FIRST DIVISION

A.C. No. 6491             January 31, 2005

BENILDA M. MADDELA, complainant,
vs.
ATTY. ROSALIE DALLONG-GALICINAO, respondent.

R E S O L U T I O N

DAVIDE, JR., C.J.:

Complainant Benilda Madella is a Clerk in the Office of the Clerk of Court, Regional Trial Court (RTC), Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya, while respondent Atty. Rosalie Dallong-Galicinao is the Clerk of Court and Ex-Officio Provincial Sheriff of the RTC, Bambang, Nueva Vizcaya. Their offices are both housed at the Dumlao Hall of Justice within the Capital Compound in Bayombong.

In an affidavit-complaint dated 7 February 2003, filed with the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) and docketed as CBD No. 03-1060, the complainant prays for the disbarment of the respondent for "acts unbecoming Ö a public servant and a lawyer, grave misconduct and slander."

On the basis of the same affidavit-complaint, the complainant filed with the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) an administrative complaint, which was docketed as OCA IPI No. 03-1554-P. The complaint was referred to Executive Judge Jose Godofredo M. Naui of the RTC of Bambang, Nueva Vizcaya, for investigation, report, and recommendation.

In her affidavit-complaint, the complainant alleged that sometime in July 1999, she received the amount of ₱40,000 from the respondent by way of a loan at an interest of 5% per month. In November 2001, since part of the loan remained unpaid, the respondent went to complainantís office and took complainantís "cash gift check" amounting to ₱5,000 in her absence and without her knowledge. There, the respondent "uttered unsavory and humiliating words" against her (the complainant). The respondent was able to encash the check even without her endorsement and applied the proceeds thereof to the interest of complainantís loan. From January to November 2002, the respondent, based on complainantís promissory note, had been collecting from the complainant an amount equivalent to one-half of the face value of the checks she received as benefit from the Judiciary Development Fund (JDF). On 10 December 2002, the respondent went again to the office of the complainant and demanded one-half of the value of the check representing a cash gift of ₱5,000. The complainant refused, reasoning that it was a cash gift, not a JDF check and, therefore, not covered by their agreement. Complainantís refusal to part with the amount angered the respondent, prompting the latter to raise her voice, utter "unsavory remarks" against the complainant, and bang her fist on top of the complainantís table, causing the glass top of the table to break. Several people witnessed this incident and heard the accusations hurled by the respondent against the complainant with regard to her failure to pay her debt.

To support her bid to have the respondent stripped of the privilege to practice the noble profession of law, the complainant attached to her affidavit-complaint a copy of a confidential letter-complaint of one Benjamin Rilloraza dated 3 May 2001 addressed to Atty. Ma. Cristina Layusa of the Office of the Bar Confidant, opposing the respondentís admission to the Bar in view of her acts of notarizing documents outside the area of her commission. Mr. Rilloraza claimed that the respondent, although not yet a lawyer, was issued a notarial commission for "Kayapa or (Kasibu)," Nueva Vizcaya. However, the respondent notarized documents in Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya, outside the area of her commission. To prove his allegation, he attached to the said letter-complaint photocopies of a Deed of Sale of Motor Vehicle dated 31 January 2001 and an Affidavit dated 3 May 2001, both indicating that they were notarized by the respondent in Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya, and that the respondentís commission as a Notary Public was for Bayombong. Mr. Rilloraza likewise alleged that despite her husbandís death, the respondent continued to receive and encash for at least three months checks corresponding to her husbandís salaries as Ex-Officio Sheriff of the Office of the Clerk of Court of Nueva Vizcaya. He also pointed out that the respondent even continued to claim the higher allowable deductions as a married individual despite the death of her husband.

The complainant also presented a Certification issued on 6 May 2003 by Judge Jose B. Rosales of Branch 27, RTC, Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya, in his capacity as Executive Judge, stating that the respondent was never appointed as a notary public for Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya, during the period from 1 January 1997 to December 2003.

For her part, the respondent denied that she is engaged in the business of lending money, the truth of the matter being that the complainant approached her sometime in November 1998 begging that she lend her some money. She then informed the complainant that she knew of somebody who had money. Out of pity and compassion, she agreed to be the guarantor to facilitate her loan. To prove her claim, she presented an affidavit of Mr. Josue B. Liclican dated 10 March 2003 stating that he is the creditor of the complainant and that the respondent merely brokered the loan agreement and acted as a guarantor in favor of the complainant. Mr. Liclican also claimed that by reason of complainantís failure to pay her obligation after the lapse of more than four years, he tried to collect the loan from the respondent, who acted as a guarantor.

As regards complainantís allegation that she did not authorize the respondent to obtain the cash gift in November 2001, the respondent averred that she had a verbal agreement with the complainant authorizing her to obtain the check. She also presented an authorization signed by the complainant on 8 January 2002 authorizing the respondent to receive the formerís JDF checks and to apply half of the amount as installment payment of her loan, with the obligation to return the other half to the complainant. To refute the allegation that she continued to obtain the checks of her deceased husband, the respondent presented a letter dated 2 May 1998 informing the OCA of the death of her husband on 3 April 1998 with a request to stop sending checks issued in his name. She likewise presented her Income Tax Return (ITR) for 1998 filed on 11 January 1999, which showed that she declared herself as "head of the family" and not as a married individual. She forwarded the said ITR to the OCA on 10 March 1999, and informed the latter of her change of status for purposes of taxation.

Anent the allegation that she notarized documents in Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya, outside of the area of her commission, the respondent explained that she did it to accommodate the parties thereto, who were her relatives, and that she did not derive profit from such act.

Respondentís motion to suspend the proceedings in CAD No. 03-1060 in view of the pendency of OCA IPI No. 03-1554 was denied.

On 20 February 2004, Commissioner Rebecca Villanueva-Maala submitted her report and recommendation. She found that the respondent has proved that she is not the creditor of the complainant and that she had promptly informed the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Supreme Court of the death of her husband, precluding any occasion where she could unlawfully claim her husbandís salary and avail herself of the higher allowable tax deductions even after his death. However, Commissioner Maala recommended that for the acts of notarizing outside the area of her notarial commission and obtaining the JDF checks of the complainant from the cash clerk in violation of Supreme Court Circular No. 27-2001, the respondent be suspended from the practice of law for six months.

On 16 April 2004, the Board of Governors of the IBP issued Resolution No. XVI-2004-227 in CBD No. 03-1060, annulling and setting aside Commissioner Maalaís recommendation; dismissing the administrative complaint against Atty. Galicinao with respect to the charge of violating a Supreme Court Circular for collecting a loan for which she acted as a guarantor; and imposing upon the respondent the penalty of reprimand for her act of notarizing documents outside the area where she was commissioned as a notary public.

We affirm the Resolution of the Board of Governors of the IBP dismissing the administrative complaint against the respondent to the extent covered by the complaint in A.M. No. P-04-1890, formerly OCA IPI No. 03-1554-P. It must be pointed out that as an employee of the Judiciary and a member of the Bar, the respondent is subject to our disciplinary authority. Under our Resolution in A.M. No. 02-9-02-SC, which took effect on 1 October 2002, an administrative case against a court official who is a lawyer, based on grounds which are likewise grounds for the disciplinary action of members of the Bar, shall be considered as disciplinary proceedings against such official both as a court official and as a member of the Bar. Thus, in our Resolution of 20 September 2004 in A.M. No. P-04-1890, we severely reprimanded the respondent for simple misconduct, with a warning that a repetition of the same act in the future shall be dealt with more severely, and we ordered her to replace the broken glass top with a new one.

Hence, the only remaining issue is respondentís liability for her act of notarizing documents outside the area of her commission as a notary public. Although such act was not one of the grounds relied upon in complainantís affidavit-complaint, we cannot turn a blind eye thereto considering respondentís admission that she did such act. For that, as correctly held by the IBP, the respondent must be disciplined. The penalty of reprimand recommended by the IBP is, however, too light.

We have declared on several occasions, that notarization is not an empty, meaningless, routinary act. It is invested with substantive public interest, such that only those who are qualified or authorized may act as notaries public. The protection of that interest necessarily requires that those not qualified or authorized to act must be prevented from imposing upon the public, the courts, and the administrative offices in general. It must be underscored that the notarization by a notary public converts a private document into a public document, making that document admissible in evidence without further proof of the authenticity thereof (Nunga v. Viray, A.C. No. 4758, 366 Phil. 155, 160 [1999]).

Thus, we are not satisfied with respondentís explanation that she notarized documents outside of the area of her notarial commission as a favor to her relatives and for free. Whether the respondent derived profit from her act of notarizing outside the area of her authority is of no moment. The fact remains that she notarized outside the area of her commission. Considering, however, that her misconduct as a notary public was committed while she was not yet a lawyer, she could not be disciplinarily dealt with as a lawyer. The penalty that should be meted to her should, therefore, be as a notary public before she was admitted to the Bar. The penalty of fine would be a sufficient sanction.

WHEREFORE, the Court hereby MODIFIES the resolution of the IBP Board of Governors and hereby imposes on respondent ATTY. ROSALIE DALLONG-GALICINAO a fine of Ten Thousand Pesos (₱10,000) for misconduct as a notary public.

Let copies of this Resolution be furnished the Office of the Bar Confidant, all the courts of the Philippines, and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines.

SO ORDERED.

Quisumbing, Ynarez-Santiago, Carpio, and Azcuna, JJ., concur.


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