June 2010 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

Here are selected June 2010 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on legal and judicial ethics:

Attoney; grossly immoral act. Respondent’ acts of converting his secretary into a mistress; contracting two marriages with Shirley and Leny, are grossly immoral which no civilized society in the world can countenance. The subsequent detention and torture of the complainant is gross misconduct which only a beast may be able to do. In fine, by engaging himself in acts which are grossly immoral and acts which constitute gross misconduct, respondent has ceased to possess the qualifications of a lawyer. Rosario T. Mecaral vs. Atty. Danilo S. Velasquez, A.C. No. 8392, June 29, 2010.

Attorney; representation within bounds of the law. Canon 19 of the Code provides that a lawyer shall represent his client with zeal within the bounds of the law. For this reason, Rule 15.07 of the Code requires a lawyer to impress upon his client compliance with the law and principles of fairness. A lawyer must employ only fair and honest means to attain the lawful objectives of his client. It is his duty to counsel his clients to use peaceful and lawful methods in seeking justice and refrain from doing an intentional wrong to their adversaries. Rural Bank of Calape, Inc. (RBCI), Bohol vs. Atty. James Benedict Florido, A.C. No. 5736, June 18, 2010.

Court personnel; dishonesty and falsification of public document. Dishonesty is defined as intentionally making a false statement on any material fact in securing one’s examination, appointment, or registration. Dishonesty is a serious offense which reflects a person’s character and exposes the moral decay which virtually destroys honor, virtue, and integrity. It is a malevolent act that has no place in the judiciary, as no other office in the government service exacts a greater demand for moral righteousness from an employee than a position in the judiciary. A birth certificate, being a public document, serves as prima facie evidence of filiation. The making of a false statement therein constitutes dishonesty and falsification of a public document. Anonymous vs. Emma B. Curamen, A.M. No. 08-2549. June 18, 2010.

Court personnel; gross misconduct. Pagulayan indeed committed the transgression Judge Beltran charged. What Pagulayan did is the nightmare of every decisionmaker and magistrate who is usually the last to know that somebody has used his or her name to ask for money – “para kay Fiscal o para kay Judge” as mulcters reputedly always say. Pagulayan’s misconduct, it must be stressed, brought dishonor to the administration of justice in particular and, to the public service in general. Indeed, Pagulayan failed to live up to the standards of honesty and integrity required in the public service. In the words of the Constitution, public office is a public trust and Pagulayan betrayed this trust. Under Civil Service rules, gross misconduct is a grave offense and punishable by dismissal. Judge Orlando D. Beltran vs. Vilma C. Pagulayan, Interpreter III, RTC, Branch 2, Tuguegarao City, Cagayan, A.M. No. P-05-2014, June 29, 2010.

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June 2010 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Civil Law

Here are selected June 2010 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on civil law:

Civil Code

Compensation. The Civil Code provides that compensation shall take place when two persons, in their own right, are creditors and debtors of each other. In order for compensation to be proper, it is necessary that: (i) each one of the obligors is bound principally and that he be at the same time a principal creditor of the other; (ii) both debts consist in a sum of money, or if the things due are consumable, they be of the same kind, and also of the same quality if the latter has been stated; (iii) the two debts are due: (iv) the debts are liquidated and demandable; and (v) over neither of them be any retention or controversy, commenced by third parties and communicated in due time to the debtor.

In this case, petitioners failed to properly discharge their burden to show that the debts are liquidated and demandable. Consequently, legal compensation is inapplicable.

A claim is liquidated when the amount and time of payment is fixed. If acknowledged by the debtor, although not in writing, the claim must be treated as liquidated. When the defendant, who has an unliquidated claim, sets it up by way of counterclaim, and a judgment is rendered liquidating such claim, it can be compensated against the plaintiff’s claim from the moment it is liquidated by judgment. Selwyn F. Lao, et al. vs. Special Plans, Inc., G.R. No. 164791, June 29, 2010 .

Contracts; Consideration; Adequacy of Price. Without directly saying so, the trial court held that the petitioners cannot sue upon the oral sale since in its own words: “[petitioners] have not paid in full Armando Gabriel, Sr. or his estate, so that the sale transaction between Armando Gabriel Sr. and [petitioners] [has] no adequate consideration.”

The trial court’s posture is patently flawed. For starters, they equated incomplete payment of the purchase price with inadequacy of price or what passes as lesion, when both are different civil law concepts with differing legal consequences, the first being a ground to rescind an otherwise valid and enforceable contract. Perceived inadequacy of price, on the other hand, is not a sufficient ground for setting aside a sale freely entered into, save perhaps when the inadequacy is shocking to the conscience. Anthony Orduña, et al. vs. Eduardo J. Fuentebella, et al., G.R. No. 176841, June 29, 2010.

Contracts; Autonomy of Parties. Unless the terms of a contract are against the law, morals, good customs, and public policy, such contract is law between the parties and its terms bind them. In Felsan Realty & Development Corporation v. Commonwealth of Australia, the Court regarded as valid and binding a provision in the lease contract that allowed the lessee to pre-terminate the same when fire damaged the leased building, rendering it uninhabitable or unsuitable for living. In this case, paragraph VIII of the lease contract between DBS and the Martins permitted rescission by either party should the leased property become untenantable because of natural causes. The Court similarly found the following provision enforeceable and binding: `In case of damage to the leased premises or any portion thereof by reason of fault or negligence attributable to the LESSEE, its agents, employees, customers, or guests, the LESSEE shall be responsible for undertaking such repair or reconstruction. In case of damage due to fire, earthquake, lightning, typhoon, flood, or other natural causes, without fault or negligence attributable to the LESSEE, its agents, employees, customers or guests, the LESSOR shall be responsible for undertaking such repair or reconstruction. In the latter case, if the leased premises become untenantable, either party may demand for the rescission of this contract and in such case, the deposit referred to in paragraph III shall be returned to the LESSEE immediately.’ Felicidad T. Martin, et al. vs. DBS Bank Philippines, Inc., et al. G.R. No. 174632 & G.R. No. 174804, June 16, 2010.

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April 2010 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

Here are selected April 2010 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on legal and judicial ethics:

Court personnel; grave misconduct.  In grave misconduct, as distinguished from simple misconduct, the elements of corruption, clear intent to violate the law, or flagrant disregard of established rule must be manifest.  Corruption as an element of grave misconduct consists in the act of an official or employee who unlawfully or wrongfully uses his station or character to procure some benefit for himself or for another, contrary to the rights of others.

Medrano knowingly and corruptly submitted spurious or irregular bail bonds for the approval of the judge.  He categorically admitted his offense, giving the simple explanation of having thereby accommodated ill-intentioned people.  His anomalies for a consideration appeared to be not isolated, but repeated many times.  He thereby converted his employment in the court into an income-generating activity.  His grave misconduct was, therefore, a grave offense that deserved the penalty of dismissal for the first offense pursuant to Sec. 52-A of the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service.  Re: Anonymous Letter-Complaint against Hon. Marilou Runes-Tamang, Presiding Judge, MeTC Pateros, Manila and Presiding Judge, MeTC San Juan, Metro Manila, A.M. No. MTJ-04-1558, April 7, 2010.

Court personnel; grave misconduct. No less than the Constitution mandates that “public office is a public trust.”  Service with loyalty, integrity and efficiency is required of all public officers and employees, who must, at all times, be accountable to the people.

The outright admission of Clerk IV Aranzazu Baltazar to committing malversation of funds shows her blatant disregard for these principles she had sworn to uphold, thereby eroding public trust.  When asked to explain, Ms. Baltazar readily confessed her shortage and willingly executed an affidavit, dated April 5, 2004, wherein she admitted that she had committed grave negligence and malversation of funds when she allowed other court employees to borrow from the court funds in her custody, causing the shortage as discovered by the audit team.

Ms. Baltazar was grossly inefficient in handling the finances of the court. Her bare admission that she had indeed allowed other employees to borrow from the court funds shows her extensive participation in the irregularities reported by the audit team.  There is no doubt that these acts constitute a grave offense.  Office of the Court Administrator vs. Atty. Fermin M. Ofilas, et al., A.M. No. P-05-1935, April 23, 2010.

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March 2010 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

Here are selected March 2010 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on legal and judicial ethics:

Court personnel; administrative proceedings; desistance. Complainant Plaza manifested before the Court his intention to desist from pursuing the case.  However, we remind complainant that the discretion whether to continue with the proceedings rests exclusively with the Court, notwithstanding the complainant’s intention to desist.  This Court looks with disfavor at affidavits of desistance filed by complainants, especially if done as an afterthought.  Contrary to what the parties might have believed, withdrawal of the complaint does not have the legal effect of exonerating respondent from any administrative disciplinary sanction.  It does not operate to divest this Court of jurisdiction to determine the truth behind the matter stated in the complaint.  The Court’s disciplinary authority cannot be dependent on or frustrated by private arrangements between parties.  An administrative complaint against an official or employee of the judiciary cannot simply be withdrawn by a complainant who suddenly claims a change of mind.  Otherwise, the prompt and fair administration of justice, as well as the discipline of court personnel, would be undermined. Ryan S. Plaza, Clerk of Court, Municipal Trial Court, Argao, Cebu vs. Atty. Marcelina R. Amamio, Clerk of Court, Genoveva R. Vasquez, Legal Researcher and Floramay Patalinhug, Court Stenographer, all of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 26, Argao, Cebu, A.M. No. P-08-2559, March 19, 2010.

Court personnel; dishonesty. Complainant stated that respondent Atty. Cariño may not have disclosed to the Supreme Court, in the course of her application as Clerk of Court, her pending administrative and criminal cases before the Ombudsman. Respondent Atty. Cariño vehemently denied the allegations against her.  She claimed that she was just being truthful when she answered “No” to item number 37(a) of her Personal Data Sheet (PDS) which states:  “Have you ever been formally charged?”  She admitted that she was aware of the two (2) complaints filed against her and her former Regional Election Director before the Ombudsman.  She, however, pointed out that these cases are still in the preliminary investigation and pre-charge stages, since probable cause has yet to be determined by the investigating officers and as such, should not be considered as formal charges yet.

If we but look at the attachments to the complaint itself, it is evident that at the time respondent Atty. Cariño was applying for the position of Clerk of Court, she had not yet been “formally charged” administratively or criminally. Clearly, there were no final dispositions of the cases yet.  In fact, the complainant even stated in his Complaint that those cases were not yet resolved by the Ombudsman. Thus, it is only after the issuance of the resolution finding probable cause and filing of the information in court that she can be considered formally charged.  In fact, the reckoning point is the filing of the information with the written authority or approval of the Ombudsman. To rule otherwise would subject herein respondent, or any civil servant for that matter, to extreme hardships considering that a government official or employee formally charged is deprived of some rights/privileges, i.e., obtaining loans from the Government Service Insurance System or other government-lending institutions, delay in the release of retirement benefits, disqualification from being nominated or appointed to any judicial post and, in some instances, prohibition to travel. Crisostomo M. Plopinio vs. Atty. Liza Zabala-Cariño, etc., A.M. No. P-08-2458, March 22, 2010.

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February 2010 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Civil Law

Here are selected February 2010 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on civil law:

Civil Code

Agency; principle of apparent authority; agency relationship between hospital and doctors who practice in its premises. This Court holds that PSI (the owner of the hospital) is liable to the Aganas, not under the principle of respondeat superior for lack of evidence of an employment relationship with a Dr. Ampil (who had left two pieces of gauze in the body of a patient he had operated on) but under the principle of ostensible agency for the negligence of Dr. Ampil and, pro hac vice, under the principle of corporate negligence for its failure to perform its duties as a hospital.

While in theory a hospital as a juridical entity cannot practice medicine, in reality it utilizes doctors, surgeons and medical practitioners in the conduct of its business of facilitating medical and surgical treatment. Within that reality, three legal relationships crisscross: (1) between the hospital and the doctor practicing within its premises; (2) between the hospital and the patient being treated or examined within its premises and (3) between the patient and the doctor. The exact nature of each relationship determines the basis and extent of the liability of the hospital for the negligence of the doctor.

Where an employment relationship exists, the hospital may be held vicariously liable under Article 2176 in relation to Article 2180 of the Civil Code or the principle of respondeat superior. Even when no employment relationship exists but it is shown that the hospital holds out to the patient that the doctor is its agent, the hospital may still be vicariously liable under Article 2176 in relation to Article 1431 and Article 1869 of the Civil Code or the principle of apparent authority. Moreover, regardless of its relationship with the doctor, the hospital may be held directly liable to the patient for its own negligence or failure to follow established standard of conduct to which it should conform as a corporation.

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December 2009 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

Here are selected December 2009 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on legal and judicial ethics:

Legal Ethics

Abuse of court processes and legal procedure; forum shopping  The successive filings of a petition for certiorari, petition for annulment of judgment, two petitions for annulment of the complainant’s certificate of title, and a petition for declaratory relief, all containing a prayer for injunctive relief, reveal the respondent’s persistence in preventing and avoiding the execution of the final decisions of the lower courts against his client.  Under the circumstances, the respondent lawyer’s repeated attempts go beyond the legitimate means allowed by professional ethical rules in defending the interests of his client.  These are already uncalled for measures to avoid the enforcement of the final judgment of the lower courts.  The respondent violated Rule 10.03, Canon 10 of the Code of Professional Responsibility.

The respondent also violated Rule 12.02 and Rule 12.04, Canon 12 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, as well as the rule against forum shopping, both of which are directed against the filing of multiple actions to attain the same objective.  Conrado Que v. Atty. Anastacio Revilla, Jr.A.C. No. 7054, December 4, 2009.

Gross negligence.  A lawyer, when he undertakes a client’s cause, makes a covenant that he will exert all efforts for its prosecution until its final conclusion.  He should undertake the task with dedication and care, and he should do no less, otherwise, he is not true to his lawyer’s oath.  Respondent was woefully remiss in his duty to display utmost diligence and competence in protecting the interests of his clients.  Petitioners lost the civil case in the trial court because they were barred from presenting their evidence as a result of their being declared in default as a consequence of respondent’s failure to submit a pre-trial brief and to attend the pre-trial conference.  Petitioners’ appeal to the Court of Appeals from the adverse default judgment of the trial court was dismissed on account of respondent’s failure to file an appeal brief.  Respondent is guilty of gross negligence and misconduct in violation of Canon 17, and Rules 18.02 and 18.03, Canon 18 of the Code of Professional Responsibility.  Cesar Talento and Modesta Herrera Talento v. Atty. Agustin Paneda, A.C. No. 7433, December 23, 2009.

Judicial ethics 

Bad faith defined; absence of proof.   Bad faith does not simply connote bad judgment or negligence; it imputes a dishonest purpose or some moral obliquity and conscious doing of a wrong; a breach of a sworn duty through some motive or intent or ill-will; it partakes of the nature of fraud.  It contemplates a state of mind affirmatively operating with furtive design or some motive or self-interest or ill-will for ulterior purposes.  Evident bad faith connotes a manifest deliberate intent on the part of the accused to do wrong or cause damage.  In issuing, ex parte, an order which was effectively a Temporary Restraining Order with an indefinite term, the respondent judge was found to have violated Rule 58, Section 5 of the Rules of Court.  However, the charge of bad faith and manifest partiality was rejected by the Supreme Court.  No evidence was adduced to prove that the issuance of the assailed order was motivated by bad faith.  Further, the Supreme Court found that in issuing the assailed order, respondent judge was not at all motivated by bad faith, dishonesty, hatred and some other motive; rather, he took into account the circumstances obtaining between the parties.   Mayor Hadji Amer R. Sampiano, et al. v. Judge Cader P. Indar,  A.M. RTJ-05-1953, December 21, 2009.

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