Republic of the Philippines
A.C. No. 5325 October 19, 2011
NEMESIO FLORAN and CARIDAD FLORAN, Complainants,
ATTY. ROY PRULE EDIZA, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
This administrative case arose from an Affidavit/Complaint filed by spouses Nemesio (Nemesio) and Caridad (Caridad) Floran against Atty. Roy Prule Ediza (Atty. Ediza) for unethical conduct.
Spouses Floran own an unregistered 3.5525 hectare parcel of land, particularly described as Cad. Lot No. 422-A, Pls-923 and situated in San Martin, Villanueva, Misamis Oriental. The land is covered by a tax declaration in the name of Sartiga Epal (Epal), a relative, who gave the property to the Spouses Floran.
On 9 August 1996, a certain Esteban Valera filed an action1 for judicial foreclosure of mortgage on the house situated on the land owned by the Spouses Floran with the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Cagayan de Oro City, Branch 41. The action for foreclosure involved an amount of
Spouses Floran sought the assistance of Atty. Ediza. On 24 September 1996, Atty. Ediza filed a Motion to Dismiss on the grounds of lack of jurisdiction and cause of action. On 23 October 1996, the RTC granted the motion to dismiss the case without prejudice based on non-compliance with barangay conciliation procedures under the Revised Katarungang Pambarangay Law.
Sometime in 1997, the Spouses Floran sold a hectare or 10,910 square meters of their 3.5525 hectare land to Phividec Industrial Authority (Phividec) for
P25 per square meter totaling to the amount of P272,750, payable in three installments – (1) P55,132; (2) P120,000, and (3) P97,618. The installments were paid and released within the months of June to July 1997. The sale was evidenced by a Deed of Undertaking of Lot Owner executed by Nemesio and Phividec’s representative and notarized by Atty. Ediza on 31 March 1997.
Phividec then required the couple to execute a waiver in Phividec’s favor. The Spouses Floran again sought the help of Atty. Ediza for the preparation and notarization of the waiver. Atty. Ediza informed the Spouses Floran to have the original owner of the land, Epal, sign a Deed of Absolute Sale in their favor. Atty. Ediza gave the Spouses Floran several documents for Epal to sign. Caridad visited Epal in Bunawan, Agusan del Sur and acquired her approval and expressed assent to the conveyance, as evidenced by a Deed of Absolute Sale made by Epal in favor of Nemesio for
On 11 June 1998, Nemesio and Phividec executed the Deed of Absolute Sale of Unregistered Land. Out of the total amount of
P272,750, which Phividec paid and released to the Spouses Floran, Atty. Ediza received the amount of P125,463.38 for the titling of the remaining portion of the land, other expenses and attorney’s fees.
Spouses Floran went back to Atty. Ediza several times to follow-up on the title. However, Atty. Ediza failed to fulfill his promises. After the lapse of two years, with the land still unregistered, the Spouses Floran asked Atty. Ediza for the return of their money. Atty. Ediza refused. Thus, Spouses Floran presented their complaint before the chapter president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Misamis Oriental.
The IBP called the Spouses Floran and Atty. Ediza to a conference. During the dialogue, Atty. Ediza refused to return the money but promised to tear a document evidencing sale by the Spouses Floran to him of one hectare land of their property for
P50,000. The Spouses Floran claimed that they had no knowledge that they executed such document in favor of Atty. Ediza and suspected that they might have signed a document earlier which Atty. Ediza told them not to read. Afterwards, the Spouses Floran filed their formal complaint before the Supreme Court.
In the Complaint/Affidavit dated 8 September 2000, Caridad alleged that Atty. Ediza gave them certain documents, including a Deed of Absolute Sale, for Epal to sign in order to transfer the land in their name. However, the Spouses Floran later discovered that one of the documents given by Atty. Ediza is a deed of sale for a one hectare land in the same property executed by Epal in favor of Atty. Ediza for a consideration of
P2,000. When the Spouses Floran confronted Atty. Ediza, he initially denied the document but then later promised to tear and destroy it.
In his Comment dated 23 January 2001, Atty. Ediza claimed that the Spouses Floran voluntarily gave him one hectare of the 3.5525 hectare land as payment for handling and winning the civil case for foreclosure of mortgage. Atty. Ediza explained that the Spouses Floran did not find the lot interesting, lacking in good topography. He also stated that the property only had an assessed value of
P23,700 at the time it was presented to him.
Thereafter, towards the end of 1996, when Atty. Ediza learned that Phividec was interested to buy a hectare of the Spouses Floran’s land, and considering that he has a hectare of undivided portion in the property, he suggested to the Spouses Floran that both of them sell half a hectare each and equally share in the proceeds of the sale. After Phividec made its full payment, Atty. Ediza gave fifty percent of the proceeds to the Spouses Floran and he kept the other half. Thereafter, Atty. Ediza wanted his remaining share in the land consisting of 4,545 square meters be titled in his name. Atty. Ediza conveyed this to the Spouses Floran and volunteered to take care of titling the land, including the Spouses Floran’s remaining share, with no cost to them.
Atty. Ediza stated that since Phividec had not yet applied for a separate tax declaration which would segregate its portion from the remainder of the property, he thought of holding in abeyance the separate survey on the remainder of the land. Also, Atty. Ediza was in a hurry to have the land titled with the intention of selling it so he informed the Spouses Floran to just follow up with Phividec.
At the IBP conference, Atty. Ediza stated that he only agreed to return the 4,545 square meter portion of the land to amicably settle the case with the Spouses Floran. He asserted that the Deed of Sale signed by the Spouses Floran in his favor served as payment for the dismissal of the case he handled for the Spouses Floran. Atty. Ediza denied that the money he received was intended for the titling of the remaining portion of the land. Atty. Ediza claimed that the complaint against him stemmed from a case where he represented a certain Robert Sabuclalao for recovery of land. The land was being occupied by the Church of the Assembly of God where Nemesio Floran serves as pastor.
In a Resolution dated 7 March 2001, the Court resolved to refer the case to the IBP for investigation, report and recommendation.
The IBP’s Report and Recommendation
On 14 August 2008, the investigating commissioner of the Commission on Bar Discipline of the IBP submitted his Report and found that Atty. Ediza (1) failed to meet the standards prescribed by Rule 1.01 of Canon 1 and Canon 15, and (2) violated Rule 18.03 of Canon 18 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. The IBP recommended that Atty. Ediza be imposed the penalty of six months suspension from the practice of law.
In finding Atty. Ediza guilty of violating the Code of Professional Responsibility, the Investigating Commissioner opined:
After careful evaluation of the claims of the parties vis-a-vis the documents available, the version of the complainants appear to be credible while that of the respondent is shot through with inconsistencies.
x x x
b. The foreclosure case of complainants involved only
P7,500.00 and respondent Ediza filed only a single motion and attended only two hearings. Thus, it is highly incredible [that] complainants whom respondent Ediza claims were destitute will voluntarily and generously donate to him 1 hectare of their land valued at P50,000.00. As it turned out, the 1 hectare portion is worth not only P50,000.00 [but] more than P200,000.00.
c. The deed of sale of a portion of complainants’ land to respondent Ediza is admittedly simulated because while it states that the consideration for the sale is
P50,000.00, neither party claims that any money was paid by respondent Ediza to complainants.
d. As a lawyer, Atty. Ediza must be aware that a deed of sale involving real property must be notarized to be enforceable. The document was unexplainably never notarized.
Thus, this Commission finds that respondent Ediza must have caused the complainants to unknowingly sign the deed of sale of a portion of their property in his favor. It may further be noted that in their complaint, complainants allege that they saw in the files of respondent Ediza a copy of deed of sale of a property executed by Sartiga Epal in favor of Atty. Ediza which he promised to destroy when confronted about it by complainants. This was never denied by Atty. Ediza.
Such conduct fails to come up to the standard prescribed by Canon 1.01 that "A lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral and deceitful conduct" and Canon 15 that "A lawyer shall observe candor, fairness and loyalty in all his dealings and transaction with his client."
On the second issue, x x x the claim of the complainants that they agreed to give
P125,000.00 of the proceeds of the sale of their property to respondent Ediza to register the remaining portion also appears to be more credible for the following reasons:
1. There is no credible reason for complainants to expect and demand that respondent Ediza undertake the registration of their property except that they have paid for it. If they were aware that they gave 1 hectare of their property to respondent Ediza for handling their civil case and that they are not paying respondent Ediza to register their property, it is not likely that simple folks like them would be so bold to demand for such valuable service from him for free.
2. There is no credible reason for respondent to willingly undertake for free for complainants the not so simple task of registering an untitled property.
3. As previously stated, the
P125,000.00 given to respondent Ediza by complainants is obviously too generous for simply having handled the civil case involving only P7,500.00. There must have been another reason for complainants to willingly pay the said amount to respondent and the registration for their remaining property appears to be a credible reason.
It should also be noted that respondent Atty. Ediza does not even allege that he has taken any step towards accomplishing the registration of the property of the complainants prior to the filing of this complaint. Whether or not he agreed to do it for free or for a fee, respondent Ediza should have complied with his promise to register the property of complainants unless he has valid reasons not to do so. He has not also given any credible explanation why he failed to do so.
Such conduct of respondent Ediza violates Canon 18.03 that "A lawyer shall not neglect a legal matter entrusted to him, and his negligence in connection therewith shall render him liable."
Atty. Ediza filed a Motion for Reconsideration. On 26 June 2011, in Resolution No. XIX-2011-433, the Board of Governors of the IBP affirmed the findings of the investigating commissioner. The resolution states:
RESOLVED to unanimously DENY Respondent’s Motion for Reconsideration, there being no cogent reason to reverse the findings of the Board and it being a mere reiteration of the matters which had already been threshed out and taken into consideration. Thus, for lack of substantial ground or reason to disturb it, the Board of Governors’ Resolution No. XVIII-2008-401 dated August 14, 2008 is hereby AFFIRMED.
The Court’s Ruling
After a careful review of the records of the case, we agree with the findings of the IBP and find reasonable grounds to hold respondent Atty. Ediza administratively liable.
The practice of law is a privilege bestowed by the State on those who show that they possess the legal qualifications for it. Lawyers are expected to maintain at all times a high standard of legal proficiency and morality, including honesty, integrity and fair dealing. They must perform their fourfold duty to society, the legal profession, the courts and their clients, in accordance with the values and norms of the legal profession as embodied in the Code of Professional Responsibility.2
Rule 1.01 of Canon 1, Canon 15, and Rule 18.03 of Canon 18 of the Code of Professional Responsibility provide:
A LAWYER SHALL UPHOLD THE CONSTITUTION, OBEY THE LAWS OF THE LAND AND PROMOTE RESPECT FOR LAW OF AND LEGAL PROCESSES.
Rule 1.01 - A lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct. x x x
A LAWYER SHALL OBSERVE CANDOR, FAIRNESS AND LOYALTY IN ALL HIS DEALINGS AND TRANSACTIONS WITH HIS CLIENTS.
A LAWYER SHALL SERVE HIS CLIENT WITH COMPETENCE AND DILIGENCE.
Rule 18.03 - A lawyer shall not neglect a legal matter entrusted to him, and his negligence in connection therewith shall render him liable.
In the present case, the Spouses Floran assert that they had no knowledge that they signed a deed of sale to transfer a portion of their land in favor of Atty. Ediza. They also insist that Atty. Ediza failed to comply with his promise to register their property despite receiving the amount of
P125,463.38. On the other hand, Atty. Ediza maintains that he acquired the land from the Spouses Floran because of their "deep gratitude" to him in the dismissal of the civil case for foreclosure of mortgage. Atty. Ediza further claims that the amount of P125,463.38 which he received was his rightful share from the sale of the land.
It is clear from the records that Atty. Ediza deceived the Spouses Floran when he asked them to unknowingly sign a deed of sale transferring a portion of their land to Atty. Ediza. Atty. Ediza also did the same to Epal when he gave Caridad several documents for Epal to sign. Atty. Ediza made it appear that Epal conveyed her rights to the land to him and not to the Spouses Floran. Moreover, when the sale of the Spouses Floran’s land pushed through, Atty. Ediza received half of the amount from the proceeds given by the buyer and falsely misled the Spouses Floran into thinking that he will register the remaining portion of the land.
Lamentably, Atty. Ediza played on the naïveté of the Spouses Floran to deprive them of their valued property. This is an unsavory behavior from a member of the legal profession. Aside from giving adequate attention, care and time to his client’s case, a lawyer is also expected to be truthful, fair and honest in protecting his client’s rights. Once a lawyer fails in this duty, he is not true to his oath as a lawyer.
In Santos v. Lazaro3 and Dalisay v. Mauricio,4 we held that Rule 18.03 of the Code of Professional Responsibility is a basic postulate in legal ethics. Indeed, when a lawyer takes a client’s cause, he covenants that he will exercise due diligence in protecting the latter’s rights. Failure to exercise that degree of vigilance and attention expected of a good father of a family makes the lawyer unworthy of the trust reposed in him by his client and makes him answerable not just to his client but also to the legal profession, the courts and society.1avvphi1
The Supreme Court, as guardian of the legal profession, has ultimate disciplinary power over attorneys. This authority to discipline its members is not only a right, but a moral and legal obligation as well. The Court will not tolerate such action from a member of the legal profession who deliberately and maliciously did not protect his client’s interests.
In view of the foregoing, we find that suspension from the practice of law for six months is warranted. Atty. Ediza is directed to return to the Spouses Floran the two (2) sets of documents that he misled the spouses and Epal to sign. Atty. Ediza is also directed to return the amount of
P125,463.38, representing the amount he received from the proceeds of the sale of the land belonging to the Spouses Floran, with legal interest from the time of the filing of the administrative complaint until fully paid.
WHEREFORE, we find respondent Atty. Roy Prule Ediza administratively liable for violating Rule 1.01 of Canon 1, Canon 15, and Rule 18.03 of Canon 18 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. He is hereby SUSPENDED from the practice of law for six months, effective upon receipt of this Decision. He is DIRECTED to return to the Spouses Nemesio and Caridad Floran the two (2) sets of documents that he misled the spouses and Sartiga Epal to sign. He is further ORDERED to pay Spouses Nemesio and Caridad Floran, within 30 days from receipt of this Decision, the amount of
P125,463.38, with legal interest from 8 September 2000 until fully paid. He is warned that a repetition of the same or similar acts in the future shall be dealt with more severely.
Let a copy of this Decision be entered in the record of respondent as attorney. Further, let other copies be served on the IBP and the Office of the Court Administrator, which is directed to circulate them to all the courts in the country for their information and guidance.
ANTONIO T. CARPIO
ARTURO D. BRION
|MARIA LOURDES P. A. SERENO
|BIENVENIDO L. REYES
ESTELA M. PERLAS-BERNABE*
* Designated Acting Member per Special Order No. 1114 dated 3 October 2011.
1 Docketed as Civil Case No. 96-516.
2 Spouses Garcia v. Atty. Bala, 512 Phil. 486 (2005).
3 445 Phil. 1 (2003).
4 496 Phil. 393 (2005).
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