Republic of the Philippines
A.C. No. 10793 | September 16, 2020
Atty. Bryan S. Lim and Nestor R. Wong, Complainants,
Atty. Jose C. Tabiliran, Jr., Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
Before the Court is an administrative complaint for disbarment filed on May 7, 2015 by complainants Atty. Bryan S. Lim (Atty. Lim) and Nestor R. Wong (Nestor; collectively, complainants), before the Office of the Bar Confidant, against respondent Atty. Jose C. Tabiliran, Jr. (respondent), charging the latter with violation of the Rules on Notarial Practice (Notarial Rules) and pertinent provisions of the Code of Professional Responsibility (Code) and immorality.
On separate occasions, Nestor was appointed by his sisters, Elsa Wong (Elsa) and Virginia Wong (Virginia), as their agent to sell their respective properties in Laoy, San Antonio, Katipunan, Zamboanga Del Norte. On December 13, 2011, Nestor, in turn, appointed a sub-agent, Raquel Go Esturco (Esturco), who found a buyer (Naomi Jumanguin) for Virginia’s land. Accordingly, on January 3, 2012, Nestor signed the corresponding Deed of Sale of Virginia’s land, which was prepared and notarized by respondent, a notary public. After signing the Deed of Sale, Nestor signed other documents given by Esturco, which the latter claimed to be mere copies of the previous Deed of Sale. Thereafter, Nestor received the amount of P50,000.00 as the purchase price of the subject lot.
Several months later, Nestor was approached by Raul Jumanguin, the buyer’s father, to borrow money and to disclose that Esturco showed him several deeds of sale, namely: (a) Absolute Deed of Sale dated May 24, 2011, in favor of Esturco; (b) Absolute Deed of Sale dated May 24, 2012, in favor of Esturco; (c) Absolute Deed of Sale dated December 14, 2011, in favor of Esturco and respondent’s son, Venus Baybayan Tabiliran (Venus); and (d) Absolute Deed of Sale dated February 20, 2012, in favor of Esturco and Venus.
Meanwhile, Esturco went to the Registry of Deeds to register the Absolute Deed of Sale dated May 24, 2011. She was required by Atty. Lim, the Acting Registrar of Deeds of the Province of Zamboanga del Norte, to indicate the name of her spouse but she refused and instead, withdrew all her documents. Thereafter, on May 29, 2013 she filed a petition for mandamus, and on September 27, 2013, a disbarment case, against Atty. Lim.
On March 23, 2014, Atty. Lim filed a counter-complaint for disbarment against respondent, claiming that the latter notarized documents with an expired commission, having been commissioned only for February 12, 2007 until December 31, 2008; July 23, 2009 until December 31, 2010; March 31, 2011 until December 31, 2012; and August 28, 2013 until December 31, 2014, but nonetheless, notarized an Authorization on March 18, 2011 and a Confirmation of Deed of Sale of Land in June 2013. Atty. Lim also averred that respondent failed to timely file certified true copies of the documents entered in his notarial register; falsified Nestor’s Absolute Deed of Sale dated May 24, 2011; as well as falsified and notarized two (2) deeds of sale in favor of Esturco and his own son, Venus. Furthermore, it was alleged that respondent notarized instruments not in the presence of Nestor, and even filed false certified true copies of the documents entered in his notarial register.
For his part, respondent averred that: (a) the Confirmation of Deed of Sale of Land was signed by the parties sometime in June 2013 but was actually notarized and recorded after the approval of his commission on August 28, 2013; (b) the parties to the notarized documents were duly apprised that he was waiting for the renewal of his commission; (c) he did not falsify any documents since Nestor freely and voluntarily signed the same at his office; and (d) the contract was not immoral, and he has not committed any malpractice or gross misconduct in the exercise of his profession.
In a Resolution dated March 14, 2016, the Court referred the administrative case to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) for investigation, report, and recommendation.
The IBP’s Report and Recommendation
In a Report and Recommendation dated October 3, 2018, the Investigating Commissioner found respondent administratively liable for violation of the Notarial Rules, the Code, and the Lawyer’s Oath, and accordingly, recommended the penalty of two (2) years suspension from the practice of law, with a warning that a commission of repeated or similar acts will result in the imposition of a more severe penalty against him.
The Investigating Commissioner found that respondent: (a) notarized documents with an expired notarial commission; (b) failed to submit to the Clerk of Court the certified true copies of the documents entered in his notarial register together with their duplicate original; (c) assigned the same notarial details to different documents; and (d) notarized documents in favor of his son, Venus, who was privy thereto. In this regard, the Investigating Commissioner further pointed out that respondent was already disqualified from reappointment as notary public for a period of two (2) years in a June 17, 2016 Resolution of the Executive Judge of the Regional Trial Court of Dipolog City, for violation of the same acts complained of in the instant administrative case. As to the charge of immorality, however, the Investigating Commissioner found insufficient evidence to prove the same.
In a Resolution dated November 7, 2018, the IBP Board of Governors adopted the Investigating Commissioner’s Report, with modification, however, as regards the penalty, imposing instead, the penalty of disbarment.
The Issue Before the Court
The essential issue for the Court’s resolution is whether or not respondent should be administratively sanctioned for the acts complained of.
The Court’s Ruling
The Court concurs and affirms the findings of the IBP Board of Governors with modification as to the penalty.
It is well to stress that “notarization is not an empty, meaningless, routinary act, but one invested with substantive public interest. Notarization converts a private document into a public document, making it admissible in evidence without further proof of its authenticity. Thus, a notarized document is, by law, entitled to full faith and credit upon its face. It is for this reason that a notary public must observe with utmost care the basic requirements in the performance of his notarial duties; otherwise, the public’s confidence in the integrity of a notarized document would be undermined.”
For being invested with public interest, the Notarial Rules provide that only those who are duly commissioned may act and serve as notaries public. Commission either means the grant of authority to perform notarial or the written evidence of authority. Without a commission, a lawyer is unauthorized to perform any of the notarial acts.
In this case, the Court agrees with the findings of the Investigating Commissioner, as affirmed by the IBP Board of Governors, that respondent was indeed remiss in his duties as a notary public and as a lawyer. Records reveal that respondent was issued a notarial commission for the following periods: February 12, 2007 until December 31, 2008; July 23, 2009 until December 31, 2010; March 31, 2011 until December 31, 2012; and August 28, 2013 until December 31, 2014. However, he notarized an Authorization on March 18, 2011 and a Confirmation of Deed of Sale of Land in June 2013, both of which were clearly done when he was not qualified or authorized to do so. Notably anent respondent’s claim that he had notarized the latter document after his commission was issued on August 28, 2013, the Investigating Commissioner aptly observed:
While respondent admitted to having prepared the document, he denied notarizing it on said month and year as he was allegedly processing his notarial commission at that time and explained that he had notarized the document after his commission was issued on August 28, 2013. Again records proved that the Confirmation of Deed of Sale of Land was received by the Office of the Registry of Deeds of Zamboanga del Norte on June 19, 2013 and annotated as Entry No. 9512 on June 19, 2013 at the back of the Transfer Certificate of Title No. T-76725, (Exhibit “M”). As correctly observed by complainant [Nestor] Wong and Lim, the said document was the basis for the cancellation of the said title and issuance of a new one to the buyer, and submitted to the Registry of Deeds on June 19, 2013, hence it was notarized on or before June 19, 2013, or during the time respondent had no valid notarial commission. (Emphases supplied)
It is settled that by performing notarial acts without the necessary commission from the court a lawyer violates not only his oath to obey the laws, particularly the Rules on Notarial Practice, but also Canons 1 and 7 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, which proscribes all lawyers from engaging in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct and directs them to uphold the integrity and dignity of the legal profession at all times, as in this case.
To expound, in Nunga v. Atty. Viray, the Court held that where the notarization of a document is done by a member of the Philippine Bar at a time when he has no authorization or commission to do so, the offender may be subjected to disciplinary action. For one, performing a notarial [act] without such commission is a violation of the lawyer’s oath to obey the laws, more specifically the Notarial Law. Then, too, by making it appear that he is duly commissioned when he is not, he is, for all legal intents and purposes, indulging in deliberate falsehood, which the lawyer’s oath similarly proscribes. These violations fall squarely within the prohibition of Rule 1.01 of Canon 1 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, which provides: “A lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct.”
Also, as found by the Investigating Commissioner, respondent failed to observe the obligations imposed upon him under Rule VI of the Notarial Rules, to wit:
Section 2. Entries in the Notarial Register. x x x
x x x x
(e) The notary public shall give to each instrument or document executed, sworn to, or acknowledged before him a number corresponding to the one in his register, and shall also state on the instrument or document the page/s of his register on which the same is recorded. No blank line shall be left between entries.
x x x x
(h) A certified copy of each month’s entries and a duplicate original copy of any instrument acknowledged before the notary public shall, within the first ten (10) days of the month following, be forwarded to the Clerk of Court and shall be under the responsibility of such officer. If there is no entry to certify for the month, the notary shall forward a statement to this effect in lieu of certified copies herein required. (Emphases supplied)
Here, the Clerk of Court certified that as of March 11, 2014, respondent has not submitted copies of any documents which he notarized from August 28, 2013 until December 31, 2014, contrary to Section 2 (3), Rule VI above. Moreover, when respondent eventually submitted his notarial documents to the Clerk of Court sometime in March 2015, it was discovered that the same notarial details were assigned by respondent to different documents in violation of Section 2 (h), Rule VI. As enumerated by the Investigating Commissioner, these documents are:
Common Notarial Registry No.
Documents obtained by Complainants
Clerk of Court’s Records
Doc. No. 85;
Special Power of Attorney dated December 13, 2011
Absolute Deed of Sale dated January 3, 2012
Doc. No. 85; Deed of Sale Lot 6-A
Doc. No. 85-A: Absolute Deed of Sale dated January 3, 2012
Doc. No. 11;
Special Power of Attorney dated April 29, 2011 by Nestor Wong
Deed of Installation Sale of Lot 1503-A dated December 12, 2011 by Nestor Wong
Doc. No. 151;
Authorization dated August 8, 2012 by Nestor Wong
Confirmation dated August 3, 2012 by Nicolas Torot, Dionisio Torot, and Romulo Torot
Doc. No. 18;
Absolute Deed of Sale dated May 24, 2011 by Nestor Wong
Absolute Deed of Sale dated May 24, 2012 by Nestor Wong
Doc. No. 82;
Absolute Deed of Sale dated December 14, 2011 in favor of Raquel Go Esturco and Venus Baybayan Tabiliran
Affidavit of Late Registration dated December 15, 2011 by Liezyl Capinig Delegencia
Doc. No. 96;
Absolute Deed of Sale dated February 20, 2012 in favor of Raquel Go Esturco and Venus Baybayan Tabiliran
Deed of Sale of Inheritance Share dated February 18, 2012 by Welfredo Elopre and Ronald Elopre
Evidently, the above-mentioned acts of respondent are in violation of Section 2 (e) and Section 2 (h), Rule VI of the Notarial Rules. In this regard, jurisprudence provides that failure to strictly comply with the rules on notarial practice seriously undermines the dependability and efficacy of notarized documents, and thus, is inexcusable and constitutes gross negligence in carefully discharging his duties as a notary public.
In addition, it is undisputed that respondent notarized two (2) deeds of sale in favor of his son, Venus, who was privy thereto. Clearly, this is a violation of Section 3 (c), Rule IV of the Notarial Rules, which states that a notary public is disqualified from performing a notarial act if he “is a spouse, common-law partner, ancestor, descendant, or relative by affinity or consanguinity of the principal within the fourth civil degree”. Thus, given the express disqualification of the Notarial Rules, it was incumbent upon respondent to have acted with prudence and as such, should have refused notarizing the said documents in compliance with the Notarial Rules.
Meanwhile, as to the charge of immorality, it must be stressed that the burden of proof rests on the complainants, and they must establish the case against respondent by clear, convincing and satisfactory proof, disclosing a case that is free from doubt as to compel the exercise by the Court of its disciplinary power. As such, the Court agrees with the findings of the Investigating Commissioner, as affirmed by the IBP Board of Governors, that the evidence presented by the complainants are insufficient to prove their allegation; thus, respondent cannot be held liable on this charge.
Anent the proper penalty to be imposed upon respondent, the Court finds the need to modify the penalty recommended by the IBP. The Court has ruled that a notary public who fails to discharge his duties as such is meted out the following penalties: (1) revocation of notarial commission; (2) disqualification from being commissioned as notary public; and (3) suspension from the practice of law — the terms of which vary based on the circumstances of each case. Accordingly, in line with existing jurisprudence, and considering the circumstances and the extent of respondent’s willful malfeasance, the Court finds that the penalties of permanent disqualification from being commissioned as notary public and suspension from the practice of law for two (2) years are proper.
As a final note, it must be emphasized that membership in the legal profession is a privilege burdened with conditions. A lawyer is required to observe the law and be mindful of his or her actions whether acting in a public or private capacity. Any transgression of this duty on his part would not only diminish his reputation as a lawyer but would also erode the public’s faith in the legal profession as a whole. As such, the Court will not hesitate to impose the necessary penalty to a lawyer whose conduct falls short of the exacting standards expected of him as a member of the bar.
WHEREFORE, respondent Atty. Jose C. Tabiliran Jr. is hereby SUSPENDED from the practice of law for a period of two (2) years; his notarial commission, if still existing, is REVOKED; and he is PERMANENTLY BARRED from being commissioned as notary public. He is STERNLY WARNED that a repetition of the same or similar act will be dealt with more severely.
The suspension in the practice of law shall take effect immediately upon receipt of this Decision by respondent. He is DIRECTED to immediately file a Manifestation to the Court that his suspension has started, copy furnished all courts and quasi-judicial bodies where he has entered his appearance as counsel.
Let copies of this Decision be furnished to: (1) the Office of the Bar Confidant to be appended to respondent’s personal record as an attorney; (2) the Integrated Bar of the Philippines for its information and guidance; and (3) the Office of the Court Administrator for circulation to all courts in the country.
Hernando, Inting, and Delos Santos, JJ., concur.
Baltazar-Padilla, J., on leave.
 Dated May 4, 2015; rollo, pp. 1-5
 Nestor was appointed by Elsa on November 19, 2010 and by Virginia on December 9, 2011. Special Power of Attorney dated November 19, 2010, id. at 59; and Special Power of Attorney dated December 9, 2011, id. at 69.
 Id. at 556.
 See Special Power of Attorney dated December 13, 2011; id. at 70.
 Id. at 54.
 As allegedly indicated in the Deed of Sale; id. at 556.
 Id. at 556.
 Id. at 556-557.
 Id. at 557.
 Id. at 361.
 Dated March 20, 2014; id. at 379-399.
 Id. at 557.
 Id. at 557.
 Id. at 379-380.
 See id. at 561.
 See respondent’s comment dated September 17, 2014, id. at 425-432; and Position Paper dated June 6, 2017, id. at 503-509.
 See id. at 387.
 Id. at 558.
 Id. at 122-123.
 Id. at 555-564. Signed by Commissioner Suzette A. Mamon.
 Id. at 564.
 Id. at 559-563.
 See Notice of Resolution in CBD Case No. 16-5001 issued by Assistant National Secretary Doroteo L.B. Aguila; id. at 553-554.
 Id. at 553.
 Triol v. Agcaoili, Jr., G.R. No. 12011, June 26, 2018, 868 SCRA 175, 180, citing Vda. de Miller v. Miranda, 772 Phil. 449, 455 (2015).
 See Muntuerto v. Alberto, A.C. No. 12289, April 2, 2019.
 See Spouses Frias v. Abao, A.C. No. 12467, April 10, 2019.
 See respondent’s position paper; rollo, pp. 503-509.
 Id. at 559-560.
 366 Phil. 155 (1999).
 Id. at 161.
 See Certification dated March 11, 2014; rollo, p. 443.
 See Roa-Buenafe v. Lirazan, A.C. No. 9361, March 20, 2019.
 Id., citing Sappayani v. Gasmen, 768 Phil. 1 (2015).
 Id., citing Sappayani v. Gasmen, id. at 9.
 See Spouses Gacuya v. Solbita, 782 Phil. 253 (2016), see also Tan v. Gonzales, 557 Phil. 496 (2007), see also Zoreta v. Simpliciano, 485 Phil. 395 (2004).
 See Nulada v. Paulma, 784 Phil. 309, 317 (2016).
 See id. at 317-318.