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329 Phil. 270

THIRD DIVISION

[ A.M. No. MTJ-95-1063, August 09, 1996 ]

ALFONSO C. CHOA, COMPLAINANT, VS. JUDGE ROBERTO S. CHIONGSON, RESPONDENT.

R E S O L U T I O N

DAVIDE, JR., J.:

In the resolution of 9 February 1996, this Court dismissed the instant complaint for want of merit and directed Atty. Raymundo A. Quiroz, counsel for the complainant, to show cause within fifteen days from notice why he should not be disciplinary dealt with for his apparent failure to comply with the duties and responsibilities of a member of the Bar. Such duties and responsibilities were noted in the following paragraph of the resolution:
Atty. Raymundo A. Quiroz, counsel for the complainant, must have been aware of the utter lack of merit of the charges against the respondent. As a Member of the Philippine Bar he is bound: (1) by his oath, not to, wittingly or willingly, promote or sue any groundless, false, or unlawful suit nor give aid nor consent to the same; (2) by Section 20(c), Rule 138 of the Rules of Court, to counsel or maintain such actions or proceedings only as appear to him to be just; and (3) to uphold the Code of Professional Responsibility. It was incumbent upon him to give a candid and honest opinion on the merits and probable results of the complainant’s case (Rule 15.05, Canon 15, Code of Professional Responsibility) with the end in view of promoting respect for the law and legal processes (Canon 1, Id.). He should, therefore, be required to show cause why no disciplinary action should be taken against him for his apparent failure to observe the foregoing duties and responsibilities.
Atty. Quiroz received a copy of the foregoing resolution on 16 February 1996, and on 2 March 1996, he filed a Motion for Extension of Time wherein he prayed that he be given an extension of six days from 2 March 1996 - the expiry date of the original period to file his compliance to the show-cause order - within which to file his compliance to or motion for reconsideration of the resolution.

In the resolution of 25 March 1996, this Court granted Atty. Quiroz’s motion but only insofar as the filing of his compliance was concerned, as clearly shown in the notice of the resolution sent to him reading as follows:

Quoted hereunder, for your information, is a resolution of the Third Division of this Court dated MAR. 25, 1996:
Administrative Matter MTJ-95-1063 (Alfonso C. Choa vs. Judge Roberto S. Chiongson, etc.) - The first motion of Atty. Raymundo A. Quiroz, counsel for complainant, for extension of six (6) days from March 2, 1996 or until March 8, 1996 within which to file compliance with the resolution of February 9, 1996 which directed him to show cause, why he should not be disciplinary dealt with for his apparent failure to comply with his duties and responsibilities, is GRANTED, with WARNING that no further extension will be given.
It appears that on 8 March 1996 Atty. Quiroz filed with the Office of the Court Administrator a pleading entitled Compliance/Motion for Reconsideration. This pleading is more of a motion for reconsideration. It was filed on the last day of the period he solicited in his motion for extension. Since the resolution of 25 March 1996 granted only an extension of the period to submit his compliance, it necessarily follows that the motion for reconsideration was filed beyond the reglementary period. It bears stressing that paragraph 5 of this Court’s en banc resolution of 7 April 1988 provides that, as a general policy, no motion for extension of time to file a motion for reconsideration shall be granted after the Court has rendered its judgment. Accordingly, the motion for reconsideration must forthwith be DENIED for having been filed late. In any event, it has no merit whatsoever except, perhaps, as to its sophistry.

The only issue then left is the sufficiency and adequacy of his explanation which is, nevertheless, inexorably linked to the motion for reconsideration. Atty. Quiroz asserts that he never had the intention to prosecute or sue any groundless, false, or unlawful suit or to file the instant complaint in addition to the appeal or in lieu thereof; that he assisted the complainant in the honest belief that the latter has really a cause of action against the respondent; and that he "was not ventilating in the instant case the complainant’s grievances relative to the respondent’s judgment finding [the complainant] guilty of perjury but was only raising the matter to show that indeed the respondent was biased because of such next-door-neighbor relationship."

These explanations deserve scant consideration. The claim of "honest belief," which amounts to a claim of good faith, fails to convince us in light of what follows.

Nothing is further from the truth than the claim of Atty. Quiroz that he "was not ventilating in the instant case the complainant’s grievances relative to the respondent’s judgment finding [the complainant] guilty of perjury but was only raising the matter to show that indeed the respondent was biased because of such next-door-neighbor relationship." He was in fact, attacking the judgment of conviction by asserting that the trial court’s only recourse was to acquit the complainant because (a) the allegations in the information do not constitute the offense of perjury; (b) the complainant’s petition for naturalization, which was the basis for the charge of perjury, having been withdrawn with finality, had become functus officio, i.e., as if the petition was not filed at all, and, therefore, whatever false statement contained therein was no longer required by law and had ceased to be on a material matter; (c) the respondent had admitted in evidence exhibits which are obviously inadmissible; and (d) the respondent had sentenced the complainant with the penalty higher than that provided by law without applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law.

The upshot of these allegations is that the complainant’s (Mr. Choa’s) conviction of the crime of perjury is baseless or unfounded in law and in fact and is nothing but the product of the respondent’s prejudice against Mr. Choa because the respondent happens to be a "next-door neighbor" of Mr. Choa’s wife, the private complainant in the perjury case. Considering that Mr. Choa seasonably appealed from the judgment of conviction, Atty. Quiroz knew or ought to know that all the matters which he may find relevant or material for the reversal of the judgment and the consequent acquittal of his client, Mr. Choa, may be raised with the appellate court, and that this Court, not being the venue for such appeal, cannot resolve the appeal even by way of an administrative complaint against the judge who convicted Mr. Choa.

If Atty. Quiroz then assisted Mr. Choa in the preparation of this case, he had nothing in mind but to harass the respondent Judge and to unduly influence the course of the appeal in the criminal case by injecting into the mind of the appellate judge that, indeed, something was definitely wrong with the appealed decision because the ponente thereof is now facing a serious administrative complaint arising from his improper conduct therein. It might even be said that the filing of this case was to send a signal to the appellate judge in the criminal case that an affirmance of the challenged decision would clearly be erroneous, if not equally baseless and unfounded as that of the trial court below.

While a lawyer owes absolute fidelity to the cause of his client, full devotion to his genuine interest, and warm zeal in the maintenance and defense of his rights, as well as the exertion of his utmost learning and ability,[1] he must do so only within the bounds of the law.[2] He must give a candid and honest opinion on the merits and probable results of his client’s case[3] with the end in view of promoting respect for the law and legal processes,[4] and counsel or maintain such actions or proceedings only as appear to him to be just, and such defenses only as he believes to be honestly debatable under the law.[5] He must always remind himself of the oath he took upon admission to the Bar that he "will not wittingly or willingly promote or sue any groundless, false or unlawful suit nor give aid nor consent to the same"; and that he "will conduct [himself] as a lawyer according to the best of [his] knowledge and discretion with all good fidelity as well to the courts as to [his] clients." Needless to state, the lawyer’s fidelity to his client must not be pursued at the expense of truth and the administration of justice,[6] and it must be done within the bounds of reason and common sense.[7] A lawyer’s responsibility to protect and advance the interests of his client does not warrant a course of action propelled by ill motives and malicious intentions against the other party.[8]

As an officer of the court and its indispensable partner in the sacred task of administering justice, graver responsibility is imposed upon a lawyer than any other to uphold the integrity of the courts and to show respect to its officers. This does not mean, however, that a lawyer cannot criticize a judge. As we stated in Tiongco vs. Hon. Aguilar.[9]
It does not, however, follow that just because a lawyer is an officer of the court, he cannot criticize the courts. That is his right as a citizen, and it is even his duty as an officer of the court to avail of such right. Thus, in In Re: Almacen (31 SCRA 562, 579-580 [1970]), this Court explicitly declared:
Hence, as a citizen and as officer of the court, a lawyer is expected not only to exercise the right, but also to consider it his duty to avail of such right. No law may abridge this right. Nor is he "professionally answerable to a scrutiny into the official conduct of the judges, which would not expose him to legal animadversion as a citizen." (Case of Austin, 28 Am Dec. 657, 665).

Above all others, the members of the bar have the best opportunity to become conversant with the character and efficiency of our judges. No class is less likely to abuse the privilege, or no other class has as great an interest in the preservation of an able upright bench. (State Board of Examiners in Law vs. Hart, 116 N.W. 212, 216).

To curtail the right of a lawyer to be critical of the foibles of the courts and judges is to seal the lips of those in the best position to give advice and who might consider it their duty to speak disparagingly. "Under such a rule," so far as the bar is concerned, "the merits of a sitting judge may be rehearsed, but as to his demerits there must be profound silence." (State vs. Circuit Court [72 N.W. 196]).
Nevertheless, such a right is not without limit. For, as this Court warned in Almacen:

But it is a cardinal condition of all such criticism that it shall be bona fide, and shall not spill over the walls of decency and propriety. A wide chasm exists between fair criticism, on the one hand, and abuse and slander of courts and the judges thereof, on the other. Intemperate and unfair criticism is a gross violation of the duty of respect to courts. It is such a misconduct, that subjects a lawyer to disciplinary action.

xxx                     xxx                         xxx

The lawyer’s duty to render respectful sub-ordination to the courts is essential to the orderly administration of justice. Hence, in the assertion of their clients’ rights, lawyers - even those gifted with superior intellect - are enjoined to rein up their tempers.
Elsewise stated, the right to criticize, which is guaranteed by the freedom of speech and of expression in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution, must be exercised responsibly, for every right carries with it a corresponding obligation. Freedom is not freedom from responsibility, but freedom with responsibility. In Zaldivar vs. Gonzales (166 SCRA 316, 353-354 [1988]), it was held:
Respondent Gonzales is entitled to the constitutional guarantee of free speech. No one seeks to deny him that right, least of all this Court. What respondent seems unaware of is that freedom of speech and of expression, like all constitutional freedoms, is not absolute and that freedom of expression needs an occasion to be adjusted to and accommodated with the requirements of equally important public interests. One of these fundamental public interests is the maintenance of the integrity and orderly functioning of the administration of justice. There is no antimony between free expression and the integrity of the system of administering justice. For the protection and maintenance of freedom of expression itself can be secured only within the context of a functioning and orderly system of dispensing justice, within the context, in other words, of viable independent institutions for delivery of justice which are accepted by the general community.
Proscribed then are, inter alia, the use of unnecessary language which jeopardizes high esteem in courts, creates or promotes distrust in judicial administration (Rheem, supra), or tends necessarily to undermine the confidence of people in the integrity of the members of this Court and to degrade the administration of justice by this Court (In re: Sotto, 82 Phil. 595 [1949]); or of offensive and abusive language (In re: Rafael Climaco, 55 SCRA 107 [1974]); or abrasive and offensive language (Yangson vs. Salandanan, 68 SCRA 42 [1975]); or of disrespectful, offensive, manifestly baseless, and malicious statements in pleadings or in a letter addressed to the judge (Baja vs. Macandog, 158 SCRA [1988], citing the resolution of 19 January 1988 in Phil. Public Schools Teachers Association vs. Quisumbing, G.R. No. 76180, and Ceniza vs. Sebastian, 130 SCRA 295 [1984]); or of disparaging, intemperate, and uncalled-for remarks (Sangalang vs. Intermediate Appellate Court, 177 SCRA 87 [1989]).

Any criticism against a judge made in the guise of an administrative complaint which is clearly unfounded and impelled by ulterior motive will not excuse the lawyer responsible therefor under his duty of fidelity to his client. As we stated in Ng vs. Alfaro,[10] lawyers, as officers of the court, should not encourage groundless administrative cases against court officers and employees. The time of the latter should not be wasted in answering or defending groundless complaints; every minute of it is precious and must be reserved for the enhancement of public service. Our precious time too should not be diverted to such cases.

We find the explanation of Atty. Quiroz to be unsatisfactory.

WHEREFORE, we hereby impose upon ATTY. RAYMUNDO A. QUIROZ a FINE in the amount of Five Thousand Pesos (P5,000.00) to be paid within five (5) days from notice hereof. He is further WARNED that a commission of the same or similar acts in the future shall be dealt with more severely.

SO ORDERED.

Narvasa, C.J. (Chairman), Melo, Francisco, and Panganiban, JJ., concur.


[1]
Suarez vs. Court of Appeals, 220 SCRA 274, 279 [1993], citing Canon 17, Code of Professional Responsibility, and RUBEN E. AGPALO, Legal Ethics, 157.

[2] Canon 19, Code of Professional Responsibility.

[3] Rule 15.05, Canon 15, Id.

[4] Canon 1, Id.

[5] Section 20(c), Rule 138, Rules of Court.

[6] Garcia vs. Francisco, 220 SCRA 512, 515 [1993].

[7] People vs. Ignacio, 233 SCRA 1, 7-8 [1994]

[8] Libit vs. Oliva, 237 SCRA 375, 378 [1994].

[9] 240 SCRA 589, 596-598 [1995].

[10] 238 SCRA 486, 491-492 [1994].

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