SECOND DIVISION

 

 

ATTY. BONIFACIO T. BARANDON, JR.,     A.C. No. 5768

                             Complainant,

                                                                             Present:

                              

                                                                               CARPIO, J., Chairperson,

          - versus -                                                       BRION,

  DEL CASTILLO,

  ABAD, and

  PEREZ, JJ.

ATTY. EDWIN Z. FERRER, SR.,

Respondent.                                       Promulgated:

 

                                                                                March 26, 2010

x --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- x

 

DECISION

 

ABAD, J.:

 

 

This administrative case concerns a lawyer who is claimed to have hurled invectives upon another lawyer and filed a baseless suit against him.

 

The Facts and the Case

 

          On January 11, 2001 complainant Atty. Bonifacio T. Barandon, Jr. filed a complaint-affidavit[1] with the Integrated Bar of the Philippines Commission on Bar Discipline (IBP-CBD) seeking the disbarment, suspension from the practice of law, or imposition of appropriate disciplinary action against respondent Atty. Edwin Z. Ferrer, Sr. for the following offenses:

 

1.       On November 22, 2000 Atty. Ferrer, as plaintiff’s counsel in Civil Case 7040, filed a reply with opposition to motion to dismiss that contained abusive, offensive, and improper language which insinuated that Atty. Barandon presented a falsified document in court.

 

2.       Atty. Ferrer filed a fabricated charge against Atty. Barandon in Civil Case 7040 for alleged falsification of public document when the document allegedly falsified was a notarized document executed on February 23, 1994, at a date when Atty. Barandon was not yet a lawyer nor was assigned in Camarines Norte.  The latter was not even a signatory to the document.

 

3.       On December 19, 2000, at the courtroom of  Municipal Trial Court (MTC) Daet before the start of hearing, Atty. Ferrer, evidently drunk, threatened Atty. Barandon saying, “Laban kung laban, patayan kung patayan, kasama ang lahat ng pamilya. Wala na palang magaling na abogado sa Camarines Norte, ang abogado na rito ay mga taga-Camarines Sur, umuwi na kayo sa Camarines Sur, hindi kayo taga-rito.”

 

4.       Atty. Ferrer made his accusation of falsification of public document without bothering to check the copy with the Office of the Clerk of Court and, with gross ignorance of the law, failed to consider that a notarized document is presumed to be genuine and authentic until proven otherwise.

 

5.       The Court had warned Atty. Ferrer in his first disbarment case against repeating his unethical act; yet he faces a disbarment charge for sexual harassment of an office secretary of the IBP Chapter in Camarines Norte; a related criminal case for acts of lasciviousness; and criminal cases for libel and grave threats that Atty. Barandon filed against him.  In October 2000, Atty. Ferrer asked Atty. Barandon to falsify the daily time record of his son who worked with the Commission on Settlement of Land Problems, Department of Justice.  When Atty. Barandon declined, Atty. Ferrer repeatedly harassed him with inflammatory language. 

 

          Atty. Ferrer raised the following defenses in his answer with motion to dismiss:

 

1.       Instead of having the alleged forged document submitted for examination, Atty. Barandon filed charges of libel and grave threats against him.  These charges came about because Atty. Ferrer’s clients filed a case for falsification of public document against Atty. Barandon.

 

2.       The offended party in the falsification case, Imelda Palatolon, vouchsafed that her thumbmark in the waiver document had been falsified.

 

3.       At the time Atty. Ferrer allegedly uttered the threatening remarks against Atty. Barandon, the MTC Daet was already in session.  It was improbable that the court did not take steps to stop, admonish, or cite Atty. Ferrer in direct contempt for his behavior.

 

4.       Atty. Barandon presented no evidence in support of his allegations that Atty. Ferrer was drunk on December 19, 2000 and that he degraded the law profession.  The latter had received various citations that speak well of his character.

 

5.       The cases of libel and grave threats that Atty. Barandon filed against Atty. Ferrer were still pending.  Their mere filing did not make the latter guilty of the charges.  Atty. Barandon was forum shopping when he filed this disbarment case since it referred to the same libel and grave threats subject of the criminal cases. 

 

          In his reply affidavit,[2] Atty. Barandon brought up a sixth ground for disbarment.  He alleged that on December 29, 2000 at about 1:30 p.m., while Atty. Ferrer was on board his son’s taxi, it figured in a collision with a tricycle, resulting in serious injuries to the tricycle’s passengers.[3]  But neither Atty. Ferrer nor any of his co-passengers helped the victims and, during the police investigation, he denied knowing the taxi driver and blamed the tricycle driver for being drunk. Atty. Ferrer also prevented an eyewitness from reporting the accident to the authorities.[4]

 

          Atty. Barandon claimed that the falsification case against him had already been dismissed.  He belittled the citations Atty. Ferrer allegedly received.  On the contrary, in its Resolution 00-1,[5] the IBP-Camarines Norte Chapter opposed his application to serve as judge of the MTC of Mercedes, Camarines Sur, on the ground that he did not have “the qualifications, integrity, intelligence, industry and character of a trial judge” and that he was facing a criminal charge for acts of lasciviousness and a disbarment case filed by an employee of the same IBP chapter.

 

          On October 10, 2001 Investigating Commissioner Milagros V. San Juan of the IBP-CBD submitted to this Court a Report, recommending the suspension for two years of Atty. Ferrer.  The Investigating Commissioner found enough evidence on record to prove Atty. Ferrer’s violation of Canons 8.01 and 7.03 of the Code of Professional Responsibility.  He attributed to Atty. Barandon, as counsel in Civil Case 7040, the falsification of the plaintiff’s affidavit despite the absence of evidence that the document had in fact been falsified and that Atty. Barandon was a party to it.  The Investigating Commissioner also found that Atty. Ferrer uttered the threatening remarks imputed to him in the presence of other counsels, court personnel, and litigants before the start of hearing.

 

          On June 29, 2002 the IBP Board of Governors passed Resolution XV-2002-225,[6] adopting and approving the Investigating Commissioner’s recommendation but reduced the penalty of suspension to only one year. 

 

Atty. Ferrer filed a motion for reconsideration but the Board denied it in its Resolution[7] of October 19, 2002 on the ground that it had already endorsed the matter to the Supreme Court.  On February 5, 2003, however, the Court referred back the case to the IBP for resolution of Atty. Ferrer’s motion for reconsideration.[8]  On May 22, 2008 the IBP Board of Governors adopted and approved the Report and Recommendation[9] of the Investigating Commissioner that denied Atty. Ferrer’s motion for reconsideration.[10]

 

          On February 17, 2009, Atty. Ferrer filed a Comment on Board of Governors’ IBP Notice of Resolution No. XVIII-2008.[11]  On August 12, 2009 the Court resolved to treat Atty. Ferrer’s comment as a petition for review under Rule 139 of the Revised Rules of Court.  Atty. Barandon filed his comment,[12] reiterating his arguments before the IBP.  Further, he presented certified copies of orders issued by courts in Camarines Norte that warned Atty. Ferrer against appearing in court drunk.[13]  

 

The Issues Presented

 

          The issues presented in this case are:

 

1.       Whether or not the IBP Board of Governors and the IBP Investigating Commissioner erred in finding respondent Atty. Ferrer guilty of the charges against him; and

 

2.       If in the affirmative, whether or not the penalty imposed on him is justified.

 

The Court’s Ruling

 

          We have examined the records of this case and find no reason to disagree with the findings and recommendation of the IBP Board of Governors and the Investigating Commissioner.

 

          The practice of law is a privilege given to lawyers who meet the high standards of legal proficiency and morality.  Any violation of these standards exposes the lawyer to administrative liability.[14]

 

          Canon 8 of the Code of Professional Responsibility commands all lawyers to conduct themselves with courtesy, fairness and candor towards their fellow lawyers and avoid harassing tactics against opposing counsel. Specifically, in Rule 8.01, the Code provides:

 

Rule 8.01. – A lawyer shall not, in his professional dealings, use language which is abusive, offensive or otherwise improper.

 

          Atty. Ferrer’s actions do not measure up to this Canon.  The evidence shows that he imputed to Atty. Barandon the falsification of the Salaysay Affidavit of the plaintiff in Civil Case 7040.  He made this imputation with pure malice for he had no evidence that the affidavit had been falsified and that Atty. Barandon authored the same.

 

Moreover, Atty. Ferrer could have aired his charge of falsification in a proper forum and without using offensive and abusive language against a fellow lawyer.  To quote portions of what he said in his reply with motion to dismiss:

 

1.         That the answer is fraught with grave and culpable misrepresentation and “FALSIFICATION” of documents, committed to mislead this Honorable Court, but with concomitant grave responsibility of counsel for Defendants, for distortion and serious misrepresentation to the court, for presenting a grossly “FALSIFIED” document, in violation of his oath of office as a government employee and as member of the Bar, for the reason, that, Plaintiff, IMELDA PALATOLON, has never executed the “SALAYSAY AFFIDAVIT”, wherein her fingerprint has been falsified, in view whereof, hereby DENY the same including the affirmative defenses, there being no knowledge or information to form a belief as to the truth of the same, from pars. (1) to par. (15) which are all lies and mere fabrications, sufficient ground for “DISBARMENT” of the one responsible for said falsification and distortions.”[15]

 

The Court has constantly reminded lawyers to use dignified language in their pleadings despite the adversarial nature of our legal system.[16]  

 

          Atty. Ferrer had likewise violated Canon 7 of the Code of Professional Responsibility which enjoins lawyers to uphold the dignity and integrity of the legal profession at all times.  Rule 7.03 of the Code provides:

 

Rule 7.03. – A lawyer shall not engage in conduct that adversely reflect on his fitness to practice law, nor shall he, whether in public or private life behave in scandalous manner to the discredit of the legal profession.

 

          Several disinterested persons confirmed Atty. Ferrer’s drunken invectives at Atty. Barandon shortly before the start of a court hearing.  Atty. Ferrer did not present convincing evidence to support his denial of this particular charge.  He merely presented a certification from the police that its blotter for the day did not report the threat he supposedly made.  Atty. Barandon presented, however, the police blotter on a subsequent date that recorded his complaint against Atty. Ferrer.

 

          Atty. Ferrer said, “Laban kung laban, patayan kung patayan, kasama ang lahat ng pamilya. Wala na palang magaling na abogado sa Camarines Norte, ang abogado na rito ay mga taga-Camarines Sur, umuwi na kayo sa Camarines Sur, hindi kayo taga-rito.”  Evidently, he uttered these with intent to annoy, humiliate, incriminate, and discredit Atty. Barandon in the presence of lawyers, court personnel, and litigants waiting for the start of hearing in court.  These language is unbecoming a member of the legal profession.  The Court cannot countenance it.  

 

Though a lawyer’s language may be forceful and emphatic, it should always be dignified and respectful, befitting the dignity of the legal profession. The use of intemperate language and unkind ascriptions has no place in the dignity of judicial forum.[17] Atty. Ferrer ought to have realized that this sort of public behavior can only bring down the legal profession in the public estimation and erode public respect for it. Whatever moral righteousness Atty. Ferrer had was negated by the way he chose to express his indignation.

           

          Contrary to Atty. Ferrer’s allegation, the Court finds that he has been accorded due process. The essence of due process is to be found in the reasonable opportunity to be heard and submit any evidence one may have in support of one’s defense.[18] So long as the parties are given the opportunity to explain their side, the requirements of due process are satisfactorily complied with.[19]  Here, the IBP Investigating Commissioner gave Atty. Ferrer all the opportunities to file countless pleadings and refute all the allegations of Atty. Barandon.

 

          All lawyers should take heed that they are licensed officers of the courts who are mandated to maintain the dignity of the legal profession, hence they must conduct themselves honorably and fairly.[20] Atty. Ferrer’s display of improper attitude, arrogance, misbehavior, and misconduct in the performance of his duties both as a lawyer and officer of the court, before the public and the court, was a patent transgression of the very ethics that lawyers are sworn to uphold. 

 

          ACCORDINGLY, the Court AFFIRMS the May 22, 2008 Resolution of the IBP Board of Governors in CBD Case 01-809 and ORDERS the suspension of Atty. Edwin Z. Ferrer, Sr. from the practice of law for one year effective upon his receipt of this Decision.

 

Let a copy of this Decision be entered in Atty. Ferrer’s personal record as an attorney with the Office of the Bar Confidant and a copy of the same be served to the IBP and to the Office of the Court Administrator for circulation to all the courts in the land.

         

SO ORDERED.

 

 

ROBERTO A. ABAD

                                                              Associate Justice

 

 

 

WE CONCUR:

 

 

 

ANTONIO T. CARPIO

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

    ARTURO D. BRION                   MARIANO C. DEL CASTILLO

        Associate Justice                                     Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

JOSE PORTUGAL PEREZ

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

 



[1]  Rollo, pp. 2-9.

[2]  Id. at 71.

[3]  Id. at 73.

[4]  Id. at 74-75.

[5]  Id. at 120.

[6]  Id. at 137.

[7]  Id. at 164.

[8]  Id. at 203.

[9]  Id. at 585-600.

[10]  Id. at 584.

[11]  Id. at 601-606.

[12]  Id. at 728-734.

[13]  Id. at 740-741.

[14]  Garcia v. Bala, A.C. No. 5039, November 25, 2005, 476 SCRA 85, 91.

[15]  Rollo, p. 12.

[16]  Saberon v. Larong, A.C. No. 6567, April 16, 2008, 551 SCRA 359, 368.

[17]  De la Rosa v. Court of Appeals Justices, 454 Phil. 718, 727 (2003).

[18]  Batongbakal v. Zafra, 489 Phil. 367, 378 (2005).

[19]  Calma v. Court of Appeals, 362 Phil. 297, 304 (1999).

[20]  Atty. Reyes v. Atty. Chiong, Jr., 453 Phil. 99, 104 (2003).