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[MARIFE A. VENZON v. ATTY. AMADOR B. PELEO III](http://lawyerly.ph/juris/view/c10034?user=fbGU2WFpmaitMVEVGZ2lBVW5xZ2RVdz09)
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EN BANC

[ A.C. No. 9354 [Formerly CBD Case No. 12-3655], August 20, 2019 ]

MARIFE A. VENZON, COMPLAINANT, VS. ATTY. AMADOR B. PELEO III, RESPONDENT.

DECISION

PER CURIAM:

The Case

Respondent Atty. Amador B. Peleo III is charged with violation of Rule 1.01, Canon 1 of the Code of Professional Responsibility (CPR) and Section 3(D) of Republic Act 9262 (RA 9262) or the Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004 for his alleged refusal to provide child support to his son, a minor.

The Complaint-Affidavit

In her Complaint-Affidavit dated December 1, 2011, Marife Venzon essentially alleged:

Sometime in 1996, respondent frequented San Jose, Occidental Mindoro to attend to the cases of his former townmates in Cavite.[1] On May 6, 1996, she met respondent whom she engaged to handle her petition for declaration of nullity of her marriage with her husband. In no time, she got close to respondent as he really exerted effort to earn her trust.[2] By the time the judicial decree[3] of annulment of her marriage came out, they were already in a serious relationship. On April 17, 1998, she gave birth to respondent's son.[4]

In the beginning and up until 2003, respondent responsibly acted as a family man. Sometime in 1997, he purchased a two-storey apartment in Sampaloc, Manila. He leased it out but reserved a space at the ground floor. It was converted into a bedroom where she and their son stayed whenever she had their son checked-up at the UST Hospital.[5] In 1999, they jointly purchased a residential lot in Facoma, Brgy. Labangan, San Jose, Occidental Mindoro where they built a house for her and their son.[6]

During the succeeding years, however, respondent no longer visited them as frequently as before. Then he stopped giving them financial support and even ignored her pleas to give it back to them.[7]

On December 7, 2006, respondent drew an undertaking captioned "Kasulatan ng Pagbibigay ngAri-Arian at Sustento,"[8] viz:
Dapat mabatid ng lahat:

Ako, Amador B. Peleo III, Pilipino, nasa hustong gulang at may tirahan sa Pob. 3, Gen. E. Aguinaldo, Cavite, ay nagsabi ng mga sumusunod:

Na ako ay nagmamay-ari ng mga sumusunod:

1. Lupa at bahay na naroroon sa Facoma, Labangan, San Jose, Occ. Mindoro; 2. Isang apartment sa Maynila sa 850 Don Quijote St., Sampaloc, Manila.

Na ang mga nabanggit na ari-arian ay kusang loob kong ibinibigay kay Nino Amador Venzon Peleo III, anak ko kay Marife A. Venzon ng San Jose Occidental, Mindoro;

Na aking ding bibigyan ng suporta buwan-buwan panggastos and nasabi kong anak at susuportahan ko rin ang pag-aaral niya hanggang sa makatapos ng kolehiyo.

Sa katunayan ng lahat ng ito ay inilagda ko ang aking pangalan ngayon December 7, 06 dito sa San Jose, Occ. Mindoro.

(Sgd.) Amador B. Peleo III

xxx

Conforme: Marife A.Venzon
But respondent did not fulfill his undertaking and continued to ignore her pleas for support. She was, thus, constrained to seek assistance from the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP).

IBP NCLA-Senior Deputy Atty. Dante Mercado wrote[9] respondent urging him to at least provide his child's basic needs so he may avoid liability for economic abuse under RA 9262.

During their meeting at the IBP office, she and respondent jointly drew a Kasunduan,[10] viz:
Dapat mabatid ng lahat:

Ang kasunduan ito ay ginawa at pinagtibay nina:

AMADOR B. PELEO III, Pilipino, naninirahan sa Gen. Aguinaldo, Cavite at siyang tatawagin Unang Panig;

at

MARIFE VENZON, Pilipino, naninirahan sa San Jose, Occ. Mindoro at siyang tatawagin na Ikalawang Panig:

PINAGKASUNDUAN

1. Ang Unang Panig ay hahatian (50:50) si Nino Amador V. Peleo sa renta sa bahay na naroroon sa 850 Don Quijote St., Sampaloc, Manila;

2. Sina Nino Amador Peleo at kanyang ina na si Marife Venzon lamang ay binibigyan ko ng pahintulot na siyang tumira sa isang maliit sa kuarto sa silong ng apartment;

3. Ang 900 metro kuadrado lupa na naroroon sa Bo. Labangan, San Jose, Occ. Mindoro at galing kay Teodolfo Talactac ay ibinibigay ko kay Nino Amador V. Peleo ang ganap na pagmamay-ari;

4. Bibigyan ko si Niño Amador V. Peleo ng karampatan kaparte kung mabenta ang nasabing apartment.

Sa katunayan ng lahat ng ito ay inilagda namin ang aming pangalan ngayon Hunyo 28, 2011 dito sa Pasig City.

(Sgd. Marife Venzon)        (Sgd.) Amador Peleo III
Ikalawang Panig                Unang Panig
But again respondent did not honor his undertaking. She recalled that right after they met at the IBP office, she received respondent's text: "Wala ka ni katiting na karapatan para ipaayos ang kwarto. Kung ano ang ayos niyan ngayon ay hindi mo ito pwedeng baguhin o galawin at hindi kita pinahihintulutan na ayusin, baguhin, maglagay ng anumang improvement diyan sa kwarto otherwise you will be criminally liable, kuha mo at alisin mo na rin diyan ang sabi mong gamit mo."

On September 30, 2011, she sent copy of the "Kasunduan" to Eusebia Jacob, a tenant in respondent's apartment. The "Kasunduan" informed Eusebia Jacob that half of the monthly rent on the apartment would go to her. She learned, however, that respondent's sister, Romana Peleo Bellostrino was already collecting the rent.

Aside from his deliberate refusal to provide support for their son, she knew of respondent's propensity for dishonesty, unethical conduct, and immorality, viz:

1. In filling up the blank spaces on his son's Certificate of Live Birth, he indicated that they got married on May 1, 1996 in Manila when in truth they never got married. In fact, they only met for the first time on May 6, 1996.

2. Respondent was legally married to Erlinda Sierra when he intimately got involved with her. He remained a married man before, during, and after he sired a son with her. He led her to believe he was determined to sever his marital ties with his wife by filing a petition for judicial declaration of nullity of marriage. As it tuned out, he never actually meant it to be. He never prosecuted the case until it got dismissed for failure to prosecute, thus:
ORDER

It appearing that this case has been pending since July 31, 1998 without petitioner exerting any effort to prosecute this case.

ACCORDINGLY, and pursuant to Section 3, Rule 17 of the Revised Rules of Court, this case is hereby DISMISSED without prejudice.

SO ORDERED.[11]
3. He had been having illicit affairs with many other women, e.g. - a seamstress from Bacoor, Cavite, a housemaid from Calintaan, Occidental Mindoro, and another woman from Capiz with whom he fathered a child named Amadora.

4. He fraudulently secured a Senior Citizen (SC) card although he was only forty five (45) years old. He unabashedly availed of the twenty percent (20%) discount privilege on plane tickets for his out-of-town court hearings.

Respondent's Comment

In his Comment[12] dated June 8, 2012, respondent denied that he was not giving child support. He claimed that from 2009 until 2011, complainant had been receiving the monthly apartment rent of P12,000.00. On October 2011, in lieu of the cash allowance she was demanding, he gave her a 900-square meter property within a subdivision in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro. As for complainant's other accusations, he basically riposted:

1. He filled out his son's birth certificate indicating that he and complainant got married on a certain date and place because he did not want his son to be humiliated or called "putok sa buho."

2. He did not intend to deceive complainant when he filed the petition for declaration of nullity of his marriage with his first wife. The reason why he failed to prosecute the case was a purely personal matter.

3. He secured a Senior Citizen card solely to avail of the discount privileges granted to cardholders.

By Resolution[13] dated August 1, 2012, the Court referred the case to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) for investigation, report, and recommendation or decision within ninety (90) days. The scheduled preliminary conference was dispensed with following several cancellations. The parties were required instead to file their verified position papers. Only complainant complied.

Report and Recommendation of the Committee on Bar Discipline-IBP (CBD-IBP)

In its Report and Recommendation[14] dated December 19, 2013, the CBD-IBP, through Commissioner Eldrid C. Antiquiera found respondent liable for gross immorality and violation of Canon 1 of the CPR for Lawyers. Respondent was found to have failed to live up to the exacting standards of the legal profession by having sexual relation with a woman other than his wife, aggravated by his utter refusal to give support to the child he fathered with his paramour. The CBD-IBP recommended that respondent be suspended from the practice of law for two (2) years.

Recommendation of the IBP Board of Governors

Under Resolution No. XXI-2014-812, the IBP Board of Governors resolved to adopt the CBD-IBP's Report and Recommendation pertaining to respondent's liability for gross immorality. As for the penalty, it held that respondent should be disbarred, thus:
RESOLVED to ADOPT and APPROVE, as it is hereby ADOPTED and APPROVED, with modification, the Report and Recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner in the above-entitled case, herein made part of this Resolution as Annex "A," and considering Respondent's act of gross immorality, and his falsification of public documents to feign his marriage to Complainant and acquire a Senior Citizen Card with intent to use it and avail of the 20% discount, Atty. Amador B. Peleo III is hereby DISBARRED and his name stricken off the Roll of Attorneys.
Ruling

We adopt the factual findings, legal conclusions, and penalty recom­mended by the IBP Board of Governors.

Respondent is charged with violation of Rule 1.01, Canon 1 of the Code of Professional Responsibility,[15] forbidding lawyers from engaging in un­lawful, dishonest, or deceitful conduct. The specific acts he allegedly committed are as follows:

1. Maintaining a sexual relation with complainant when his marriage with his spouse had not been terminated.

2. Maintaining several other faithless relations with other women while in permanent relations with his spouse and complainant.

3. Misusing the legal process of filing a petition for nullity of marriage to convince complainant that he was truly determined to end his marriage with his wife.

4. Falsifying entries in his son's birth certificate.

5. Failing to give child support.

6. Seriously disrespecting the authority and dignity of the IBP when he disregarded an agreement brokered by the IBP between him and complainant.

7. Deceiving the government and private businesses by availing of the Senior Citizens' card to which he was not entitled.

Clearly, we are not deciding respondent's professional fitness on the basis of a single and one-off private event in his life. As a rule, we do not interfere with the privacy right to make decisions on who a lawyer would want to pair himself or herself with. It is the lawyer's decision to make. As stated in a Concurring Opinion in Estrada v. Escritor, A.M. No. P-02-1651, August 4, 2003:
Clearly, "immorality" as a category of offense for the dismissal of a public servant or a judicial employee should not be construed as any viola­tion of moral prescriptions. Otherwise, this tack would only embroil this Court in the eternal debate on divergent moral theories and systems. For a public servant, the pivotal question in determining administrative culpabil­ity ought to be whether the challenged conduct was ultimately prejudicial to public service. We cannot snoop into bedrooms and peer under bed co­vers without running afoul of every person's constitutionally protected in­dividuality. Quite interestingly, in American jurisprudence, conduct affecting one's personal character has been excluded from the ambit of actionable behavior. It stressed: "But conduct amounting to mere irregularity or merely affecting one's character as a private individual is not usually covered by the term 'malconduct'."

It is more than a matter of sympathy; it is a clear does of justice indeed to conclude that respondent did not fail to live up to her ethical ob­ligations; in conscience and in law, this Court should be the last, and never, to cast the stone and stamp the badge of infamy upon her legitimate desire for personal security and safety that in reality has bothered no one, least of all, our own judicial institution.
What we have here is the confluence of respondent's acts which already spill beyond what happens inside the privacy of one's intimate space. For respondent's acts here do not just concern him as a private individual. They have crossed the line between what essentially belongs to an individual's right to privacy on one hand, and a pattern of conduct symptomatic of a clear disregard for the rights of others by misapplying his knowledge of the law and his profession as a lawyer, on the other. This is the nexus that makes us act. We are taking objective action because respondent's pattern of conduct has already impacted on his professional fitness and status as a member of the Bar. Consider:

First. Respondent maintained sexual relation with complainant and several other faithless contemporaneous relations while his marriage with his lawful spouse was still subsisting. He was not just in love and lonely and in good faith to establish another solid foundation for a life-long partnership when he paired with complainant. He made complainant just one of his flings. His pattern of faithlessness, especially his indiscriminate liaisons, with emphasis on the fact that complainant was his vulnerable client when he first pursued her — is a clear and present danger to the profession where utmost fiduciary obligations must be observed. The victims here are the spouse and the institution of marriage.

In the following cases, respondent lawyers were ordered disbarred for engaging in illicit relations with women, albeit, they were still lawfully married to their respective spouses:

In Guevarra v. Eala,[16] respondent was found guilty of grossly immoral conduct and violation of Canon 1, Rule 1.01[17] and Canon 7, Rule 7.03[18] of the Code of Professional Responsibility.

In Ecraela v. Pangalangan,[19] respondent was also found guilty of gross immorality and of violating Section 2, Article XV of the 1987 Constitution, and Canon 1, Rule 1.01,[20] Canon 7, Rule 7.03,[21] and Canon 10, Rule 10.01[22] of the Code of Professional Responsibility.

In Dantes v. Dantes,[23] respondent was held guilty of, and ordered disbarred for, grossly immoral conduct.

Finally, in Bustamante v. Alejandro,[24] respondent was held liable for gross immorality.

Second. Respondent misused the legal process by filing a petition for declaration of nullity of marriage without any serious intention to prosecute it. He clearly did it only as a ploy to convince complainant that he was truly decided to end his marriage with his lawful wife. His excuse that his failure to prosecute was a "purely personal matter" is flimsy. In any event, if truly he did not use the same as a mere ploy to serve an illicit purpose, he should have formally withdrawn it. As it was, however, he just left it there to clog the already clogged docket of the court and waited till it was dismissed.

Lawyers are ordained to avoid casual resort to judicial processes for their personal gain. As officers of the court, they ought to foster respect for court procedures and processes and be the frontline of defense against those who wittingly and willingly misuse and/or abuse them. Court processes are, and should forever be, available only for the redress of genuine grievances and should not be used to suit the whims of unscrupulous individuals. By his actions, respondent undeniably misused and abused the court processes to suit his whims. Respondent is guilty of violating Canon 10, Rule 10.03 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, viz:
CANON 10 - A LAWYER OWES CANDOR, FAIRNESS AND GOOD FAITH TO THE COURT

xxx

Rule 10.03 - A lawyer shall observe the rules of procedure and shall not misuse them to defeat the ends of justice.
Third. Respondent falsified the place and date of marriage entries in the birth certificate of his son. Falsification is a crime. Falsification of a public document aggravates this crime. That he did so to give the impression to the public that his son is of legitimate status is foisting a fraud on both the public and his son. This act shows that he is not only prone to committing a crime, something that should already impact on his fitness to remain as a lawyer, but is also a serial fraudster.

Time and again, lawyers have been reminded of the oath they took, upon admission to the legal profession, to do no falsehood This solemn promise does not and will never waver. No amount of justification will suffice to excuse a lawyer from any act of falsification. As held in Apolinar-Petilo v. Atty. Maramot:[25]
The respondent cannot be relieved by his justifications and submis­sions. As a lawyer, he should not invoke good faith and good intentions as sufficient to excuse him from discharging his obligation to be truthful and honest in his professional actions. His duty and responsibility in that regard were clear and unambiguous. In Young v. Batuegas,[23] this Court reminded that truthfulness and honesty had the highest value for attorneys, thus:
A lawyer must be a disciple of truth. He swore upon his admission to the Bar that he will do no falsehood nor consent to the doing of any in court and he shall conduct himself as a lawyer according to the best of his knowledge and discretion with all good fidelity as well to the courts as to his clients. He should bear in mind that as an officer of the court his high vocation is to correctly inform the court upon the law and the facts of the case and to aid it in doing justice and arriving at correct conclusion. The courts, on the other hand, are entitled to expect only complete honesty from law­yers appearing and pleading before them. While a lawyer has the solemn duty to defend his client's rights and is expected to display the utmost zeal in defense of his client's cause, his conduct must never be at the expense of truth.[24]
Fourth. Respondent has repeatedly failed to give child support to his son, a minor. This is contrary to law. Under the Family Code[26] he as a parent is obliged to support and provide everything indispensable for his son's sustenance, dwelling, clothing, medical attendance, education, and transportation.[27] Too, he has the duty to instruct his children according to right precepts and good example and to give them love, companionship, and understanding, as well as moral and spiritual guidance.[28] Respondent failed in this respect. Not only has he evaded his duty to support his son and deprived him of the love and affection he deserves from him as his father, he has also displayed an abusive and rude behavior toward his son's mother. He has, therefore, shown himself to be truly unbecoming of a member of the legal profession.

Fifth. Respondent seriously disrespected the IBP's authority and dignity when he disregarded an agreement brokered by the IBP between him and complainant. He defied the undertaking which he voluntarily made before an officer of the IBP. His lack of respect for the authority of the IBP constitutes disrespect for this Court as well. For the IBP is integrated by the Supreme Court to assist in the administration of justice, elevate the standards of the legal profession, and enable the Bar to discharge its public responsibilities more effectively.[29] Canon 7 of the CPR mandates:
Canon 7. A lawyer shall at all times uphold the integrity and dignity of the legal profession and support the activities of the integrated bar.
Sixth. Respondent has been deceiving the government and private businesses by continuously availing of the Senior Citizens' discount when he is not legally entitled thereto. He admitted that he applied for, and was issued, a Senior Citizen card. He has been using it to enjoy twenty percent (20%) discount on specific goods and services. This he did by misrepresenting himself as sixty (60) years old when in truth, he was only then forty-five (45). This is plain dishonesty and fraud, again, a transgression of his series of transgressions of his lawyer's oath to do no falsehood. His temerity in claiming he did it "for discount purposes only[30]" shows an unscrupulous disregard and disrespect of the law which as a lawyer he ought to have been the first to uphold. It runs afoul of his duty to promote the dignity of the legal profession and preserve the confidence of the public in lawyers.

By these six (6) counts of unlawful, immoral, dishonest, or deceitful conduct, respondent has lost his fitness to continue as a member of the Bar. He is ordered disbarred.

Indeed, public confidence in law and lawyers may be eroded by the irresponsible and improper conduct of a member of the Bar. Hence, every lawyer is duty bound to act and comport himself or herself in such a manner that would promote public confidence in the integrity of the legal profession.[31] Respondent's conduct does not help in that regard, but worse, directly encourages people to entertain themselves with jokes about lawyers and the legal profession as the butt of their unflattering jokes.

WHEREFORE, respondent Atty. Amador B. Peleo III is found GUILTY of GROSS UNLAWFUL, DISHONEST and DECEITFUL CONDUCT in violation of Rule 1.01, Canon 1 of the Code of Professional Responsibility and is ORDERED DISBARRED from the practice of law, his name, STRICKEN OUT the Roll of Attorneys.

Let copy of this Decision be: (1) entered into the personal records of Atty. Amador B. Peleo III with the Office of the Bar Confidant; (2) furnished to all chapters of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines; and (3) circulated by the Court Administrator to all the courts in the country for their information and guidance.

This Decision takes effect immediately.

SO ORDERED.

Bersamin, C. J., on official leave.
Carpio, (Acting C. J.), Peralta, Perlas-Bernabe, Leonen, Jardeleza, A. Reyes, Jr., J. Reyes, Jr., Hernando, Carandang, Lazaro-Javier, Inting, and Zalameda, JJ., concur.
Caguioa, J., on leave.
Gesmundo, J., on official leave.



NOTICE OF JUDGMENT

Sirs/Mesdames:

Please take notice that on August 20, 2019 a Decision, copy attached herewith, was rendered by the Supreme Court in the above-entitled case, the original of which was received by this Office on October 10, 2019 at 9:50 a.m.


Very truly yours,



(SGD) EDGAR O. ARICHETA
 
Clerk of Court


[1] Rollo, p. 1.

[2] Id.

[3] Id. at 7-9.

[4] Id. at 2.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id. at 2-3.

[8] Id. at 20.

[9] Rollo, p.21.

[10] Id. at 22-24.

[11] Order dated September 13, 1999; id. at 19.

[12] Rollo, pp. 33-34.

[13] Id. at 35.

[14] Id. at 120-122.

[15] Rule 1.01 - A lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct.

[16] 555 Phil. 713 (2007).

[17] CANON 1 - 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.

xxx xxx xxx

[18] CANON 7 - A LAWYER SHALL AT ALL TIMES UPHOLD THE INTEGRITY AND DIGNITY OF THE LEGAL PROFESSION AND SUPPORT THE ACTIVITIES OF THE INTEGRATED BAR.

xxx xxx xxx

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

[19] 769 Phil. 1, 20 (2015).

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] CANON 10 - A LAWYER OWES CANDOR, FAIRNESS AND GOOD FAITH TO THE COURT.

Rule 10.01 - A lawyer shall not do any falsehood, nor consent to the doing of any in Court; nor shall he mislead, or allow the Court to be misled by any artifice.

xxx xxx xxx

[23] 482 Phil. 64 (2004).

[24] 467 Phil. 139 (2004).

[25] A.C. No. 9067, January 31,2018, citing 451 Phil. 155, 161-162 (2003).

[26] Art. 195. Subject to the provisions of the succeeding articles, the following are obliged to support each other to the whole extent set forth in the preceding article:

The spouses; Legitimate ascendants and descendants;
Parents and their legitimate children and the legitimate and illegitimate children of the latter;
Parents and their illegitimate children and the legitimate and illegitimate children of the latter; and
Legitimate brothers and sisters, whether of full or half-blood.

[27] Art. 194. Support comprises everything indispensable for sustenance, dwelling, clothing, medical attend­ ance, education and transportation in keeping with the financial capacity of the family.

[28] See Narag v. Atty. Narag, 353 Phil. 643, 660-661 (1998).

[29] Sec. 2 Art. 1, By-Laws of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines.

[30] Comment on Complaint Affidavit, rollo, pp. 33-34.

[31] See Alex Ong v. Atty. Elpidio D. Unto, 426 Phil. 531, 540-541 (2002) (citations omitted).


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