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403 Phil. 1

EN BANC

[ A.C. No. 3637, January 24, 2001 ]

RURAL BANK OF SILAY, INC., COMPLAINANT, VS. ATTY. ERNESTO H. PILLA, RESPONDENT.

D E C I S I O N

KAPUNAN, J.:

Rural Bank of Silay. Inc. (complainant) filed with this Court the instant complaint for disbarment against Atty. Ernesto H. Pilla (respondent) alleging deceit and gross misconduct on the part of the latter. The complaint alleges as follows:
  1. That on July 23, 1975 the respondent executed a Real Estate Mortgage in favor of the complainant over a parcel of land located in the Municipality of Sagay, Negros Occidental, covered by Transfer Certificate of Title No. T-55380, purportedly as Attorney-in-Fact of the registered owners thereof, Pedro N. Torres and Oscar D. Granada. A copy of this Real Estate Mortgage is herewith attached as Annex "A".

  2. That together with the aforesaid Real Estate Mortgage the respondent submitted a Special Power of Attorney by virtue of which he was purportedly authorized and empowered by the registered owners Pedro Torres and Oscar D. Granada to mortgage the aforesaid parcel of land in favor of the complainant. A copy of this Special Power of Attorney is herewith attached as Annex "B".

  3. That on the security of, among others, the aforesaid parcel of land over which the respondent represented that he is authorized to mortgage, complainant extended and released a loan to the respondent in the amount of P91,427.00.

  4. That complainant subsequently and much later learned that the respondent was not at all authorized and empowered by the registered owner Oscar D. Granada to mortgage the aforesaid parcel of land when it was joined as a defendant in a complaint filed by the aforesaid Oscar D. Grananda for removal of cloud on title with preliminary injunction and damages. A copy of this complaint is herewith attached as Annex "C".

  5. That in the aforesaid complaint as well as in the hearing conducted in connection therewith Oscar D. Granada specifically and categorically denied having executed and signed the Special Power of Attorney, Annex B, submitted by the respondent to the complainant in support of his application for a loan.

  6. That the aforesaid civil case, Civil Case No. 1 of the Regional Trial Court of Negros Occidental, Branch 60, was subsequently decided against the respondent wherein the aforesaid Court found that the Special Power of Attorney, Annex B, was indeed forged and falsified because the spouses Oscar D. Grananda and Lolita L. Granada have not signed the same and wherein the Court also made the finding that the defendant, considering that he has benefited from the said falsified document, is presumed to have a hand in the preparation of the same. A copy of this Decision is herewith attached as Annex "D".

  7. That the respondent has not appealed from the aforesaid Decision thereby making the findings of fact made therein final as against him.

  8. That the foregoing acts of the respondent in presenting to the complainant Bank a forged and falsified Power of Attorney for the purpose of obtaining a loan is a betrayal of his oath as a lawyer to do falsehood to no man and by his conduct herein has forfeited his right to continue further in the practice of law.[1]
Upon the instance of the Court, respondent filed his comment refuting the charges of deceit and gross misconduct against him. Respondent denied employing any deceit or misrepresentation in obtaining a loan from complainant rural bank. According to respondent, he did not know that the signature of Oscar Granada on the special power of attorney appointing him (respondent) as attorney-in-fact was forged. The special power of attorney purportedly authorized respondent to mortgaged the parcel of land in Sagay, Negros Occidental in favor of complainant rural bank. Respondent also claimed that if indeed said document was forged, he was not a party to the forgery. He cited the findings of the trial court in Civil Case No. 1-C, thus:
Although there is no showing that Atty. Ernesto H. Pilla has actually falsified the signatures of the spouses, Atty. Oscar D. Granada, yet considering that he actually benefited from the said falsified documents, he is presumed to have a hand on the same. (Decision, p. 20-annex "D".)[2]
Respondent maintained that he obtained the loan from complainant rural bank without depriving it of the opportunity to investigate his financial capacity as well as to ascertain the genuineness of the special power of attorney under which he acted as the mortgagor. Thus, respondent is of the view that, under the circumstances, it cannot be said that he employed deceit and gross misconduct against complainant rural bank.

After receipt of respondent's comment, the Court referred the matter to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) for investigation. Both parties adduced their respective evidence before the Commission on Bar Discipline of the IBP. Upon agreement of the parties, the matter was resolved on the basis of their respective pleadings and the annexes attached thereto. From these pleadings, the IBP, through Commissioner Julio C. Elamparo, established the following uncontroverted facts:
Purportedly acting as attorney-in-fact of a certain Pedro Torres and Oscar D. Granada, by virtue of a special power of attorney, respondent applied for a loan and concomitantly executed a Real Estate Mortgage in favor of the complainant bank covering the property of Pedro Torres and Oscar D. Granada. With such security, complainant extended to the respondent his loan in the amount of P91,427.00. In view of the failure of the respondent to pay the loan, the mortgaged property was foreclosed by the complainant bank. Later, Oscar Granada, the real registered owner of the mortgaged property filed a complaint against the respondent and the complainant for the annulment of the Real Estate Mortgage and Special Power of Attorney. After the trial, the court declared null and void the said Special Power of Attorney as well as the Real Estate Mortgage for being products of forgery. This decision was not appealed by the defendants.

There is no showing that respondent, despite the adverse decision, returned or offered to return the money he took from the complainant bank. The bank then instituted this disbarment proceeding against the respondent.[3]
The IBP found from the above facts that respondent violated his oath as a lawyer to do no falsehood, thus:
This office believes that the actuation of the respondent constitutes a betrayal of his oath as a lawyer. The findings of the Regional Trial Court of Negros Occidental has persuasive effect in this proceeding.

As found by the Regional Trial Court of Negros Occidental in its decision in Civil Case No. 1-C, entitled "Spouses Oscar D. Granada and Lolita L. Granada vs. Ernesto H. Pilla, et al", the plaintiffs Granada spouses have not signed the questioned Special Power of Attorney in favor of the respondent and the said spouses' signatures as appearing in the Special Power of Attorney are not their true and genuine signatures for actually they have not executed nor granted a Special Power of Attorney in favor of herein respondent authorizing him to mortgage the one-third (1/3) share of the said spouses in the mortgaged property. The trial court stressed that:
"...Although there is no showing that Atty. Ernesto H. Pilla has actually falsified the signatures of the spouses, Atty. Oscar D. Granada, yet considering that he actually benefited from the said falsified documents, he is presumed to have a hand on the same.

Defendant Antonio Pura testified and in fact he admitted that he notarized the said documents, Exhibit "A" and "B", with the assurance of Atty. Pilla that the signatures appearing in the said documents were the signatures of Atty. Oscar D. Granada and of Pedro Torres, registered owners of the property in question."
Antonio G. Pura, the notary public who notarized the questioned Special Power of Attorney in favor of the respondent, testified in said Civil Case as follows:
"Q
Now, compaƱero, will you please relate to this Honorable Court the circumstances under which you notarized this Special Power of Attorney now marked as Exh. "A" on April 21, 1975?


"A
Yes, sir. I remember that on the same day, April 21, 1975, defendant Atty. Ernesto H. Pilla personally appeared before me and he brought along with him this Special Power of Attorney executed in his favor. He told me to notarize it. I asked him about the signature of Atty. Oscar D. Granada if this is his signature and he said "Yes". I also asked him about the signature of the other principal and he said also "Yes". With that assurance and being a brother lawyer I accommodated him. Knowing that he will not do anything that is illegal and I have confidence in him considering that he is a lawyer and he knows what he was doing, I accommodated him."
(TSN, Hearing March 15, 1993, pp. 22-23, Civil Case No. 1, RTC, Branch LX, Cadiz City, Negros Occidental)

If indeed, respondent is not responsible for the falsification of the Special Power of Attorney, why did he not explain before the trial court or before this office the circumstances on how he obtained the same. He did not even bother to identify his alleged client who provided him the forged Special Power of Attorney. Instead, respondent is banking on his defense that the complainant bank has not introduced any evidence to prove that he forged the Special Power of Attorney. He relied on the argument that his transaction with the complainant bank was purely commercial business and did not involve his capacity as a lawyer. Further, if it is true that the respondent maintains the highest degree of morality and integrity as he asserted, why did he represent before the notary public that the signatures appearing in the Special Power of Attorney were the signatures of the real owners if he was not actually aware that the signatures were that of the real owners.

The office is convinced that the actuation of the respondent is misrepresentation constituting gross misconduct at the very least. This is a violation of his oath as a lawyer to do falsehood to no man.[4]
In conclusion, Commissioner Elamparo recommended that respondent be suspended from the practice of law for five (5) years. The IBP, through Resolution No. XIV-00-175, dated 7 April 2000, of its Board of Governors, substantially adopted and approved the report and recommendation of Commissioner Elamparo but modified the penalty. The IBP RESOLVED as follows:
...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/Decision as annex "A", and, finding the recommendation fully supported by the evidence on record and the applicable laws and rules, said recommendation is with modification that Respondent be SUSPENDED from the practice of law for THREE (3) years for misrepresentation.[5]
We fully agree with the findings of the Investigating Commissioner.

As correctly pointed out by the trial court in Civil Case No. 1-C, since respondent actually benefited from the falsified document, he is presumed to have a hand in the falsification of the same. Respondent miserably failed to rebut this presumption with his barefaced denial that he had no knowledge of the forgery. The Court cannot give credence to respondent's negative assertion that he did not know that the special power of attorney issued in his favor was falsified. As a lawyer, respondent knows or ought to know that parties to a public document must personally appear before the notary public to attest that the same is their own free act and deed. In utter disregard of this requirement, respondent caused the special power of attorney to be notarized without the parties appearing before the notary public. Thereafter, respondent presented the same to complainant rural bank in order to obtain a loan therefrom. It is thus apparent that respondent had a hand in the falsification of the document especially considering that it was he who chiefly benefited from it. Indeed, "the settled rule is that in the absence of satisfactory explanation, one found in possession of and who used a forged document is the forger and therefore guilty of falsification."[6] Further, "if a person had in his possession a falsified document and he made use of it (uttered it), taking advantage of it and profiting thereby, the clear presumption is that he is the material author of the falsification."[7]

Respondent's acts clearly fall short of the standards set by the Code of Professional Responsibility, particularly Rule 1.01 thereof, which provides that "[a] lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct." The fact that the conduct pertained to respondent's private dealings with complainant rural bank is of no moment. A lawyer may be suspended or disbarred for ANY misconduct, even if it pertains to his private activities, as long as it shows him to be wanting in moral character, honesty, probity, or good demeanor.[8] Possession of good moral character is not only a good condition precedent to the practice of law, but a continuing qualification for all members of the bar.[9]

Considering the foregoing, the recommendation of the IBP that respondent be suspended from the practice of law for a period of three (3) years is approved.

WHEREFORE, the Court hereby finds respondent Atty. Ernesto H. Pilla guilty of misconduct. He is suspended from the practice of law for a period of three (3) years effective from receipt of this Resolution, with a warning that a repetition of the same or similar offense will be more severely dealt with.

Let a copy of this Resolution be furnished, upon its finality, to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and all the courts in the Philippines, and spread on the personal record of respondent in the Office of the Bar Confidant, Supreme Court of the Philippines.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., Bellosillo, Melo, Puno, Vitug, Mendoza, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Pardo, Buena, Gonzaga-Reyes, Ynares-Santiago, De Leon, Jr., and Sandoval-Gutierrez, JJ., concur.



[1] Records, Vol. I, pp. 1-2.

[2] Id., at 47.

[3] Id., at 61.

[4] Id., at 61-62.

[5] Id., at 56.

[6] Maliwat vs. Court of Appeals, 256 SCRA 718 (1996); Pecho vs. Sandiganbayan, 238 SCRA 116 (1994).

[7] Maliwat vs. CA, supra.

[8] Nakpil vs. Valdes, 286 SCRA 758, 774 (1998); Nadayag vs. Grageda, 237 SCRA 202 (1994).

[9] Nakpil vs. Valdes, supra.

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