LEOPOLDO V. CREDITO,
AARON J. VELARDE, PEPITO
JARANILLA, MIGUEL EXITO JR.,
CEZAR CRUCERO, NEMESIO
CABALLERO, RODOLFO JALANDONI, NILO GAVARAN, ROLANDO BELBAR, SIXTO CRUCERO, TALAVER ELEUTERIO, BONIFACIO LABADIA, ELY ERIMAN, MA. LUCIA GOTERA,
ANITA GARGARITANO, ROLANDO
ROTO, GREGORIO GUERERO JR.,
CRESENCIANO GONZAGA, REMY
SIAMEN, ANTONIO DAMAYON SR.,
JULIO PEREZ, HUMBERTO GOLINGAN, ALBERTO CADAGAT, ANTONIO DAMAYON JR., RODOLFO JUMILLA, CEFERINO GARGARITANO JR., RODOLFO BESILLAS, ALFREDO LIBO-ON,
JESUS ROBLES, EDMUNDO BASI,
A.C. No. 4920
- versus -
Atty. SALVADOR T. SABIO,
Respondent. October 19, 2005
x -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- x
nattention of lawyers to basic procedural requirements constitutes a neglect of professional duty and a violation of their Oath. It betrays their lack of zeal and dedication to the protection of their clients cause. Because of neglectful acts resulting in prejudice to the latter, imprudent counsels should be administratively sanctioned.
This administrative case stemmed from a verified
filed on July 7, 1998, by Leopoldo Credito and 29 others, seeking the
disbarment of Atty. Salvador T. Sabio for negligence of his duties as
complainants counsel. After a careful consideration of the Complaint and
dated December 31,
1998, the Court referred the matter on February 10, 1999, to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) for investigation, report and recommendation.
More than four long years after, in a Resolution dated July 30, 2004, the IBP Board of Governors adopted and approved Commissioner Milagros V. San Juans May 4, 2004 Report finding respondent guilty of professional negligence, as well as illegal and unjust actuations. The two-year suspension recommended by San Juan, however, was modified to a mere warning. On September 1, 2004, the Notice of Resolution of the IBP -- together with its Commissioners Report and Recommendation and its Grievance and Disbarment Committees Fact-Finding Investigation Report -- was forwarded by its director for bar discipline, Atty. Rogelio A. Vinluan, to the Office of the Bar Confidant of this Court.
Complainants were employees/laborers of Binalbagan Isabela Sugar Company (Biscom), a sugar mill operating in Binalbagan, Negros Occidental. In a Complaint before the Regional Labor Arbitration Branch in Bacolod City, they charged Biscom of illegal dismissal. Respondent Atty. Sabio represented them in that case, entitled WAUP/Godofredo Ledesma, et al. vs. Biscom, et al.
On December 21, 1988, the labor
arbiter promulgated a Decision, ordering the reinstatement of complainants to
their former jobs and the payment of back wages amounting to
Biscom appealed the case to the NLRC in Cebu City, which reversed the labor
arbiters Decision and dismissed the Complaint.
Complainants, led by Leopoldo
Credito, asked respondent to elevate the case to the Supreme Court (SC) by way
of a Petition for Certiorari. To defray the expenses incurred in filing the
Petition and other incidental expenses, they allegedly gave respondent money
collected from their members (each of whom had contributed from
P30 to P100).
Unfortunately, the Petition was dismissed on March 2, 1992, for failure to pay
the proper docket and filing fees and for lack of the required certification
against forum shopping. Atty. Sabio allegedly kept this dismissal from their
knowledge for more than three years.
Refuting the allegation that he had received
contributions ranging from
P30 to P100 from the 200 complainants
in the labor case, Atty. Sabio pointed out in his Comment that the Petition for
Certiorari filed before the SC had been signed by only 40 complainants. As to
the nonpayment of docket fees and the failure to attach a certification of
non-forum shopping, he claimed that (1) the Petition was filed by registered
mail on January 31, 1992, when Circular No. 28-91 had not yet been widely
publicized and disseminated; and (2) the docket fee, which was three hundred
sixteen pesos and fifty centavos ( P316.50), was paid by Money Order in
the amount of five hundred ( P500) pesos. To remedy these lapses, he
supposedly filed a Motion for Reconsideration dated April 7, 1992. According
to him, the Court denied the Motion,
not because it was filed out of time, but on the ground that there was no
compelling reason to reconsider the dismissal of the Petition. That final
Resolution of the Supreme Court was supposedly relayed to some of the
Finally, with respect to complainants ancillary information that he had been previously suspended from the practice of law, he explained that he was not the party complained of in AM No. RTJ-93-1033, but his client Maribeth Cordova. Yet, in this Courts Circular No. 58-95 dated November 10, 1995, he was indeed penalized with a six-month suspension from the practice of law.
Report and Recommendation of the IBP
Commissioner San Juan found respondent guilty of simple negligence, as well as illegal and unjust actuations as a practicing lawyer. The Investigation Report of the IBP fact-finding committee found that he had been remiss in the performance of his professional duties as counsel to complainants.
As earlier stated, the IBP board of directors concurred in Commissioner San Juans finding of negligence, but modified the recommended penalty of two-year suspension from the practice of law by reducing it to a warning that a similar offense in the future would be dealt with more severely.
The Courts Ruling
We agree with the IBP that Atty. Sabio should be disciplined, but not with a mere warning. Under the circumstances, a one-year suspension from the practice of law is warranted.
Respondents Administrative Liability
Canon 17 of the Code of Professional Responsibility provides that lawyers owe fidelity to the cause of their client and must therefore be always mindful of the trust and confidence reposed in them. Under Canon 18, they are mandated to serve their client with competence and diligence. Specifically, they are not to neglect a legal matter entrusted to [them], and [their] negligence in connection therewith shall render [them] liable. Additionally, they are required to keep their client informed of the status of the latters cases and to respond within a reasonable time to requests for information. Even before joining the bar, lawyers subscribe to an Oath to conduct themselves with all good fidelity as well to the courts as to their clients.
Clearly, Atty. Sabio has not lived up to these Canons and Rules or to his Oath.
the dismissal of complainants Petition before the Supreme Court was due to the
failure of respondent to pay the total revised docket and other legal fees and
to attach the required certification on forum shopping. He
attempted to rectify those procedural lapses by filing a Motion for
Reconsideration. Nonetheless, there is no denying the fact that he overlooked
basic procedural requirements that a normally prudent practitioner could and
should not have left unattended, especially when the rights sought to be
protected were those
of the underprivileged, like the present complainants.
Lawyers engaged to represent a client in a case bear the responsibility of protecting the latters interest with warmth, zeal and utmost diligence. They must constantly keep in mind that their actions or omissions would be binding on the client. Verily, in representing the latter, they are expected to exercise utmost prudence and capability. A law practitioner of long standing, respondent ought to be aware that the payment of full docket and other legal fees is required in filing appeals and petitions for certiorari before the Supreme Court, considering that these remedies are not matters of right, but mere statutory privileges; hence, accepting them is highly discretionary on the part of the Court. Even before the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure made the payment of full docket and other legal fees mandatory for appeals and petitions, strict compliance with the required payment had always been enjoined.
We also note that before this very Court, respondent has acted with less candor and good faith than are expected of him as a member of the bar. Before the highest tribunal, he has had the temerity to give inconsistent excuses. In his Comment filed on January 12, 1999, he claimed to have paid, through a Money Order, more than the total docket and other fees required. Later in his Sworn Statement dated November 16, 2002, he stated that upon the dismissal of the Petition due to the nonpayment of the proper fees, he paid the additional amount of the docket fee.
Assuming the first statement to be true, the dismissal
due to the nonpayment of the docket and filing fees could have easily been
corrected had he presented to the Court a copy of the Money Order Receipt,
which allegedly covered the full amount of the fees paid.
In many cases, this expediency has been sufficient to convince the Court that the proper and full docket and other legal fees have indeed been paid.
As to the failure to attach a certification of non-forum shopping when respondent sought reconsideration of the dismissal of the Petition, he neglected to show that he had at all pleaded -- or with the same tenacity as now -- the non-publication of SC Circular No. 28-91. Disconcerting is the absence from the record of a purported Motion for Reconsideration in support of his contention. The Court is thus inclined to believe that the excuse given was merely an afterthought to justify his negligence in complying with the Circular.
Second, his claim that he could not have received contributions from his 200 or so clients in the labor case, because only 40 had signed the Petition, skirts the issue that he had received money to defray docket and other legal fees. Whether the contributions came from 40 or 200 people does not refute the allegation that enough money was entrusted to him for the filing of the Petition. Yet, he failed to pay the Court the required amount on time.
Third, complainants averments that respondent kept them in the dark on the dismissal of the Petition are supported by the evidence on record. The series of letters sent to him by individual complainants, inquiring on the status of the Petition, belie his claim that he verbally informed them of the dismissal. Had they indeed been informed of it, they would not have gone to the trouble of individually following up the case.
In Garcia v. Atty. Manuel, bad faith was ascribed to a lawyer for failing to inform the client of the status of a case. In view of their highly fiduciary relationship with their counsel, clients have every reason to expect from the former periodic and full updates on case developments.
Finally, as mentioned earlier, it is clear from SC Circular No. 58-95 that Atty. Sabio was indeed suspended from the practice of law for six months in connection with AM No. RTJ-93-1033, entitled Maribeth Cordova and Christopher Cordova v. Hon. Emma C. Labayen et al. In that administrative case, he was disciplined for instigating his clients to file an Administrative Complaint to frustrate the enforcement of lawful court orders and consequently obstruct the desirable norms and course of justice. Accordingly, he was warned that a more severe sanction shall be imposed should he commit another administrative offense.
WHEREFORE, Atty. Salvador T. Sabio is hereby found guilty of violating Canons 17 and 18 of the Canons of Professional Responsibility and is SUSPENDED from the practice of law for a period of one year from his receipt of this Decision, with a STERN WARNING that similar acts will be dealt with even more severely.
Let copies of this Decision be furnished all courts and the Office of the Bar Confidant, which is instructed to include a copy in respondents personal file.
ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN
Chairman, Third Division
W E C O N C U R :
Associate Justice Associate Justice
 Rollo, Vol. I, pp. 1-6. The original Complaint, which was filed before the Office of the Bar Confidant, was dated January 30, 1998. Complainants were advised, though, to furnish the Court with the requisite number of copies of the verified Complaint before it could take cognizance of it. They complied on July 7, 1998.
 Id., pp. 172-179.
 This was an unreasonable delay considering that the Court had given the IBP only 90 days to investigate and to report and recommend action on this case.
 Resolution No. XVI-2004-371. Id., Vol. II, p. 25.
 Rollo, Vol. II, pp. 26-28.
 Signed by Atty. Othelo C. Carag, IBP national secretary; id., p. 25.
 See Letter; id., p. 24. The Notice of Resolution was noted at the December 6, 2004 session of the Third Division of this Court.
 The Resolution denying the Motion for Reconsideration was dated May 27, 1992.
 The Report of the Grievance and Disbarment Committee of the IBP Negros Occidental Chapter, which acted as the fact-finding body in this case, was signed by Atty. Ricardo B. Teruel, chairman; and Attys. Jose G. Ealdama and Marygold L. Chuatico, members.
 Rule 18.03 of Canon 18 of the Code of Professional Responsibility (CPR). See In Re: Vicente Y. Bayani, 392 Phil. 229, 231, August 9, 2000; Aromin v. Atty. Bocavil, 373 Phil. 612, 617-618, September 22, 1999; Reontoy v. Atty. Ibadlit, 349 Phil. 1, 5, January 28, 1998.
 Rule 18.04 of Canon 18 of the CPR.
 See Entry of Judgment; rollo, Vol. I, p. 73.
 Tamayo v. Tamayo, GR No. 148482, August 12, 2005, p. 7; Torres v. Atty. Orden, 386 Phil 216, 200, April 6, 2000; Manila Electric Company v. CA, 487 SCRA 200, 208. July 4, 1990.
 In Re: Vicente Y. Bayani, supra.
 Atty. Sabio, in his Comment dated December 31, 1998, claims to have been in the private practice of law for 20 years.
 See Spouses Manalili v. De Leon, 422 Phil. 214, 200, November 27, 2001; Republic v. CA, 379 Phil. 92, 98, January 18, 2000; Lacson v. The Executive Secretary, 361 Phil. 251, 276, January 20, 1999.
 The 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended, made the payment of docket and other lawful fees mandatory for the perfection of an appeal, effective July 1, 1997.
 Canon 10 of the Code of Professional Responsibility provides that a lawyer owes candor, fairness and good faith to the courts.
 Respondents Comment, p. 2, 3rd paragraph; rollo, Vol. I, p. 173.
 Additional Requisites for Petitions filed with the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals to Prevent Forum Shopping or Multiple Filing of Petitions and Complaints, issued on September 4, 1991, and made effective on January 1, 1992.
 Annexes A to E of complainants Reply to Comment.
 443 Phil. 479, 486, January 20, 2003 (cited in Heirs of Ballesteros Sr. v. Atty. Apiag, AC No. 5760, September 30, 2005, p. 15).
 319 Phil. 273, October 10, 1995.
 Id., p. 287.