as a member of the bar.

Disbarment should never be decreed where any lesser penalty could accomplish the end desired.
Without doubt, aviolation of the high moral standards of the legal profession justifies the imposition of
the appropriate penalty, including suspension and disbarment.
However, the said penalties are imposed with great caution, because they are the most severe forms of
disciplinary action and their consequences are beyond repair.25 (citation omitted)
In Quiambao v. Bamba,26 the Court pointed out that jurisprudence27 regarding the penalty solely for a
lawyer's representation of conflicting interests is suspension from the practice of law for one (1) to
three (3) years.While the IP-BOG recommends the penalty of suspension from the practice of law for
three (3) years be imposed on respondent, the Court finds that under the circumstances, a penalty of
two (2) years suspension from the practice of law would suffice.
Atty. Amora, however, is warned that are petition of this and other similar acts will be dealt with more
severely.
WHEREFORE,the Court finds Atty. Bienvenido Braulio M. Amora, Jr. GUILTY of violating the
Lawyer's Oat hand Canon 15,Rule15.03;Canon21,Rule21.01 and 21.02 of the Code of Professional
Responsibility. Heishereby SUSPENDED from the practice of law for a period of two (2) years. Atty.
Amora is warned that are petition of the same or similar acts will be dealt with more severely.
Let a copy of this Decision be furnished to the Office of the Bar Confidant, to be appended to the
persona lrecord of Atty. Bienvenido Braulio M. Amora, Jr. as a member of the Bar; the Integrated Bar
of the Philippines; and the Office of the Court Administrator for dissemination to all trial courts for
theirin formation and guidance.
SO ORDERED.
THIRD DIVISION
ELISA V. VENTEREZ, A. C. No. 7421
GENARO DE VERA,
INOCENCIA V. RAMIREZ, Present:
PACITA V. MILLS,
ANTONINA V. PALMA and YNARES-SANTIAGO, J.,
RAMON DE VERA,
Chairperson,
Complainants,
AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ,
- versus -
CHICO-NAZARIO,
ATTY. RODRIGO R. COSME,
NACHURA, and
Respondent.
REYES, JJ.

Promulgated:

October 10, 2007

x- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -x

RESOLUTION
CHICO-NAZARIO, J.:
Before Us is a Complaint filed by complainants Eliza V. Venterez , Genaro de Vera,
Inocencia V. Ramirez, Pacita V. Mills, Antonina V. Palma and Ramon de Vera against
respondent Atty. Rodrigo R. Cosme, charging the latter with Abandonment, Gross
Negligence and Dereliction of Duty.

Complainants contracted the legal services of respondent in Civil Case No. 981 entitled,
Sps. Daniel and Lolita Oviedo, et al. v. Eliza de Vera, et al., for Declaration of
Ownership with Damages filed before the Municipal Trial Court (MTC) of Calasiao,
Pangasinan. Respondent represented the complainants, who were defendants in said
case, until a Decision thereon was rendered by the MTC on 25 February 2004. The MTC
ruled against the complainants. Respondent received a copy of the said Decision on 3
March 2004.
Complainants alleged that they directed the respondent to either file a Motion for
Reconsideration or a Notice of Appeal, but respondent failed or refused to do so. The 15-
day period within which to file an appeal or a motion for reconsideration of the MTC
Decision expired on 18 March 2004. Complainant Elisa V. Venterez was constrained to
contract another lawyer to prepare the Motion for Reconsideration which was filed on
19 March 2004. It must be stressed that the said motion was signed by complainant Elisa
V. Venterez herself as the said lawyer did not enter his appearance.

On 23 March 2004, the said Motion for Reconsideration was denied[1] by the MTC.
Respondent was not furnished a copy of the denial of the motion per a Certification[2]
issued by Clerk of Court II Zenaida C. de Vera. On 31 March 2004, a Motion for
Issuance of Writ of Execution[3] was filed by the plaintiffs in Civil Case No. 981 but
respondent never bothered to file an opposition to or any comment on the said motion
despite receipt thereof. The motion was eventually granted[4] by the MTC on 23 April
2004. On 28 April 2004, a Writ of Execution[5] was issued and on 26 April 2004, an
Entry of Judgment[6] was made in the said case.

Two months after respondent received a copy of the Decision, the respondent filed his
Notice of Retirement of Counsel with the MTC on 3 May 2004.

Feeling aggrieved by respondents actuations, complainants filed the instant


administrative complaint against him.[7]

In his Answer,[8] respondent denied the claim of complainants that soon after the
Decision was rendered by the MTC, they (complainants) directed him to file an appeal
or a motion for reconsideration thereof. For his defense, respondent averred that
Salvador Ramirez (the son of one of the complainants, Inocencia V. Ramirez), informed
him that he [was] withdrawing the case from the respondent because he already engaged
another lawyer to take over the case, so respondent gave the records of the case to him.
Respondent explained that after Salvador Ramirez withdrew the case from the
respondent, and engaged another lawyer, the respondent turned over the records of the
case to him and the respondent ceased as the counsel of the complainants. Respondent
further alleged that the said Motion for Reconsideration was already prepared by another
lawyer. He denied being furnished a copy of the Motion for Reconsideration allegedly
prepared and filed by another lawyer engaged by complainant Elisa V. Venterez and that
he was served with a copy of the denial of the said Motion by the MTC. Respondent also
clarified that the last day of the 15-day period for the perfection of the appeal is 19
March 2004 since a copy of the decision was served on the respondent on 4 March 2004.
Finally, respondent argued that when the respondent was served a copy of the Motion for
Writ of Execution, he immediately notified Salvador Ramirez about said Motion but
Salvador Ramirez came to see the respondent only on 3 May 2005, when the respondent
asked him to sign a Notice of Retirement of Counsel signed by Salvador Ramirez which
respondent immediately filed in court.

Pursuant to the complaint, a hearing was conducted by the Commission on Bar


Discipline of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) at the IBP Building, Ortigas
Center, Pasig City, on 15 February 2006.

On 11 April 2006, Investigating Commissioner Dennis A. B. Funa submitted his Report


and Recommendation,[9] finding respondent liable for gross negligence and
recommending the imposition upon him of the penalty of three months suspension, to
wit:

PREMISES CONSIDERED, it is submitted that Respondent is GUILTY of Gross Negligence and


should be given the penalty of THREE (3) MONTHS SUSPENSION.
Thereafter, the IBP Board of Governors passed Resolution[10] No. XVII-2006-457
dated 8 September 2006, approving and adopting the recommendation of the
Investigating Commissioner, thus:

RESOLVED to ADOPT and APPROVE, as it is hereby ADOPTED and APPROVED, the Report and
Recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner of the above-entitled case, herein made part of
this Resolution as Annex A; and, finding the recommendation fully supported by the evidence on
record and the applicable laws and rules, and considering that Respondent is guilty of gross
negligence, Atty. Rodrigo Cosme is hereby SUSPENDED from the practice of law for three (3)
months.[11]
We sustain the findings and recommendation of the IBP Board of Governors.

The core issue is whether the respondent committed culpable negligence in handling
complainants case, as would warrant disciplinary action.

No lawyer is obliged to advocate for every person who may wish to become his client,
but once he agrees to take up the cause of a client, the lawyer owes fidelity to such cause
and must be mindful of the trust and confidence reposed in him.[12] Among the
fundamental rules of ethics is the principle that an attorney who undertakes an action
impliedly stipulates to carry it to its termination, that is, until the case becomes final and
executory. A lawyer is not at liberty to abandon his client and withdraw his services
without reasonable cause and only upon notice appropriate in the circumstances.[13]
Any dereliction of duty by a counsel affects the client.[14] This means that his client is
entitled to the benefit of any and every remedy and defense that is authorized by the law
and he may expect his lawyer to assert every such remedy or defense.[15]

The Decision in Civil Case No. 981 was rendered by the MTC of Calasaio, Pangasinan,
on 25 February 2004. Respondent admitted[16] that he was served a copy of the said
Decision on 4 March 2004. After having received a copy of the MTC Decision,
respondent did not bother to file a Motion for Reconsideration or a notice of appeal with
the proper courts. Thus, complainants were compelled to engage the services of a new
counsel to file a Motion for Reconsideration with the MTC who did not, however, enter
his appearance as new counsel. It bears stressing that during this time, respondent had
not yet filed any notice of withdrawal as counsel for the complainants in Civil Case No.
981. Respondent only formally withdrew as counsel for complainant in Civil Case No.
981 when he filed with the MTC his Notice[17] of Retirement as Counsel on 5 May
2004, on the ground that "he was also retired as Counsel for the [complainants] two days
after he received copy of the decision rendered in this case when SALVADOR
RAMIREZ, a representative of the [complainants], withdrew all the records of the case
from [respondent] to be given to his new counsel.
We cannot accept respondents defense that he had already withdrawn from the case two
days after his receipt of the MTC Decision and that he had allegedly communicated this
withdrawal to Salvador Ramirez, son of one of the herein complainants, Inocencia
Ramirez. It is an apparent attempt on the part of respondent to wash his hands of any
liability for failing to pursue any of the available remedies to complainants from the
adverse MTC Decision.

The rule in this jurisdiction is that a client has the absolute right to terminate the
attorney-client relation at any time with or without cause.[18] The right of an attorney to
withdraw or terminate the relation other than for sufficient cause is, however,
considerably restricted.[19] Among the fundamental rules of ethics is the principle that
an attorney who undertakes to conduct an action impliedly stipulates to carry it to its
conclusion.[20] He is not at liberty to abandon it without reasonable cause.[21] A
lawyer's right to withdraw from a case before its final adjudication arises only from the
client's written consent or from a good cause.[22]

Section 26, Rule 138 of the Revised Rules of Court provides:

Sec. 26. Change of attorneys -- An attorney may retire at any time from any action or special
proceeding, by the written consent of his client filed in court. He may also retire at any time from
an action or special proceeding, without the consent of his client, should the court, on notice to the
client and attorney, and on hearing, determine that he ought to be allowed to retire. In case of
substitution, the name of the attorney newly employed shall be entered on the docket of the court in
place of the former one, and written notice of the change shall be given to the adverse party.
A lawyer may retire at any time from any action or special proceeding with the
written consent of his client filed in court and with a copy thereof served upon
the adverse party. Should the client refuse to give his consent, the lawyer must
file an application with the court. The court, on notice to the client and adverse
party, shall determine whether the lawyer ought to be allowed to retire. The
application for withdrawal must be based on a good cause.[23]

What constitute good cause for the withdrawal of services by the counsel are identified
under Rule 22.01, Canon 22 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, which provides:
CANON 22 -- A LAWYER SHALL WITHDRAW HIS SERVICES ONLY FOR GOOD CAUSE AND
UPON NOTICE APPROPRIATE IN THE CIRCUMSTANCES.
Rule 22.01-- A lawyer may WITHDRAW his services in any of the following cases:
a) When the client pursues an illegal or immoral course of conduct in connection with the matter he is
handling;
b) When the client insists that the lawyer pursue conduct violative of these canons and rules;
c) When his inability to work with co-counsel will not promote the best interest of the client;
d) When the mental or physical condition of the lawyer renders it difficult for him to carry out the
employment effectively;
e) When the client deliberately fails to pay the fees for the services or fails to comply with the retainer
agreement;
f) When the lawyer is elected or appointed to public office; and
g) Other similar cases.
The instant case does not fall under any of the grounds aforementioned. Neither can the
circumstances of this case be considered analogous to the grounds thus explicitly
enumerated. Contrary to respondents contention, his professional relations as a lawyer
with his clients are not terminated by the simple turnover of the records of the case to his
clients. Respondents defense completely crumbles in face of the fact that Salvador
Ramirez is not even a party in Civil Case No. 981 and, hence, had no authority to
withdraw the records of the said case from respondent or to terminate the latters
services.

Assuming, nevertheless, that respondent was justified in withdrawing his services, he,
however, cannot just do so and leave complainants in the cold, unprotected. The lawyer
has no right to presume that his petition for withdrawal will be granted by the court.[24]
Until his withdrawal shall have been approved, the lawyer remains counsel of record
who is expected by his clients, as well as by the court, to do what the interests of his
clients require.[25] He must still appear before the court to protect the interest of his
clients by availing himself of the proper remedy, for the attorney-client relations are not
terminated formally until there is a withdrawal of record.

Without a proper revocation of his authority and withdrawal as counsel, respondent


remains counsel of record for the complainants in Civil Case No. 981; and whether he
has a valid cause to withdraw from the case, he cannot immediately do so and leave his
clients without representation. An attorney may only retire from the case either by a
written consent of his client or by permission of the court after due notice and hearing,
in which event, the attorney should see to it that the name of the new attorney is
recorded in the case.[26] Respondent did not comply with these obligations. Therefore,
he remains the counsel of record for the complainants in Civil Case No. 981 with the
duty to protect complainants interest. Had he made the necessary inquiries as to the
status of the case, he would have known that he was still the counsel of record as no
entry of appearance was ever made by another counsel. It would have been easily
discernible on his part that there was no change in his status as complainants lawyer. As
of that time, their client-lawyer relationship was still subsisting. Therefore, he would
have known that the Motion for Reconsideration was denied; and a writ of execution had
been issued under the circumstances.

All told, we rule and so hold that on account of respondents failure to protect the interest
of complainants, respondent indeed violated Rule 18.03, Canon 18 of the Code of
Professional Responsibility, which states that a lawyer shall not neglect a legal matter
entrusted to him, and his negligence in connection therewith shall render him liable.
Respondent is reminded that the practice of law is a special privilege bestowed only
upon those who are competent intellectually, academically and morally. This Court has
been exacting in its expectations for the members of the Bar to always uphold the
integrity and dignity of the legal profession and refrain from any act or omission which
might lessen the trust and confidence of the public.

The determination of the appropriate penalty to be imposed on an errant lawyer involves


the exercise of sound judicial discretion based on the facts of the case.[27] In cases of
similar nature, the penalty imposed by the Court consisted of reprimand,[28] fine of five
hundred pesos with warning,[29] suspension of three months,[30] six months[31] and
even disbarment[32] in an aggravated case.
The facts of the case show that respondent failed to live up to his duties as a lawyer
pursuant to the Code of Professional Responsibility. We conclude that a 3-month
suspension from the practice of law is a just penalty under the circumstances.

WHEREFORE, the resolution of the IBP Board of Governors approving and adopting
the report and recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner is hereby
AFFIRMED. Accordingly, ATTY. RODRIGO R. COSME is hereby SUSPENDED
from the practice of law for a period of THREE (3) MONTHS, with a stern warning
that a repetition of the same or similar wrongdoing will be dealt with more severely.

Let a copy of this decision be attached to respondents personal record with the Office of
the Bar Confidant and copies be furnished to all chapters of the Integrated Bar of the
Philippines and to all courts of the land.

SO ORDERED.