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674 Phil. 317

FIRST DIVISION

[ A.C. No. 9000, October 05, 2011 ]

TOMAS P. TAN, JR., COMPLAINANT, VS. ATTY. HAIDE V. GUMBA, RESPONDENT.

R E S O L U T I O N

VILLARAMA, JR., J.:

Before us is an administrative complaint for disbarment filed by complainant Tomas P. Tan, Jr. against respondent Atty. Haide B. Vista-Gumba for gross unethical conduct.

The facts are as follows.

Complainant, a self-made businessman with a tailoring shop in Naga City, filed a verified Complaint[1] against respondent, also a resident of Naga City, before the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP)-Camarines Sur Chapter. Pursuant to Section 1, Paragraph 3,[2] Rule 139-B of the Revised Rules of Court, as amended, the said Chapter forwarded the complaint to the IBP Board of Governors for proper disposition.

Complainant narrated that sometime in August 2000, respondent asked to be lent ?350,000.00. Respondent assured him that she would pay the principal plus 12% interest per annum after one year.  She likewise offered by way of security a 105-square-meter parcel of land located in Naga City, covered by Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) No. 2055[3] and registered in her father's name.  Respondent showed complainant a Special Power of Attorney[4] (SPA) executed by respondent's parents, and verbally assured complainant that she was authorized to sell or encumber the entire property.  Complainant consulted one Atty. Raquel Payte and was assured that the documents provided by respondent were valid.  Thus, complainant agreed to lend money to respondent.  With the help of Atty. Payte, respondent executed in complainant's favor an "open" Deed of Absolute Sale over the said parcel of land, attaching thereto the SPA.  Complainant was made to believe that if respondent fails to pay the full amount of the loan with interest on due date, the deed of sale may be registered.  Accordingly, he gave the amount of ?350,000.00 to respondent.

Respondent, however, defaulted on her loan obligation and failed to pay the same despite complainant's repeated demands. Left with no recourse, complainant went to the Register of Deeds to register the sale, only to find out that respondent deceived him since the SPA did not give respondent the power to sell the property but only empowered respondent to mortgage the property solely to banks. Complainant manifested that he had lent money before to other people albeit for insignificant amounts, but this was the first time that he extended a loan to a lawyer and it bore disastrous results. He submitted that respondent committed fraud and deceit or conduct unbecoming of a lawyer.

Upon being ordered by the IBP to answer the above allegations, respondent filed a Motion for Extension of Time to File a Responsive Pleading[5] but no answer or comment was ever filed by her before the IBP-Commission on Bar Discipline (CBD). Likewise, the IBP-CBD allowed respondent to answer the Amended Complaint subsequently filed by complainant but she did not file any answer thereto.[6]  She also chose not to attend the mandatory conference hearings set on July 18, 2006, June 13, 2007 and January 25, 2008 despite due notice. Thus, she was deemed to have waived her right to participate in the proceedings.

On February 9, 2009, IBP Commissioner Jose I. De La Rama, Jr. rendered his report[7] finding respondent guilty of violating Canon 1, [8] Rule 1.01[9] and Canon 7[10] of the Code of Professional Responsibility and recommending that she be suspended from the practice of law for one year. Commissioner De La Rama opined that while respondent appears to be a co-owner of the property as evidenced by an annotation on the back of TCT No. 2055 showing that half of the property has been sold to her, it was evident that she employed deceit and dishonest means to make complainant believe, by virtue of the SPA, that she was duly authorized to sell the entire property.

On August 28, 2010, the IBP Board of Governors adopted and approved the report and recommendation of Commissioner De La Rama, Jr. in its Resolution No. XIX-2010-446:

RESOLVED to ADOPT and APPROVE, as it is hereby unanimously 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 Respondent's violation of Canon 1, Rule 1.01 and Canon 7 of the Code of Professional Responsibility and for her failure to submit verified Answer and did not even participate in the mandatory conference, Atty. Haide V. Gumba is SUSPENDED from the practice of law for one (1) year.[11]

We agree with the findings and conclusion of the IBP, but find that a reduction of the recommended penalty is called for, pursuant to the principle that the appropriate penalty for an errant lawyer depends on the exercise of sound judicial discretion based on the surrounding facts.[12]

Well entrenched in this jurisdiction is the rule that a lawyer may be disciplined for misconduct committed either in his professional or private capacity. The test is whether his conduct shows him to be wanting in moral character, honesty, probity, and good demeanor, or whether it renders him unworthy to continue as an officer of the court.[13] Verily, Canon 7 of the Code of Professional Responsibility mandates all lawyers to uphold at all times the dignity and integrity of the legal profession.  Lawyers are similarly required, under Rule 1.01, Canon 1 of the same Code, not to engage in any unlawful, dishonest and immoral or deceitful conduct.

Here, respondent's actions clearly show that she deceived complainant into lending money to her through the use of documents and false representations and taking advantage of her education and complainant's ignorance in legal matters.  As manifested by complainant, he would have never granted the loan to respondent were it not for respondent's misrepresentation that she was authorized to sell the property and if respondent had not led him to believe that he could register the "open" deed of sale if she fails to pay the loan.[14]  By her misdeed, respondent has eroded not only complainant's perception of the legal profession but the public's perception as well.  Her actions constitute gross misconduct for which she may be disciplined, following Section 27, Rule 138 of the Revised Rules of Court, as amended, which 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 the admission to practice, or for a wilful disobedience appearing as an attorney for a party to a case without authority so to do. The practice of soliciting cases at law for the purpose of gain, either personally or through paid agents or brokers, constitutes malpractice.

x x x x

We further note that after filing a Motion for Extension of Time to File a Responsive Pleading, respondent wantonly disregarded the lawful orders of the IBP-CBD to file her answer and to appear for the mandatory conferences despite due notice. Respondent should bear in mind that she must acknowledge the orders of the IBP-CBD in deference to its authority over her as a member of the IBP.[15]

Complainant now asks that respondent be disbarred. We find, however, that suspension from the practice of law is sufficient to discipline respondent. It is worth stressing that the power to disbar must be exercised with great caution. Disbarment will be imposed as a penalty 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 a member of the bar. Where any lesser penalty can accomplish the end desired, disbarment should not be decreed.[16] In this case, the Court finds the penalty of suspension more appropriate but finds the recommended penalty of suspension for one year too severe. Considering the circumstances of this case, the Court believes that a suspension of six months is sufficient. After all, suspension is not primarily intended as a punishment, but as a means to protect the public and the legal profession.[17]

WHEREFORE, respondent Atty. Haide B. Vista-Gumba is found administratively liable for grave misconduct.  She is SUSPENDED from the practice of law for SIX (6) MONTHS, effective immediately, with a warning that a repetition of the same or a similar act will be dealt with more severely.

Let notice of this Resolution be spread in respondent's record as an attorney in this Court, and notice thereof be served on the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and on the Office of the Court Administrator for circulation to all the courts concerned.

SO ORDERED.

Corona, C.J., (Chairperson), Leonardo-De Castro, Bersamin, and Del Castillo,  JJ., concur.



[1] Rollo, pp. 3-4.

[2] Section 1, Rule 139-B of the Rules of Court, as amended,  provides:

SECTION 1. How Instituted. - Proceedings for the disbarment, suspension, or discipline of attorneys may be taken by the Supreme Court motu proprio, or by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) upon the verified complaint of any person.  The complaint shall state clearly and concisely the facts complained of and shall be supported by affidavits of persons having personal knowledge of the facts therein alleged and/or by such documents as may substantiate said facts.

The IBP Board of Governors may, motu proprio, or upon referral by the Supreme Court or by a Chapter Board of Officers, or at the instance of any person, initiate and prosecute proper charges against any erring attorneys including those in the government service: Provided, however, That all charges against Justices of the Court of  Appeals and the Sandiganbayan, and Judges of the Court of Tax Appeals and lower courts, even if lawyers are jointly charged with them, shall be filed with the Supreme Court: Provided, further, That charges filed against Justices and Judges before the IBP, including those filed prior to their appointment in the Judiciary, shall immediately be forwarded to the Supreme Court for disposition and adjudication. (As amended by Bar Matter No. 1960, May 1, 2000.)

Six (6) copies of the verified complaint shall be filed with the Secretary of the IBP or the Secretary of any of its chapters who shall forthwith transmit the same to the IBP Board of Governors for assignment to an investigator.

[3] Rollo, pp. 20-22.

[4] Id. at 7.

[5] Id. at 10-11.

[6] Id. at 29-30 and 32.

[7] Id. at 72-77.

[8] Canon 1 of the Code of Professional Responsibility provides:

CANON 1 - A LAWYER SHALL UPHOLD THE CONSTITUTION, OBEY THE LAWS OF THE LAND AND PROMOTE RESPECT FOR LAW AND LEGAL PROCESSES.

[9] Canon 1, Rule 1.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility provides:

Rule 1.01. A lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct.

[10] Canon 7 of the Code of Professional Responsibility provides:

CANON 7 - A LAWYER SHALL AT ALL TIMES UPHOLD THE INTEGRITY AND DIGNITY OF THE LEGAL PROFESSION AND SUPPORT THE ACTIVITIES OF THE INTEGRATED BAR.

[11] Rollo, p. 71.

[12]  De Chavez-Blanco v. Lumasag, Jr., A.C. No. 5195, April 16, 2009, 585 SCRA 56, 62.

[13] Roa v. Moreno, A.C. No. 8382, April 21, 2010, 618 SCRA 693, 699, citing Ronquillo v. Cezar, A.C. No. 6288, June 16, 2006, 491 SCRA 1, 5-6.

[14] Rollo, p. 17.

[15] Toledo v. Abalos, A.C. No. 5141, September 29, 1999, 315 SCRA 419, 422.

[16] Santiago v. Rafanan, A.C. No. 6252, October 5, 2004, 440 SCRA 91, 101.

[17] Saburnido v. MadroƱo, A.C. No. 4497, September 26, 2001, 366 SCRA 1, 7.

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