THIRD DIVISION

[A.C. No. 5333. October 18, 2000]

ROSA YAP PARAS, complainant, vs. ATTY. JUSTO DE JESUS PARAS, respondent.

DECISION

MELO, J:

This has reference to a case for disbarment initiated by complainant Rosa Yap Paras against her husband, Atty. Justo de Jesus Paras. The parties exchanged tirades and barbs in their copious pleadings, hurling invectives, cutting remarks and insults at each other. Reduced to its essentials, Rosa Paras charged her husband with dishonesty and falsification of public documents, harassment and intimidation, and immorality for siring a child with another woman. Respondent denied the allegations, contending that his wife, in cahoots with her family, is out to destroy and strip him of his share in their multi-million conjugal assets.

The parties come from wealthy families in Negros Oriental. They were married on May 21, 1964 and have two grown-up children. They have vast sugarlands and other businesses. Respondent was a Municipal Judge for 14 years and served as Mayor in their town for 2 terms during the administration of President Aquino. Complainant is a businesswoman. Sometime in 1988, their marriage fell apart when due to "marital strain that has developed through the years," respondent left his wife and children to live with his mother and sister in Dumaguete City and thence started his law practice. Complainant, in the meantime, filed a case for the dissolution of their marriage, which case is still pending in court.

The complaint charged:

DISHONESTY, FALSIFICATION and FRAUD

respondent obtained loans from certain banks in the name of complainant by counterfeiting complainant's signature, falsely making it appear that complainant was the applicant for said loans. Thereafter, he carted away and misappropriated the proceeds of the loans.

. . . to guarantee the above loans, respondent mortgaged some personal properties belonging to the conjugal partnership without the consent of complainant.

GROSSLY IMMORAL CONDUCT AND CONCUBINAGE

Respondent is . . . engaged in the immoral and criminal act of concubinage as he maintained an illicit relationship with one Ms. Jocelyn A. Ching, siring an illegitimate child with her while married to complainant.

UNETHICAL AND UNPROFESSIONAL CONDUCT

Respondent abused courts of justice and misused his legal skills to frighten, harass and intimidate all those who take a position diametrically adverse to his sinister plans by unethically filing complaints and other pleadings against them. He utilized strategies to obstruct justice.

OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE

(Respondent) utilized strategies to obstruct justice. In the criminal actions initiated against him, respondent used his legal skills not to prove his innocence but to derail all the proceedings.

(Complaint, Rollo, p. 2)

In his Answer, respondent interposed the following defenses:

(1) On the Charge of Falsification of Public Documents:

That during the sugarboom in the 1970's, his wife executed in his favor a Special Power of Attorney to negotiate for an agricultural or crop loan authorizing him "to borrow money and apply for and secure any agricultural or crop loan for sugar cane from the Bais Rural Bank, Bais City . . ." (Rollo, Annex "3", p. 262)

(2) On the Charge of Forgery:

That the Report of the National Bureau of Investigation which found that "the questioned signatures (referring to the alleged forged signatures of complainant) and the standard sample signatures JUSTO J. PARAS were written by one and the same person"(Annex "B" of the Complaint, Rollo, p. 26) was doctored, and that his wife filed against him a string of cases for falsification of public documents because he intends to disinherit his children and bequeath his inchoate share in the conjugal properties to his own mother.

(3) On the Charge of Grossly Immoral Conduct and Concubinage:

That this is a malicious accusation fabricated by his brother-in-law, Atty. Francisco D. Yap to disqualify him from getting any share in the conjugal assets. He cites the dismissal of the complaint for concubinage filed against him by his wife before the City Prosecutor of Negros Oriental as proof of his innocence.

Respondent, however, admits that he, his mother and sister, are solicitous and hospitable to his alleged concubine, Ms. Jocelyn Ching and her daughter, Cyndee Rose (named after his own deceased daughter), by allowing them to stay in their house and giving them some financial assistance, because they pity Ms. Ching, a secretary in his law office, who was deserted by her boyfriend after getting her pregnant.

(4) On the Charge of Obstruction of Justice:

That "the legal remedies pursued by (him) in defense and offense are legitimate courses of action done by an embattled lawyer."

The Commission on Bar Discipline (CBD) of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines investigated the complaint against respondent summarizing the causes of action as follows:

(1) Falsification of complainant's signature and misuse of conjugal assets; and

(2) Immorality and criminal acts of concubinage with one Ms. Ma. Jocelyn A. Ching (for) siring an illegitimate child with her while married to complainant, and, abandonment of his own family.

(Rollo, Report of the IBP, p. 34)

No actual hearing was conducted as the parties agreed to merely submit their respective memoranda, depositions, and other pieces of evidence attached to their pleadings.

Thereafter, the CBD found respondent guilty as charged and recommended:

(1) Respondent's suspension from the practice of law for three (3) months on the first charge; and

(2) Respondent's indefinite suspension from the practice of law on the second charge.

(ibid., p. 57)

The CBD held that the dismissal of the criminal cases against respondent for falsification and use of falsified documents (Criminal Case No. 11768) and for concubinage (I.S. No. 93-578) will not bar the filing of an administrative case for disbarment against him. In a criminal case, proof beyond reasonable doubt is required for conviction, while in an administrative complaint, only a preponderance of evidence is necessary.

The CBD gave credence to the NBI Report that "the questioned signatures (referring to the signatures appearing in the loan agreements, contracts of mortgage, etc.) and the standard sample signatures of respondent were written by one and the same person." This affirms the allegation of complainant Rosa Yap Paras that her husband forged her signatures in those instruments. Respondent denies this but his denial was unsubstantiated and is, therefore, self-serving.

In finding respondent liable for Immorality, the CBD relied heavily on the uncontroverted sworn affidavit-statements of respondent's children and three other eyewitnesses to respondent's illicit affair with Ms. Jocelyn Ching. For a better appreciation of their statements, their affidavits are hereby reproduced in full. Thusly,

"I, DAHLIA Y. PARAS, of legal age, single, resident of Bindoy, Negros Oriental, but presently living in Dumaguete City, after being duly sworn hereby depose and say:

1. I am a nurse by profession. I finished my BSN degree at the College of Nursing, Silliman University.

2. My mother is Rosa Yap Paras and my father Justo J. Paras. My father has left the family home in Bindoy and now lives at his mother's house at San Jose Ext., Dumaguete City.

3. My father has a "kabit" or concubine by the name of Ma. Jocelyn Ching. They have a child named Cyndee Rose, who was delivered at the Silliman University Hospital Medical Center on July 19, 1990.

4. Jocelyn used to be the secretary of my father and Atty. Melchor Arboleda when they practice law together in 1988 to 1989. Their relationship started in 1989. When she became pregnant, my father rented an apartment for her at the Amigo Subdivision, Dumaguete City.

5. Following delivery of the baby, my father built a house for Jocelyn in Maayong Tubig, Dauin, Negros Oriental. My father spend time there often with Jocelyn and their child.

6. I used to visit my father at San Jose Extension these past years, and almost every time I was there, I would see Jocelyn, sitting, watching TV, serving coffee in my father's law office, and one time, she was washing my father's clothes.

7. I first saw their child Cyndee Rose in 1992, about early May, at San Jose Extension. I was there to ask for my allowance. He was there at the time, and when I looked at Cyndee Rose closely, I became convinced that she was my father's daughter with Jocelyn.

8. Incidentally, I had an elder sister also named Cindy Rose (now deceased).

9. In September 1992 when I went to visit my father, I saw toys and child's clothes in my father's room.

10. Whenever, I saw Jocelyn at San Jose Extension, I wanted to talk to her or be alone with her, but she would deliberately avoid me. I could see that she was hiding something from me." p. 109, Records.

SUPPLEMENTAL AFFIDAVIT

x x x x x x x x x

1. . . . sometime during the period of April-September, 1992, I made several visits to my father at his mother's house in San Jose Extension, Dumaguete City, where he had moved after he left our home in Bindoy;

2. That these visits were made on different times and different days of the week;

3. That most of my visits, I would meet a woman who was also living at my father's place. This woman is now known to me to be Ma. Jocelyn Ching;

4. That my basis for observing that Ms. Ching was living in my father's house is that during my visits, whether during office hours or after office hours, I would meet her at my father's place, not his office; she was wearing house clothes and slippers, such as skimpy clothes, shorts and T-shirt, not street or office clothes; she was generally unkempt, not made up for work or going out; on one occasion, I even saw her, washing my father's clothes as well as a small child's clothing; and she conducted herself around the house in the manner of someone who lived there;

5. That on one of my visits, I confirmed that Ms. Ching was living with my father from Josie Vailoces, who was then a working student living at my father's place;

6. Ms. Vailoces subsequently confirmed under oath the fact that my father and Ms. Jocelyn Ching were living together as husband and wife at my father's place in a deposition taken in connection with Civil Case No. 10613, RTC-Dumaguete City, Branch 30, the Honorable Enrique C. Garovillo, presiding. A copy of the transcript of the deposition of Ms. Vailoces is already part of the record of this case. For emphasis, photocopies of the pertinent portion of the written deposition of Josie Vailoces is hereto attached as Annexes "A"and "A-1." p. 111, Records

Respondent's son has this to say:

"I, RHOUEL Y. PARAS, 15 years old, single, resident of Bindoy, Negros Oriental, but presently living in Dumaguete City, after being duly sworn according to law, depose and say:

1. I am a high school student at the Holy Cross High School, Dumaguete City.

2. My mother is Rosa Yap Paras, and my father Justo J. Paras, a lawyer.

3. My father has left our home in Bindoy, and now lives at his mother's house in San Jose Extension, Dumaguete City. He is not giving us support any more.

4. However, from October 1991 to December 1992, I was getting my allowance of P50.00 a week. I would go to their house at San Jose Extension and personally ask him for it.

5. In October 1992, between 11:30 AM and 1:00 PM, I went to San Jose Extension for my weekly allowance. I asked Josephus, an adopted son of my father's sister, if my father was around. Josephus said my father was in his room.

6. So I went direct to his room and because the door was not locked, I entered the room without knocking. There I saw my father lying in bed side by side with a woman. He was only wearing a brief. The woman was wearing shorts and T-shirt.

7. They both appeared scared upon seeing me. My father hurriedly gave me P100.00 and I left immediately because I felt bad and embarrassed.

8. Before that incident, I used to see the woman at my father's house in San Jose Extension. Every time I went to see my father, she was also there.

9. I later came to know that she was Ms. Jocelyn Ching, and that she was my father's "kabit" or concubine.

10. I am no longer getting my weekly allowance from my father." p. 112, Records

Added to the foregoing sworn statements of respondent's children is the damaging statement under oath of Virgilio Kabrisante who was respondent's secretary when respondent was a mayor of Bindoy, Negros Oriental which reads as follows:

"I, VIRGILIO V. KABRISANTE, of legal age, married, Filipino, a resident of Malaga, Bindoy, Negros Oriental, after having been sworn in accordance with law, do hereby depose and state that:

1. I personally know Justo J. Paras, having been his secretary during his incumbency as Mayor of Bindoy, Negros Oriental. In fact, through the latter's recommendation and intercession, I was later on appointed as OIC Mayor of the same town from December 1986 to January 1987.

2. When Justo J. Paras decided to practice law in Dumaguete City, I became his personal aide and performed various chores for the same. As his personal aide, I stayed in the same house and room with the latter.

3. Sometime in January 1989, Justo J. Paras confided to me that he felt attracted to my lady friend named Ma. Jocelyn A. Ching. He then requested me to invite the latter to a dinner date at Chin Loong Restaurant.

4. Conveying the invitation which was accepted by Ma. Jocelyn Ching, the latter, Justo J. Paras and myself then had dinner at the above-mentioned restaurant.

5. At the behest of Justo J. Paras, I invited Ma. Jocelyn A. Ching, on several occasions, always to a picnic at a beach in Dauin, Negros Oriental. Said invitations were always accepted by the latter.

6. At each of the above-mentioned picnics, I observed that Justo J. Paras and Ma. Jocelyn A. Ching had become more and more intimate with each other.

7. Sometime in March 1989, at around 7:00 o'clock in the evening on a Friday, I accompanied Justo J. Paras to the area in front of the Silliman University Medical Center, where he said he was going to meet someone.

8. After waiting for a few minutes, Ma. Jocelyn Ching arrived and immediately boarded at the back seat of the Sakbayan vehicle I was driving for Justo J. Paras. The latter then requested me to drive both of them (Justo Paras and Ma. Jocelyn A. Ching) to Honeybee Motel somewhere in Sibulan, Negros Oriental.

9. When we arrived there, Justo J. Paras asked me to wait for them outside the room, while he and Ma. Jocelyn A. Ching entered the said room.

10. I waited outside the room for about two (2) hours after which the two of them emerged from the room. We then proceeded to Chin Loong to eat supper.

11. After eating supper, we dropped Ma. Jocelyn A. Ching off in front of the Dumaguete City Cockpit.

12. This meeting was repeated two more times, at the same place and always on a Friday.

13. On April 3, 1988, I went home to Bindoy and stopped working for Justo Paras." pp. 56-57, Records.

SUPPLEMENTAL AFFIDAVIT

x x x x x x x x x

1. Sometime in May 1989, I returned to Dumaguete City to look for a job, having been jobless since I left Dumaguete City to go home to Bindoy, Negros Oriental.

2. While looking for a job, I stayed at the house where my friend, Bernard Dejillo was staying at Mangnao, Dumaguete City. My friend Bernard Dejillo was occupying a room at the second floor of the said house which he shared with me.

3. Sometime in the last week of May 1989, in the course of my job hunting, I met Justo J. Paras. Having not seen each other for some time, we talked for a while, discussing matters about the barangay elections in Bindoy, Negros Oriental.

4. When our discussion was finished, Justo J. Paras asked me where I was staying, to which I answered that I was staying at the aforementioned house. He then requested me to find out if there was an available room at the said house which he could rent with Ma. Jocelyn A. Ching. I told him that I would have to ask my friend Bernard Dejillo about the matter.

5. When I arrived at the house that evening, I asked my friend Bernard Dejillo about the matter, to which the latter signified his approval. He told me that a room at the first floor of the same house was available for rental to Justo Paras and Ma. Jocelyn A. Ching.

6. The next day, I immediately informed Justo J. Paras of Bernard Dejillo's approval of his request.

7. Sometime in the first week of June 1989, Ma. Jocelyn Ching moved in to the room she had rented at the first floor of the house I was also staying at.

8. Almost every night thereafter, Justo J. Paras would come to the house and stay overnight. When he came at night Justo J. Paras and I would converse and while conversing, drink a bottle of Tanduay Rum. Oftentimes, Ma. Jocelyn Ching would join in our conversation.

9. After we finish drinking and talking, Justo J. Paras and Ma. Jocelyn Ching would enter the room rented and sleep there, while I would also go upstairs to my room.

10. The next morning I could always observe Justo J. Paras came out of said room and depart from the house.

11. The coming of Justo J. Paras to the house I was staying ceased after about one (1) month when they transferred to another house.

12. I myself left the house and returned to Bindoy, Negros Oriental some time in June 1989.

13. Sometime in January 1993, on a Saturday at about noontime, I went to the house of Justo J. Paras to consult him about a Kabataang Barangay matter involving my son. When I arrived at his house, I noticed that the same was closed and there was no one there.

14. Needing to consult him about the above-mentioned matter, I proceeded to the resthouse of Justo J. Paras located at Maayong Tubig, Dauin, Negros Oriental.

15. When I arrived at the said resthouse, Justo J. Paras was not there but the person in charge of the said resthouse informed me that Justo J. Paras was at his house at Barangay Maayong Tubig, Dauin, Negros Oriental. The same person also gave me directions so that I could locate the house of Justo J. Paras he referred to earlier.

16. With the help of the directions given by said person, I was able to locate the house of Justo J. Paras.

17. At the doorway of the said house, I called out if anybody was home while knocking on the door.

18. After a few seconds, Ma. Jocelyn Ching opened the door. Upon seeing the latter, I asked her if Justo J. Paras was home. She then let me in the house and told me to sit down and wait for a while. She then proceeded to a room.

19. A few minutes later, Justo J. Paras came out of the same room and sat down near me. I noticed that the latter had just woke up from a nap.

20. We then started to talk about the matter involving my son and sometime later, Ma. Jocelyn Ching served us coffee.

21. While we were talking and drinking coffee I saw a little girl, about three (3) years old, walking around the sala, whom I later came to know as Cyndee Rose, the daughter of Justo J. Paras and Ma. Jocelyn Ching.

22. After our conversation was finished, Justo J. Paras told me to see him at this office at San Jose Extension, Dumaguete City, the following Monday to discuss the matter some more.

23. I then bid them goodbye and went home to Bindoy, Negros Oriental.

24. I am executing this affidavit as a supplement to my affidavit dated 22 July 1993." pp. 58-60, Records

(ibid., pp. 44-52)

The CBD likewise gave credence to the sworn affidavits and the deposition of two other witnesses, namely, Salvador de Jesus, a former repairman of the Paras' household, and, Josie Vailoces, a working student and former ward of the Paras' family, who both gave personal accounts of the illicit relationship between respondent and Jocelyn Ching, which led to the birth of Cyndee Rose. De Jesus swore that while doing repair works in the Paras' household he observed Ms. Ching and Cyndee Rose practically living in the Paras' house (p. 85, Rollo, Annex "H"). Vailoces, on the other hand, deposed that she was asked by respondent Paras to deliver money to Ms. Ching for the payment of the hospital bill after she gave birth to Cyndee Rose. Vailoces was also asked by respondent to procure Cyndee Rose Paras' baptismal certificate after the latter was baptized in the house of respondent; she further testified that in said baptismal certificate, respondent appears as the father of Cyndee Rose which explains why the latter is using the surname "Paras." (p. 87, Annex "I", Rollo)

The findings and the recommendations of the CBD are substantiated by the evidentiary record.

ON THE CHARGE OF FALSIFICATION OF COMPLAINANT'S SIGNATURE

The handwriting examination conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation on the signatures of complainant Rosa Yap Paras and respondent Justo de Jesus Paras vis--vis the questioned signature "Rosa Y. Paras" appearing in the questioned bank loan documents, contracts of mortgage and other related instrument, yielded the following results:

CONCLUSION:

1. The questioned and the standard sample signatures JUSTO J. PARAS were written by one and the same person.

2. The questioned and the standard sample signatures ROSA YAP PARAS were not written by one and the same person.

(Annex "B", Rollo, p. 26, emphasis ours;)

The NBI did not make a categorical statement that respondent forged the signatures of complainant. However, an analysis of the above findings lead to no other conclusion than that the questioned or falsified signatures of complainant Rosa Y. Paras were authored by respondent as said falsified signatures were the same as the sample signatures of respondent.

To explain this anomaly, respondent presented a Special Power of Attorney (SPA) executed in his favor by complainant to negotiate for an agricultural or crop loan from the Bais Rural Bank of Bais City. Instead of exculpating respondent, the presence of the SPA places him in hot water. For if he was so authorized to obtain loans from the banks, then why did he have to falsify his wife's signatures in the bank loan documents? The purpose of an SPA is to especially authorize the attorney-in-fact to sign for and on behalf of the principal using his own name.

ON THE CHARGE OF IMMORALITY AND CONCUBINAGE

The evidence against respondent is overwhelming. The affidavit-statements of his children and three other persons who used to work with him and have witnessed the acts indicative of his infidelity more than satisfy this Court that respondent has strayed from the marital path. The baptismal certificate of Cyndee Rose Paras where respondent was named as the father of the child (Annex "J", Rollo, p. 108); his naming the child after his deceased first-born daughter Cyndee Rose; and his allowing Jocelyn Ching and the child to live in their house in Dumaguete City bolster the allegation that respondent is carrying on an illicit affair with Ms. Ching, the mother of his illegitimate child.

It is a time-honored rule that good moral character is not only a condition precedent to admission to the practice of law. Its continued possession is also essential for remaining in the practice of law (People vs. Tunda, 181 SCRA 692 [1990]; Leda vs. Tabang, 206 SCRA 395 [1992]). In the case at hand, respondent has fallen below the moral bar when he forged his wife's signature in the bank loan documents, and, sired a daughter with a woman other than his wife. However, the power to disbar must be exercised with great caution, and only in a clear case of misconduct that seriously affects the standing and character of the lawyer as an officer of the Court and as a member of the bar (Tapucar vs. Tapucar, Adm. Case No. 4148, July 30, 1998). Disbarment should never be decreed where any lesser penalty, such as temporary suspension, could accomplish the end desired (Resurrecion vs. Sayson, 300 SCRA 129 [1998]).

In the light of the foregoing, respondent is hereby SUSPENDED from the practice of law for SIX (6) MONTHS on the charge of falsifying his wife's signature in bank documents and other related loan instruments; and for ONE (1) YEAR from the practice of law on the charges of immorality and abandonment of his own family, the penalties to be served simultaneously. Let notice of this decision be spread in respondent's record as an attorney, and notice of the same 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.

Vitug, Panganiban, Purisima, and Gonzaga-Reyes, JJ., concur.