SC Disciplines Three Lawyers

August 7, 2019

In three separate administrative cases, the Supreme Court (SC) has suspended two notaries public from the practice of law for six months and reprimanded another, as well as revoked all their incumbent notarial commissions and disqualified them for different periods from being commissioned as notaries public. In determining the penalty to be imposed, the SC considered facts and factors which may serve as mitigating circumstances.

The suspended two lawyers were found guilty of notarizing documents without the personal appearance of the supposed affiants. Aside from being suspended and having their respective notarial commissions revoked, both lawyers were also disqualified from being commissioned as notaries public for two years and received a warning that a repetition of similar acts would be dealt with more severely for violating the Rules on Notarial Practice of 2004.

Atty. Francisco M. Bilog in A.C. No. 11174 was sanctioned for notarizing a “Waiver of Rights of a Parcel of Unregistered Land Including All Improvements Erected Thereon” and making it appear that complainant Norma Bakidol appeared and signed the same in his presence when in fact she did not. Atty. Bilog admitted to preparing and notarizing the subject document which was actually presented by Norma’s sister Mary, who had introduced herself as “Norma” and even presented an expired passport.

Adopting and approving the recommendation of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines–Board of Governors (IBP-BOG), the SC held that it was “undisputed that Norma did not actually appear before Atty. Bilog; and as a matter of record, she was not even in the Philippines on July 25, 2012, the day the Waiver was notarized. Norma’s passport revealed that she entered the Philippines only on June 3, 2013.” Moreover, the Court found that said passport was already expired at the time it was presented to Atty. Bilog and that he had already previously notarized three documents for Mary.

In A.C. No. 10592, Atty. Lucas V. Sugui did not deny that he notarized an Affidavit without the personal appearance of supposed affiant, Luz Rollon. To evade liability, however, he argued that he was burdened with numerous documents awaiting his signature and that there were a number of persons waiting in line to have their documents notarized. He also further argued that at the most he was guilty of carelessness when he failed to ascertain the identity of the person signing the Affidavit. The SC, however, pointed out that Atty. Sugui notarized the Affidavit relying only on a Community Tax Certificate (CTC) as evidence of identity, “which is not among those considered competent evidence of identity under the 2004 Notarial Rules.”

In both administrative cases, the Court cited Section 2(b), Rule IV of the Rules on Notarial Practice of 2004, which states that a person shall not perform a notarial act if the person involved as signatory to the instrument or document is not in the notary’s presence personally at the time of the notarization; and is not personally known to the notary public or otherwise identified by the notary public through competent evidence of identity as defined by the Notarial Rules.

“The Court has held time and again that notarization of a document is not an empty act or routine. It is invested with substantive public interest, such that only those who are qualified or authorized may act as notaries public. Notarization converts a private document into a public document, thus, making that document admissible in evidence without further proof of its authenticity. A notarial document is by law entitled to full faith and credit upon its face. Courts, administrative agencies, and the public at large must be able to rely upon the acknowledgment executed by a notary public and appended to a private instrument. For this reason, notaries public must observe with the utmost care the basic requirements in the performance of their duties. Otherwise, the confidence of the public in the integrity of this form of conveyance would be undermined,” held the SC.

In A.C. No. 12016, the Court reprimanded Atty. Servillano A. Abenes, Jr., who denied a lawyer-client relationship existed between him and Spouses Steve and Jacqueline Bueno even as he admitted that he was consulted by Jacqueline. A note dated February 18, 2011 and signed by Atty. Abenes showed that Jacqueline sought his advice and assistance in the eventual transfer of three parcels of land registered under the name of Northwest Investors Incorporated. Thereafter, on the first week of June 2011, Atty. Abenes was retained by Rhodora Sevilla to represent a company in a case. Rhodora wanted to file a petition for issuance of a lost title in behalf of Northwest Investors Incorporated, and she asked Atty. Abenes to notarize an Affidavit of Loss. Atty. Abenes notarized the Affidavit of Loss. Later, he realized that the subject lots for the Affidavit were the same parcels of land over which he was consulted by Jacqueline.

In his defense, Atty. Abenes said that had he recalled Jacqueline’s consultation in February 2011, he would not have notarized the same, and argued his lapse in memory had no badges of bad faith and that he never intended to violate lawyer-client privilege. The SC, however, adopted the IBP Investigating Commissioner’s finding that it is sufficient that the advice and assistance of an attorney is sought and is received in any matter pertaining to his profession, citing Hilado v. David (84 Phil. 569) and Dee v. Court of Appeals (257 Phil. 661), regarding the charge of violation of the 2004 Rules on Notarial Practice “by notarizing a document that he knows or has good reason to believe that the notarial act or transaction is a falsehood and a fraudulent misrepresentation of facts which he personally knew to be otherwise,” thus, revocation of the notarial commission, not necessarily disbarment, may ensue.

Since this was only the first offense of Atty. Abenes, the SC reduced the penalty recommended by the IBP-BOG to a reprimand. It also disqualified him from being commissioned as a notary public for three months, and revoked his of his notarial commission, “if still existing.”

(A.C. No. 11174, Bakidol v. Atty. Bilog, June 10, 2019; A.C. No. 10592, Agaton v. Atty. Sugui,  April 3, 2019; A.C. No. 10216, Spouses Bueno v. Atty. Abenes, Jr., April 10, 2019)