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344 Phil. 668


[ A.C. No. 3961, September 18, 1997 ]



After this Court, per Resolution dated January 27, 1993, referred to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) the affidavit-complaint of herein complainant Salud Imson-Souweha against respondent Atty. Teopisto A. Rondez who filed a comment thereon, the IBP Board of Governors issued Resolution No. XII-97-10 dated May 17, 1997 adopting and approving the Report of Investigating Commissioner Plaridel C. Jose, the decretal portion of which reads:
WHEREFORE, it is hereby recommended that the respondent be absolved from the complainant’s charge of violating his notarial duties and responsibility. However, the respondent should be strongly REPRIMANDED for appearing in the aforementioned Civil Case No. 2606-R with conflict of interest.”
In a nut shell, complainant Souweha charged respondent Atty. Rondez of being a privy, or instrumental, in the forgery of her signature appearing in the Extrajudicial Settlement of the Estate of her deceased parents purportedly agreed upon by her father’s (Anastacio Imson) two sets of children with his first and second wives. She claims that she could not have signed (not has she authorized anybody to sign in her behalf) said agreement as she was in the United States. Complainant Souweha thus accused respondent Atty. Rondez, in having notarized the extrajudicial settlement despite her absence, of failing in his legal duties and responsibilities and violating his lawyer’s oath, by (1) causing it to appear that persons have participated in any act or proceeding when they did not in fact so participate; (2) attributing to persons who have participated in any act or proceeding statements other than those in fact made by them; and (3) making untruthful statements in narration of facts.

Respondent, on the other hand, claimed close friendship with deceased Anastacio Imson and in having personally informed complainant Souweha during a conference with Anastacio Imson’s children held after the burial, to secure a tax account number necessary in the preparation of the extrajudicial settlement, complainant being known to respondent as permanent resident of the U.S. Respondent also claimed that on the date he presented to the children the deed of extrajudicial settlement which he prepared for their signatures, two (2) of complainant’s sisters (Lydia Imson-Sinlao and Flora Imson-Elvina) assured him that the complainant, who had to leave for the US, had already executed a Special Power of Attorney in their favor to affix her signature on said deed. Respondent had to leave for a pressing appointment, and when he returned and upon seeing the signatures of all the children already affixed on the deed, respondent then notarized the same.

The Court agrees with, and hereby adopts, the IBP’s finding that respondent, in essence, acted in good faith in connection with his participation in/approval of the extrajudicial settlement. Thus:
From the foregoing premises, herein respondent could not have been at fault or deemed to have violated his oath as a commissioned notary public on account of complaint’s non-appearance or absence when she acknowledged the deed of settlement as her voluntary act and deed. Because of respondent’s close relationship with the Imson family and the assurances of the complainant’s sister Flora Imson-Elvina and Lydia Imson-Salud (sic) that they have the written authority of the complainant to sign on her behalf, respondent thus notarixed (sic) the questioned document believing in good faith the representations (sic) of complainant’s sisters Flora Imson-Elvina and Lydia Imson-Sinlao that they have the written authority of their sister Salud Imson-Souweha. If respondent is to be faulted at all, it is simply because of his complete trust and confidence on the heirs of Anastacio, particularly Flora Imson-Elvina and Lydia Imson-Sinlao whom the respondent never suspected would commit the grievous scheme of misenterpreting themselves as the representatives of the complainant in the matter of the settlement of the deed.

“As a matter of fact, complainant had, by her manifest conduct, reiterated having given her sisters authority to sign on her behalf. Her two sisters had on several occasions declared that they have the requisite authority. If it is in writing, then it can only be presumed that they have suppressed or refused to give a copy to the herein respondent to serve their malicious design. Or if indeed no written authority exists, then Salud Imson Souweha must have instructed her sister to sign it for her before she left for the United States. To allege that respondent forced her signatures on the deed is a grievous and unconscionable assault on the personal honor, integrity and reputation of herein respondent.

“Respondent is of the belief that the complaint in the case at bar was initiated by the complainant in the light of the recent legal reverses which was suffered by her brother and sisters as against their half brothers and half sister Mrs. Orlino. Complainant Salud Imson-Souweha is being used by his brothers and sisters, as well as her brothers and sisters-in-laws as their instrument of revenge or hate. It is obvious that the complaint was prepared for her in Baguio City although sworn to before the Philippines (sic) consulate in New York.

“If indeed Salud Imson-Souweha never signed the deed because she was not personally present to sign the same or never authorized anybody to sign on her behalf, she is deemed, however, to have ratified the document by her subsequent actuations. Salud Imson Souweha was in Baguio City for a vacation during the months of July and August, 1992, collected and received her equal share of back rentals for a period of eighteen (18) months equivalent to her 1/12 interest in the property which was leased by the other heir, a proprietary interest which she acquired by virtue of the Deed of Extra-Judicial Settlement. She now alleges that the respondent is instrumental in the forgery of her signatures on the document where she derives her equal share in the property.

“Respondent pleads to cite recent court reversals suffered by Salud Imson-Souweha and her brother and sisters, as well as recent revelations on their personal and collective filiation, thus:
“(a) In Civil Case No. 2606-R, pending before the Regional Trial Court of Baguio, Branch 5, complainant’s group of heirs filed on August 11, 1992, a suit to enjoin and/or to terminate the lease of their half-brothers and half-sister over the property subject, of their extra-judicial settlement. The Court, in its order dated September 9, 1992 denied their attempt to secure such injunction from the court, a copy of said order herein attached as Annex “2”

“(b) Salud B. Imson Souweha, her brothers and sisters insisted on the clients of the respondent that they are the majority co-owners of the properties they inherited from their late father since they outnumber the five (5) legitimate children (see paragraph II) if they are to share equally the said properties. It turned out, however, complainant and her brothers and sisters are not even legitimate and that two (2) of them are not even children of their late father. The eldest, Lourdes B. Imson-de Jesus and Ricardo B. Imson, are not children of the late Anastacio Imson, Sr., and the five (5) others are illegitimate children, their late mother not being married to Anastacio.

“Respondent could only surmise that the finding of the illegitimate filiation of the complainant and her brothers and sister and the non-filiation of Lourdes and Ricardo to their late father could have provoked the filing of this administrative complaint against the respondent who was responsible for the foregoing discovery by his own research of the official record.

“(c) Salud Imson Souweha was on vacation in Baguio City in July and August, 1992. Her desire to join the business venture of the five (5) legitimate heirs of the first group in operating the night club-restaurant jointly owned was rebuffed. Thus, she was most likely the instigator in the filing of Civil Case No. 2606-R on August 17, 1992. The heirs leasing the property owned in common was rented for Twenty Five Thousand Pesos (P25, 000.00) since March 1991 up to the present. Salud Imson-Souweha (sic) share of Two Thousand Pesos (P2,000.00) from the monthly rental was collected by her, and received and signed for by any of her sisters. For the months of July and August, 1992, she personally received and signed for her share, as can be shown by the attached Annexes “3” and “4”;

“(d) Lastly, before leaving for the United States in August, 1992, she signed a Special Power of Attorney and Memorandum of Agreement, authorizing the sale of her 1/12 interest in the property under lease, granted to Constancio Imson and Emmanuel Orlino as per Annexes “5” and “6”, respectively;

- - - pp. 26-38. Supreme Court records.

“Without proceeding further, it appears that the present case is a typical example of a practising lawyer whose family friends and at the same time clients who (sic) succumbed to a (sic) serious family feuds and litigations over the bounty which they inherited from their predecessors as a consequence of which the lawyer is caught between the cross-fire of the factions that led to the filing of an administrative case against him under the belief that the problem arouse out of the fault of the family lawyer.

“As admitted by the respondent in his aforementioned quoted Comment:

‘If respondent is to be faulted at all, it is simply because of his complete trust and confidence on the heirs of Anastacio, particularly Flora Imson-Elvina and Lydia Imson-Sinlao whom the respondent never suspected would commit the grievous scheme of misrepresenting themselves as the representatives of the complainant in the matter of the settlement deed.

- - -page 34, Supreme Court record.

“From the various pleadings, affidavits and testimonies submitted to this Commission there is no doubt that the late Spouses Anastacio Imson and his two wives (the fist legitimate and the second as common law) as well as their respective children became close family friends and clients of the respondents.

“As stated earlier herein the family feud created two factions, the first group is composed of the children of anastacio Imson and Rosario Dizon, who are legitimately married, namely Constancio, Virgilio, Zenaida, Jose and Erlinda. And the second group is composed of Salud (the herein complainant), Flora, Lydia, Lourdes, Ricardo, Perla, and Fely, the children with Anastacio’s common-law-wife Angustia Braganza. Only Salud is the complainant in the present administrative case. The other members of her group never intended much less filed or joined Salud in this case against respondent. From all indications, the present case as well as the civil cases (Exhibit “B-6” and “B-9”) hereafter discussed sprouted because of the usual greed and selfish (sic) which prevailed over the sense of fairness and decency on the part of the complainant Salud B. Imson-Souweha. Otherwise, the family place is (sic) will remain unperturbed.

“Aside from acting in good faith as his defense for notarizing the aforementioned Extrajudicial Settlement making it appear that all the signing parties therein appeared before him, with Flora appearing as the authorized person in signing the name of Salud, respondent's other defense is the act of Salud of having ratified said Extrajudicial Settlement when she kept on receiving the rentals from the Anastacio Club equally with her siblings of the first group and the second group after the execution of the said settlement and which sharing is in accordance with the provisions of the said settlement.

“To this Commission, however, the ultimate proof of Salud’s act of having ratified the said Extrajudicial Settlement in her tacit acceptance of the cancellation of the OCT No. P-378 (Exhibit “B-4”) which was then registered in the name of the deceased Anastacio Imson and the issuance in lieu thereof of the new TCT No. T-54449 (Exhibit “A-9”) in the name of the first and second group of children of the said Anastacio in equal undivided shares. The issuance of the Exhibit “A-9” was never questioned by any of the heirs much less subjected to any action for rescission. On top of that, the issuance of the said TCT No. T-54449 was based on the very deed of the Extrajudicial Settlement which was notarized by the respondent and now being used as the main evidence of the complainant. The said Extrajudicial Settlement was annotated on the dorsal side of Exh. “A-9”.

“Not only that. The said act of ratification was strengthened by the Petition for Injunction docketed as Civil Case No. 2606-R (Exh. “B-5”) filed by the second group of children namely, Lourdes, Ricardo. Lydia, Flora, Perla, Fely, and Salud (complainant herein) against Constacio, Virgilio, Zenaida, Jose, and Erlinda which was based on Salud, et. als.’ Claim of registered co-ownership with the group in TCT No. T-54449 (Exh. “A-9”) as shown by the pertinent allegation in the Petition admitting undivided equal shares of the said parcel of land covered by TCT No. T-54449, which reads:

‘That the petitioners (7) and the respondents (5) are the CO-OWNERS IN EQUAL SHARES of a parcel of residential land together with all the improvements thereon located along Magsaysay Ave., Baguio City covered by Transfer Certificate of Title No. T-54449 issued by the Register of Deeds of Baguio City on November 26, 1990.

‘Attached hereto is a copy of the Transfer Certificate of Title in the names of the petitioner and the respondents as Annex “A” and made an integral part hereof’

- - - page 26, Supreme Court records.’

“With the said act of ratification and admission of equal sharing contained in the said TCT No. T-54449, (Exh. “A-9”), we can safely say that the present administrative case has become moot and academic. While this Commission is inclined to impose a sanction on the act of the respondent in certifying in his notarial act that Salud personally appeared before him on the date of the execution of the said Extrajudicial Settlement there is a serious doubt based on the testimony of her sister Zenaida Orlino (pages 39-42, TSN of December 9, 1994), that indeed Salud authorized Flora to sign her name on the said Extrajudicial Settlement and the said doubt should be ruled in favor of the respondent. For the record, let it be known that this Commission, however, is aware of the jurisprudence the pertinent portion of which reads as follows:

‘The claim or belief of Atty. Dela Rea that the presence of petitioner Gamido was not necessary for the jurat because it is not an acknowledgment is patently baseless. If this had been his belief since he was first commissioned as a notary public, then he has been making mockery of the legal solemnity of the oath in a jurat. Notaries public and other authorized by law to administer oath or to take acknowledgments should not take for granted the solemn duties appertaining to their offices. Such duties are dictated by public policy and are impressed with public interest.

‘His prior acquaintance and friendship with petitioner Gamido provides no excuse for non-compliance with his duty. If Atty. Dela Rea were faithful to his duty as a notary public and if he wanted to accommodate a friend who was inside a prison, he could have gone to the latter’s cell since he openly admitted that he has “been in out of New Bilibid Prisons, not only because [his] office is here only across the Municipal Building of Muntinlupa, Metro Manila but because [he] handled a number of cases involving prisoners and guards of NBP as well as some of its personnels [sic].’”[1]

We note, however, that the penalty of Reprimand was imposed on respondent not on the acts complained of by complainant involved in this case, but on account of the motu proprio finding of the investigating commissioner that respondent is guilty of having represented the conflicting interests of the late Anastacio Imson’s two sets of children. This cannot be done without seriously violating the very fundamental and constitutionally protected right of a person to be informed of the nature of the charge for which he is being held accountable (Section 14[2], Article III of the 1987 Constitution). To reprimand respondent in this case is, therefore, not in order.

WHEREFORE, this administrative case filed against respondent Atty. Teopisto Rondez is hereby DISMISSED.


Narvasa, C.J., (Chairman), Romero, Melo and Panaganiban, JJ., concur.

Report of IBP Investigating Officer Plaridel C. Jose, pp. 10-16.

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