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[ Adm. Case No. 4380, Oct 13, 1995 ]



319 Phil. 381


[ Adm. Case No. 4380, October 13, 1995 ]




This resolves the administrative case filed by Nicanor Gonzales and Salud B. Pantanosas against Atty. Miguel Sabacajan on February 14, 1995,[1] the verified complaint wherefor alleges:

x x x                         x x x                         x x x        

4.  That sometime in October, 1994, complainants were informed by the Register of Deeds of Cagayan de Oro City that the complainants' owner's duplicate of title covering their lands, Transfer Certificate of Title Nos. T-91736 and T-91735 were entrusted to the office secretary of the respondent who in turn entrusted the same to respondent;

5.  That respondent admitted and confirmed to the complainants that their titles are in his custody and has even shown the same (to) the complainant Salud B. Pantanosas but when demanded (sic) to deliver the said titles to the complainant in a formal demand letter, marked as ANNEX "A," respondent refused and continues to refuse without any justification to give their titles (and) when confronted, respondent challenged the complainants to file any case in any court even in the Honorable Supreme Court;

6.  That respondent's dare or challeng(e) is a manifestation of his arrogance taking undue advantage of his legal profession over the simplicity, innocence and ignorance of the complainants, one of whom is his blood relative, his aunt, for which complainants shudder with mental anguish;

7.  That due to his challeng(e), the complainants sent a letter to the Honorable Supreme Court for enlightenment, copy of which is attached as ANNEX "B", for which the Honorable Supreme Court required 19 legible copies of a verified complaint;

8.  That in spite of repeated demands, request(s) and pleas towards (sic) respondent, respondent still fail(ed) and stubbornly refused without justification to surrender the said titles to the rightful owners, the complainants here(in), which act is tantamount to willful and malicious defiance of legal and moral obligations emanating from his professional capacity as a lawyer who had sworn to uphold law and justice, to the prejudice and damage of the complainants;[2]

x x x                         x x x                         x x x                 

On March 22, 1995, the Court required respondent to comment on the foregoing complaint.  In his unverified "Answer" thereto, respondent admitted having met Salud Pantanosas but claims that, to his recollection, "Nicanor Gonzales/Serdan" has never been to his office.  Respondent likewise denied that he challenged anyone to file a case in any court, much less the Supreme Court.  He also claims that he referred complainant Pantanosas to his client, Mr. Samto M. Uy of Iponan, Cagayan de Oro City, for whom he worked out the segregation of the titles, two of which are the subject of the instant case.[3]

Respondent likewise denies complainants' allegation that he is arrogant, in contrast to the innocence, simplicity and ignorance of said complainants.  He contends that the truth of the matter is that complainants have been charged with a number of criminal and civil complaints before different courts.  He also asserts that he was holding the certificates of title in behalf of his client, Samto M. Uy.[4]

Atty. Sabacajan stresses, by way of defense, that "the instant action was chosen precisely to browbeat him into delivering the Certificates of Title to them without said certificates passing the hands of Mr. Samto Uy with whom the complainants have some monetary obligations."[5]

In its resolution dated June 26, 1995,[6] for internal administrative purposes the Court referred this case to the Office of the Bar Confidant for the corresponding evaluation, report and recommendation.

From the foregoing proceedings taken on this matter, the Court finds that respondent admitted having taken possession of the certificates of title of complainants but refused to surrender the same despite demands made by the latter.  It follows, therefore, that it was incumbent upon him to show that he was legally justified in doing so.  Instead, all he did was to inform this Court that "his obligation to deliver the certificates to Mr. Samto Uy excludes the delivery of said certificates to anyone else."[7]

Respondent attached some certifications to his "Answer" to support his contention that complainants are notorious characters.  However, the certifications indicate that most of the cases stated therein, especially those involving fraud, have been dismissed.  With respect to those still pending, there is no indication as to the identity of the party who instituted the same, aside from the consideration that the remedy thereon is judicial in nature.  At any rate, these aspersions on the character of complainants have no bearing on the misconduct of respondent charged in the present case.

Respondent likewise submitted xerox copies of certain certificates of title in an effort to explain why he kept the certificates of title of complainants, that is, supposedly for the purpose of subdividing the property.  However, an examination of the same does not show any connection thereof to respondent's claim.  In fact, the two sets of certificates of title appear to be entirely different from each other.

As a lawyer, respondent should know that there are lawful remedies provided by law to protect the interests of his client.  The records do not show that he or his client have availed of said remedies, instead of merely resorting to unexplained, if not curt, refusals to accommodate the requests of complainants.  Also, he cannot be unaware of the imposable sanctions on a counsel who resorts to unlawful means that would cause injustice to the adversaries of his client.

The Court accordingly finds that respondent has not exercised the good faith and diligence required of lawyers in handling the legal affairs of their clients.  If complainants did have the alleged monetary obligations to his client, that does not warrant his summarily confiscating their certificates of title since there is no showing in the records that the same were given as collaterals to secure the payment of a debt.  Neither is there any intimation that there is a court order authorizing him to take and retain custody of said certificates of title.

Apparently, respondent has disregarded Canon 15, Rule 15.07 of the Code of Professional Responsibility which provides that a lawyer shall impress upon his client the need for compliance with the laws and principles of fairness.  Instead, he unjustly refused to give to complainants their certificates of titles supposedly to enforce payment of their alleged financial obligations to his client and presumably to impress the latter of his power to do so.

Canon 19, Rule 19.01 ordains that a lawyer shall employ only fair and honest means to attain the lawful objectives of his client and shall not present, participate in presenting, or threaten to present unfounded charges to obtain an improper advantage in any case or proceeding.  Respondent has closely skirted this proscription, if he has not in fact transgressed the same.

On the foregoing considerations, the Court desires and directs that respondent should forthwith return the certificates of title of complainants.  To ensure the same, he should be placed under suspension until he presents to the Court proof of receipt by complainants of their respective copies of Certificates of Title Nos. T-91735 and T-91736 or a judicial order or document authorizing or justifying the retention of possession thereof by respondent or his aforenamed client.

WHEREFORE, Atty. Miguel Sabacajan is hereby SUSPENDED from the practice of law until he can duly show to this Court that the disputed certificates of title have been returned to and the receipt thereof duly acknowledged by complainants, or can present a judicial order or appropriate legal authority justifying the possession by him or his client of said certificates.  He is further WARNED that a repetition of the same or similar or any other administrative misconduct will be punished more severely.

Let a copy of this resolution be spread on the personal records of respondent and have copies thereof furnished to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and duly circularized to all courts in the country.


Narvasa, C.J., (Chairman), Puno, Mendoza, and Francisco, JJ., concur.

[1] Rollo, 1.

[2] Ibid., 1-2.

[3] Ibid., 18.

[4] Ibid., id.

[5] Ibid., 19.

[6] Ibid., 43.

[7] Ibid., 20.