[ A.C. No. 11543, September 26, 2017 ]
SUSAN BASIYO, AND ANDREW WILLIAM SIMMONS, COMPLAINANTS, V. ATTY. JOSELITO C. ALISUAG, RESPONDENT.
D E C I S I O N
The procedural and factual antecedents of the case are as follows:
Complainants Basiyo and Simmons, who are common-law husband and wife, put up a pension house called "Rose Place" located in Puerto Princesa, Palawan. Thereafter, they started looking for a piece of land since they needed a bigger place. That was the time when they met Alisuag, who recommended a lot in Bacungan. He told complainants that the vendors, Rogelio Garcia and Rosalina Talorong, had the full right to dispose of the same although the property was in the name of one Alejandro Castillo.
On January 12, 2008, Alisuag prepared and notarized a Deed of Absolute Sale covering the subject property with an area of 32,897 square meters for the total purchase price of P1,973,820.00. Basiyo signed said document as the Vendee. Previously, Alisuag also signed an Agreement dated January 12, 2008 between Basiyo and the same vendors, for the same purchase price. Said Agreement, however, was not duly notarized. For brokering the sale, and preparing and notarizing the documents, Alisuag received one percent (1%) of the total purchase price. Complainants likewise gave him P150,000.00 for capital gains tax, P70,000.00 for estate tax, P10,000.00 for publication, and P5,000.00 for documentary stamp tax. Also, since complainants were intending to use the property for business purposes, Alisuag offered to make for them an Environmental Impact Study for a Wildlife Permit, for the amount of P300,000.00, and to file an application for said permit for another P300,000.00. Complainants, however, not only failed to get the title to the property, but were likewise subjected to a criminal charge by Trinidad Ganzon, who claimed real ownership over the land. Thus, complainants gave Alisuag P40,000.00 for the filing of their counter-affidavit in said case and P10,000.00 for the filing of a civil case against Ganzon.
After several months and attempts to contact Alisuag, complainants were still unable to acquire the title and fence the purchased lot, the environmental study and wildlife permit remained unaccomplished, and no case was filed against Ganzon. They then decided to consult another lawyer and told Alisuag's wife that they wanted an accounting of the expenses and return of any remaining money given in connection with the sale. After consulting their new lawyer, complainants discovered that no estate tax was paid, only P25,001.00 was paid for capital gains tax, and the purchase price was merely P120,000.00, as shown in the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) Certificate Authorizing Registration and in the copy of the Pagbabagong Labas sa Hukuman na May Bilihang Gawa o Lubusan sa Isang Bahagi ng Pirasong Lupa, which Alisuag notarized and the Palawan Mirror published. They also found out that Alisuag did not present the document to the National Commission of Indigenous Peoples for approval, as required under the law since the vendors are native Tagbanuas. The vendors likewise informed complainants that they only received P300,000.00 as payment for the property. Lastly, they learned that the vendors were not the only heirs of the registered owner, Castillo. Thus, they incurred additional expenses when they had to enter into an Amended Extra-Judicial Settlement of Castillo's estate with the latter's other heirs. Hence, complainants filed a complaint against Alisuag.
For his part, Alisuag denied complainants' accusations. He contended that he was not part of the group of brokers who convinced Simmons to purchase the property. On January 19, 2008, the vendors Garcia and Talorong came to his office with an Extra-Judicial Partition and simultaneous sale written in Tagalog. He then reminded them that they had already signed a previous Deed of Sale with complainants. The vendors, however, told him that the new Deed of Sale reflected the real intention of the parties. Thus, Alisuag notarized the same. He also claimed that he had been actively handling the cases and proceedings covering the lot, including the case initiated by Ganzon, until complainants terminated his services as their counsel. He likewise claimed that the payment of the required taxes over the sale of the property was handled by the brokers and he denied any participation in the same. Complainants never demanded, formally or informally, for the return or accounting of any money. The first time that he came across said issue was when the affidavit complaint was sent to him.
On January 21, 2011, the Commission on Bar Discipline of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP-CBD) recommended that the administrative complaint against Alisuag be dismissed for lack of merit. It ratiocinated that Alisuag's act of notarizing a subsequent deed of sale presented to him by the vendors did not constitute deceit; he was merely performing his duties as a notary public. On December 29, 2012, however, the IBP Board of Governors passed Resolution No. XX-2012-594, which reversed the recommendation of the IBP-CBD, and found Alisuag guilty of deceit and falsification, and ordered his suspension from the practice of law for two (2) years, thus:
RESOLVED to REVERSE, as it is hereby unanimously REVERSED the Report and Recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner in the above-entitled case, herein made part of this Resolution as Annex "A, " and finding Respondent guilty of deceit and falsification, Atty. Joselito C. Alisuag is hereby SUSPENDED from the practice of law for two (2) years.
On July 28, 2016, the IBP Board of Governors consequently issued an Extended Resolution.
The Court's Ruling
The Court finds no cogent reason to depart from the findings and recommendations of the IBP Board of Governors.
The records show that on January 12, 2008, Alisuag prepared and notarized a Deed of Absolute Sale for the purchase price of P1,973,820.00, covering a lot registered under the name of Alejandro Castillo, with an area of 32,897 square meters. Prior to that, however, there had been a similar document, also dated January 12, 2008, but with Basiyo as the lone vendee. This had also been notarized by Alisuag sans the notarial document details. Yet another Deed of Sale, dated January 19, 2008, with Document Number 77, Page Number 16, Book XII, Series of 2008, was also signed and acknowledged by Alisuag as notary public, as published on the local newspaper, Palawan Mirror. Notably, the purchase price indicated in this document was only P120,000.00. According to Alisuag, he agreed to notarize the same because the vendors told him that the P120,000.00 was the purchase price the parties had eventually agreed on. However, six (6) days after Alisuag had notarized the deed of sale with the purchase price of P120,000.00, he gave complainants an estimate of P150,000.00 for capital gains tax. How he arrived at P150,000.00 perplexes the Court. Even if the purchase price used was P1,973,820.00 for the computation of the capital gains tax six percent (6%), the amount of P150,000.00 would still be excessive. Also, based on the BIR Certificate Authorizing Registration, no estate tax was either assessed or paid.
Moreover, despite receiving an additional P10,000.00 for the filing of a civil suit against Ganzon, Alisuag never filed said case. He likewise failed to secure the environmental clearance and the wildlife permit for which he had previously received P300,000.00. He also refused to render a complete accounting of the alleged expenses incurred relative to the purchase of the subject property.
Certainly, a member of the bar may be removed or suspended from his office for any deceit, malpractice, or other gross misconduct in such office, grossly immoral conduct, or for any violation of the oath which he is required to take before the admission to practice. By notarizing another deed of sale with a much lower purchase price, which was later submitted to the BIR for the purpose of paying the capital gains tax, Alisuag clearly violated his duty of upholding the respect for the law and protecting the integrity and dignity of the legal profession. He allowed and acknowledged a document which was meant to deprive the government of the correct amount of taxes. Additionally, he indubitably violated the following provisions of the Code of Professional Responsibility (CPR) when he failed to file the suit against Ganzon and secure the required environmental permits, and when he refused to account for the amounts given to him by complainants, to wit:
CANON 16 - A LAWYER SHALL HOLD IN TRUST ALL MONEYS AND PROPERTIES OF HIS CLIENT THAT MAY COME INTO HIS POSSESSION.
Rule 16.01 A lawyer shall account for all money or property collected or received for or from the client.
x x x x
Rule 16.03 A lawyer shall deliver the funds and property of his client when due or upon demand. xxx
CANON 17 - A LAWYER OWES FIDELITY TO THE CAUSE OF HIS CLIENT AND HE SHALL BE MINDFUL OF THE TRUST AND CONFIDENCE REPOSED IN HIM.
CANON 18 - 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.
Alisuag's failure and inordinate refusal to render an accounting and return the remaining money after numerous demands raises a reasonable presumption that he had converted it to his own use.
The Court, therefore, agrees with the IBP Board's finding that Alisuag must be held administratively accountable for his actions. Corollarily, Alisuag must render the necessary accounting of expenses incurred and return the remaining unutilized amount. While it is true that disciplinary proceedings should only revolve around the determination of the respondent-lawyer's administrative, and not civil, liability, it must be clarified that said rule remains applicable only when the claim involves moneys received by the lawyer from his client in a transaction separate and distinct from, and not intrinsically linked to, his professional engagement, as in the present case.
In recent jurisprudence, however, the Court has perpetually disqualified the lawyer-respondents from being commissioned as a notary public for failing to observe the utmost care in performing their duties to preserve public confidence in the integrity of notarized documents. The duty to public service is made more important when a lawyer is commissioned as a notary public. Like the duty to defend a client's cause within the bounds of law, a notary public has the additional duty to preserve public trust and confidence in his office by observing extra care and diligence in ensuring the integrity of every document that comes under his notarial seal, and seeing to it that only documents that he personally inspected and whose signatories he personally identified are recorded in his notarial books.
WHEREFORE, IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING, the Court SUSPENDS Atty. Joselito C. Alisuag from the practice of law for two (2) years effective upon his receipt of this Decision, REVOKES his notarial commission, if presently commissioned, and PERPETUALLY DISQUALIFIES him from being commissioned as a notary public, ORDERS him to RENDER the necessary accounting of expenses incurred relative to the purchase of the property and RETURN to complainants Susan Basiyo and Andrew William Simmons the remaining unutilized amount within sixty (60) days from notice of this Decision, and WARNS him that a repetition of the same or similar offense, including the failure to render the necessary accounting and to return any remaining amount, shall be dealt with more severely.
Let copies of this decision be included in the personal record of Atty. Joselito C. Alisuag and entered in his file in the Office of the Bar Confidant.
Let copies of this decision be disseminated to all lower courts by the Office of the Court Administrator, as well as to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines for its guidance.
Sereno, C.J., Velasco, Jr., Leonardo-De Castro, Bersamin, Del Castillo, Perlas-Bernabe, Leonen, Caguioa, Martires, Tijam, Reyes, Jr., and Gesmundo, JJ., concur.
Carpio, J., on official leave.
Jardeleza, J., on wellness leave.
NOTICE OF JUDGMENT
Please take notice that on September 26, 2017 a Decision/Resolution, 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 9, 2017, at 10:45 a.m.
Very truly yours,
(SGD.) FELIPA G. BORLONGAN-ANAMA
Clerk of Court
 Report and Recommendation submitted by Commissioner Rebecca Villanueva-Maala; rollo, pp. 128-136.
 Rollo, p. 127.
 Section 27, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court.
 Viray v. Atty. Sanicas, 744 Phil. 247, 254 (2014).
 Pitcher v. Atty. Gagate, 719 Phil. 82, 94 (2013).
 Orlando S. Castelo, et al. v. Atty. Ronald Segundino C. Ching, A.C. No. 11165, February 6, 2017; Mariano v. Atty. Echanez, A.C. No. 10373, May 31, 2016; Anudon v. Atty. Cefra, 753 Phil. 421 (2015); De Jesus v. Atty. Sanchez-Malit, 738 Phil. 480 (2014).
 Orlando S. Castelo, et al. v. Ronald Segundino C. Ching, A.C. No. 11165, February 6, 2017.