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246 Phil. 655


[ A.C. No. 1892, July 29, 1988 ]




In a sworn complaint filed with this Court on April 2, 1978, Atty. Luis V. Artiaga, Jr. sought the disbarment of Atty. Enrique C. Villanueva for alleged unethical practices.

By a resolution dated May 24, 1978, this Court required respondent Atty. Enrique C. Villanueva to answer the complaint. To the answer of respondent dated July 5, 1978, complainant Atty. Luis V. Artiaga, Jr. filed his reply of July 31, 1978.

After considering the answer of respondent, this Court resolved to refer the case to the Solicitor General for investigation, report and recommendation.

The Solicitor General forwarded to the Court his Report and Recommendation dated May 4, 1988 with the finding that respondent was guilty of misconduct and with the recommendation that he be suspended from the practice of law for a period of at least six (6) months.

The complaint for disbarment arose from four (4) separate cases and several incidental cases with Juliano Estolano, client of complainant Atty. Artiaga, Jr. and Glycerio Aquino and/or Florentina Guanzon, clients of respondent Atty. Villanueva, as adversaries in all of these cases involving the same property.

The factual background of these cases is summed up in the decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. No. SP06600 dated November 16, 1977, a petition for certiorari and prohibition, an offshoot of Civil Case No. 183-C for Recovery of Possession filed by Estolano against Aquino and Guanzon before the Court of First Instance of Laguna, Branch VI on June 11, 1974. Quoted hereunder are pertinent portions of the Court's decision:
"There were three parcels of land involved herein. All contiguous and adjoining to each other and located in Bambang, Los Banos, Laguna. The first covered an area of 2.6793 hectares; the second, an area of one hectare; and the third, an area of one-half hectare. On July 20, 1950, petitioner Juliano Estolano was issued original Certificate of Title No. P-286 in his name over the first parcel. There is no controversy, therefore, in respect of this first parcel, the dispute being confined to the second and third parcels.

"The second and third parcels were the object of Revocable Permit Applications by Paciano Malabayabas and Canuto Suyo, both filed on March 31, 1951. On June 12, 1956, Canuto transferred his right over the third parcel to petitioner. On March 4, 1958, Malabayabas also sold his rights over the second parcel to petitioner. On May 15, 1958, petitioner filed Insular Government Property Sales Application No. 1772 (New) covering the second and third parcels.

"On November 7, 1958, Glicerio Aquino, private respondent, filed his Revocable Permit Application over an area of 8,000 square meters, which was later found to cover a part of the first parcel already titled in favor of petitioner and of the third parcel transferred to him by Suyo. On December 29, 1958, private respondent Florentina Guanzon, Aquino's sister-in-law, also filed Revocable Permit Application over the second parcel.

"Eventually, the conflicts were taken cognizance of by the Bureau of Lands (B.L. Conflict No. 3-953, and B.L.O. Conflict No. 236). On May 21, 1962, the Director of Lands rendered a Decision against private respondents, as follows:
'WHEREFORE, it is ordered that the Revocable Permit Application No. V-14105 of Gliceria Aquino be, as hereby it is, rejected, forfeiting in favor of the Government whatever amount has been paid on account thereof. The Revocable Permit Application No. V-14142 of Florentina Guanzon shall remain, as it is, rejected. Gliceria Aquino and Florentina Guanzon shall vacate the land within sixty (60) days from their receipt of a copy hereof. The new Insular Government Property Sales Application of Julian Estolano shall be given due course after the survey of the land covered thereby.'
"Private respondents moved for the reconsideration of the aforequoted Decision, and the Director of Lands, in an Order of August 13, 1962, amended his previous Decision as follows:
'WHEREFORE, our decision of May 21, 1962, is hereby modified by awarding to protesting Glicerio Aquino preferential right to that area actually occupied and cultivated by him, indicated as portion "K" in the sketch drawn on the back hereof, and amending the Insular Government Property Sales Application (New) of Juliano Estolano so as to exclude therefrom the said portion. With this modification, the decision stands confirmed.
"Petitioner and private respondents appealed the amended Decision of the Director of Lands to the Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources who, in a Decision dated September 9, 1963, dismissed the appeals of private respondents, set aside the Order of the Director of Lands dated August 13, 1962, and affirmed the latter's Decision of May 21, 1962. Respondent Guanzon moved for the reconsideration of the Secretary's Decision but said Motion was denied.

"Respondent Aquino appealed the Decision of the Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources to the Office of the President of the Philippines, which likewise affirmed the Decision appealed from.

"The Decision of the Director of Lands having become final, an order of Execution thereof was issued on January 4, 1967, but this notwithstanding, private respondents remained in possession of the subject property. For failure to obtain possession thereof, petitioner filed, on June 15, 1974, the principal case (Civil Case No. 183-C) in the lower court which eventually gave rise to the proceedings now challenged in this Petition." (pp. 3-7, Decision in CA-G.R. No. Sp-06600)
The restraining order issued in Civil Case No. 183-C on October 27, 1976 enjoining the Director of Lands from enforcing the Order of Execution was set aside by the Court of Appeals and the writ of prohibition prayed for by petitioner Estolano was granted.

Meanwhile, on April 13, 1974, respondent's clients, Aquino and Guanzon, filed a complaint for forcible entry against complainant's client, Estolano, in the Municipal Court of Los Banos, Laguna docketed as Civil Case No. 192. This case was dismissed by the Municipal Court on January 5, 1977. On appeal to the Court of First Instance (CFI), the order of dismissal was affirmed on November 4, 1979 in Civil Case No. 386-C. No appeal was interposed from this decision, thus it became final.

The third case for annulment of Estolano's title over the same land was filed by respondent's client, Aquino, with the CFI on May 15, 1974 docketed as Civil Case No. 179-C which was dismissed on April 23, 1976. On appeal to the Court of Appeals which was docketed as CA-G.R. No. 62576-R, the dismissal by the trial court was affirmed on June 25, 1981. On October 21, 1981, the case was remanded to the trial court for execution.

Finally, while their petition for certiorari and prohibition over Civil Case No. 183-C was pending before the Court of Appeals, respondent's client, Aquino, filed a complaint with the Court of Agrarian Relations (CAR) at San Pablo City docketed as CAR Case No. 7043 against Estolano and the Director of Lands on July 1, 1977. On July 2, 1977, the CAR issued an order requiring Estolano to respect Aquino's possession. On May 18, 1979, the CAR dismissed the case and on appeal, its dismissal was affirmed in a decision of the Court of Appeals dated February 5, 1981 in CA-G.R. No. 11635-CAR.

Respondent Atty. Enrique C. Villanueva is charged with the following unethical practices: (1) That respondent had caused his client to perjure himself; (2) That he lacks candor and respect toward his adversary and the courts; and (3) That he had been abusive of the right of recourse to the courts.

We find respondent Atty. Villanueva guilty as above charged.

Anent the first charge, the complaint and amended complaint for forcible entry in Civil Case No. 192 filed by respondent's client are clear proofs that respondent had indeed caused his client Glicerio Aquino to perjure himself as to the date he lost possession of the subject property so as to place the case within the jurisdiction of the court.

Paragraph 5 of the original complaint filed on April 18, 1974 reads:
"5. That sometime in the early part of 1960, defendant Julian Estolano was able to dispossess plaintiffs spouses Glicerio Aquino and Lorenza Magpantay of a portion of the above-described parcel of land x x x." (Underscoring supplied.)[1]
Paragraph 5 of the Amended Complaint dated June 19, 1974 reads:
"5. That sometime in the early part of June, 1973, defendant Julian Estolano and Segundo de los Santos unlawfully dispossessed and/or deprived or turned out plaintiffs Sps. Aquino and Magpantay thru stealth, strategy, force and intimidation of and/or possession over a certain portion (now caused by defendant Segundo de lost Santos to be planted to bananas now of less than a year old as of the filing of the original complaint) located on the southern portion of their above-described landholding x x x." (Underscoring supplied.)[2]
In the original complaint, respondent's client alleged that he was dispossessed of the subject land in 1960, while in the amended complaint, he alleged it was in June, 1973. Clearly, this was a ploy concocted by respondent to enable the court to acquire jurisdiction over the case since a forcible entry case must be filed within one year from the accrual of the cause of action under Rule 70, Section 1.

Such action of respondent counsel is a clear violation of his oath that "he will do no falsehood nor consent to the doing of any in court."[3] A legal counsel is of course expected to defend his client's cause with zeal, but not at the disregard of the truth.[4] The duty of an attorney to the courts to employ, for the purpose of maintaining the causes confided to him, such means as are consistent with truth and honor cannot be overemphasized.[5] 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 conclusions. He violated his oath of office when he resorted to deception.[6] Worse, he had caused his client to perjure himself thus subjecting the latter to criminal prosecution for perjury brought before the Municipal Court of Los Banos, Laguna.[7] Instead of safeguarding the interests of his client as his responsibility dictates, he did exactly the opposite by causing his client to commit a felony.

From the foregoing, the lack of candor of respondent counsel towards the court is evident. This lack of candor and honesty to the courts and his adversary is further demonstrated by other acts of respondent.

In Civil Case No. 192, respondent's clients were restored to the possession of the 2-1/2 hectares of the untitled portion of subject property by virtue of a writ of preliminary mandatory injunction issued by the court on May 21, 1974 upon filing of a property bond by respondent. Upon the dismissal of the case on January 5, 1977, the writ of preliminary mandatory injunction was dissolved and respondent's clients were ordered to restore possession of subject property to complainant's client Estolano. However, respondent blocked the order by filing an urgent ex-parte motion seeking clarification as to whether the dispositive portion of the order of January 5, 1977 was immediately executory and asking the court to allow his clients to remain in the meantime in the premises. Before the court could even resolve the motion, respondent perfected his appeal from the order of January 5, 1977 on January 25, 1977. Thus, when the court's order affirming its previous order came out on January 26, 1977, the Provincial Sheriff of Laguna refused to implement the orders of January 5 and 26, 1977 until the appeal has been finally disposed of. On appeal, the CFI of Laguna, affirmed the questioned orders of the Municipal Court. When the decision of the CFI became final because respondent failed to appeal, his clients refused to abide by the Order of Execution issued by the Municipal Court.

Consequently, Estolano filed an ex-parte motion asking that the Provincial Sheriff be authorized to forcibly evict respondent's clients. On the date set for the hearing of the motion, respondent did not appear and instead filed his "Opposition/Manifestation" informing the court of a petition for certiorari filed against the presiding judge before the Court of First Instance of Laguna. In deference to this petition, the Municipal Court resolved to hold in abeyance the ex-parte motion of Estolano until resolution of said petition.

Indeed, the manner in which respondent counsel handled the forcible entry case filed against the client of complainant shows his total lack of candor and respect for the courts and the rights of his adversary. He had employed every step necessary to forestall complainant's client from taking rightful possession of subject property. He has shown utter disregard of the proper rules of procedure to suit his purpose. While he filed his urgent ex-parte motion for clarification, he chose not to wait for its resolution and instead perfected his appeal to the Court of First Instance. When finally the decision became executory because of his failure to appeal to the Court of Appeals, he filed a petition for certiorari against the decision of the CFI which petition is obviously frivolous and a mere tactic to delay enforcement of the court's decision. In the meantime, the clients of respondent refused to obey the order of execution.

A lawyer should obey all lawful orders and rulings of the court.[8] He should have counseled his clients to submit to the order of the court instead of encouraging them to resist such order. The actuations of respondent of employing dilatory tactics by filing a clearly frivolous case amounts to obstruction of the administration of justice which constitutes misconduct and justifies disciplinary action against him.[9]

Respondent counsel further demonstrated his questionable motive by filing another case, this time for annulment of the title of complainant's client to the other 2-1/2 hectares of subject land with the Court of First Instance of Laguna, Branch VI. This case was dismissed on the ground of res judicata and prescription. Respondent appealed this ruling to the Court of Appeals where it was pending resolution at the time the instant complaint for disbarment was filed. The decision of the trial court was affirmed and remanded to the lower court for execution.

Not satisfied with the above-mentioned appeal, respondent counsel brought another case against complainant's client this time before the Court of Agrarian Relations (CAR Case No. 7043) for determination allegedly of who had a better right over the subject property when he was well aware of the absence of any tenancy relationship between the parties.

An examination of the records shows that respondent did not disclose before the Court of Agrarian Relations (CAR) prior lawsuits and decisions rendered relative to the subject land. As a result, respondent was able to secure ex-parte from the CAR a restraining order against the Director of Lands and Estolano on July 2, 1977. So when the decision of the Court of First Instance of Laguna in Civil Case No. 386-C affirming the decision of the trial court in the forcible entry case No. 192 was rendered on November 4, 1977 ordering the immediate restorations of subject land to Estolano, because of the restraining order issued by the agrarian court, the execution of the said decision cannot be fully satisfied. To make matters worse, respondent even filed a criminal complaint against complainant and his client, among others, for alleged violation of P.D. 316 and the restraining order issued by the Court of Agrarian Relations in CAR Case No. 7043.[10] The CAR dismissed this case and on appeal, the dismissal was affirmed.

We also note that after respondent filed the case with the CAR on July 1, 1977, he filed on July 5, 1977 in Civil Case No. 179-C before the CFI of Laguna, a motion to dismiss the present action without prejudice to his clients' right to prosecute their present action with the Court of Agrarian Relations. The lower court denied the motion since it had already dismissed the case on some other ground and their appeal was already perfected without plaintiffs' manifesting that they are abandoning their appeal. Thus, respondent was able to elevate two (2) separate appeals - CA-G.R. No. 62576-R re: annulment of title (Civil Case No. 179-C) and CA-G.R. No. 11635-CAR arising from CAR Case No. 7043, before the Court of Appeals over the same issues involving the same subject property titled to Estolano.

The cause of respondent's clients is obviously bereft of merit. Respondent was aware of this fact so he resorted to forum shopping, continuously seeking the court where he may possibly obtain favorable judgment, thereby adding to the already clogged dockets of the courts with the unmeritorious cases he filed. He grossly abused his right of recourse to the courts by filing multiple petitions for complaints for a cause that had been previously rejected in the false home of getting some favorable action, somehow, thus, obstructing the administration of justice.[11] He was derelict in his duty as counsel to maintain such actions or proceedings only as appears to him to be just, and such defenses only as he believes to be honestly debatable under the law.[12] He had thus prostituted his office at the expense of justice.

The practice of law is a privilege accorded only to those who measure up to certain standards of mental and moral fitness.[13] For a counsel who has been sworn to assist in the administration of justice and to uphold the rule of law, respondent has miserably failed to live up to the standards expected of a member of the Bar. Instead of assisting in the speedy dispositions of cases, he made a mockery of our system of justice, thus deserving to be censured and penalized by this Court. No doubt, respondent is guilty of gross misconduct in office.

WHEREFORE, the respondent is hereby SUSPENDED INDEFINITELY from the practice of law from date of notice until such time that he can demonstrate to the court that he has rehabilitated himself and deserves to resume the practice of law. Let this decision be noted in the bar records of respondent.


Fernan, C.J., Narvasa, Melencio-Herrera, Gutierrez, Jr., Cruz, Paras, Feliciano, Gancayco, Padilla, Bidin, Sarmiento, Cortes, Griño-Aquino, and Medialdea, JJ., concur.

[1] Exhibit "D".

[2] Exhibit "F".

[3] Rule 138, Sec. 3.

[4] Cosmos Foundry Shop Workers Union v. Lo Bu, 63 SCRA 313; Munoz v. People, 53 SCRA 190.

[5] Rule 138, Sec. 20(d).

[6] Pangan v. Ramos, 93 SCRA 87.

[7] Docketed as Criminal Case No. 2447 (Exhibit "GG")

[8] In re Dianala Jo, 1 SCRA 31.

[9] People v. Jardin, 124 SCRA 167.

[10] Docketed as I.S. No. 3075.

[11] People v. Jardin, supra; Cabagui v. CA, 67 SCRA 299.

[12] Rule 138, Sec. 20(c).

[13] In re Gutierrez, 5 SCRA 661.