Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Pimentel Jr. vs. Llorente and Salayon, A.C. No. 4690, August 29, 2000, 339 SCRA 154

Facts: This is a complaint for disbarment against respondents Antonio M. Llorente and Ligaya P. Salayon for gross misconduct, serious breach of trust, and violation of the lawyer's oath in connection with the discharge of their duties as members of the Pasig City Board of Canvassers in the May 8, 1995 elections. Salayon, then election officer of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC), was designated chairman of said Board, while Llorente, who was then City Prosecutor of Pasig City, served as its ex oficio vice-chairman as provided by law. Complainant, now a senator, was also a candidate for the Senate in that election.

Then Senatorial candidate Aquilino Pimentel, Jr. alleged that the respondents tampered with the votes received by them by either adding more votes for particular candidates in their Statement of Votes (SoV) or reducing the number of votes of particular candidates in their SoV. Pimentel filed an administrative complaint for their disbarment. Respondents denied the allegations against them. They alleged that the preparation of the SoVs was made by the 12 canvassing committees which the Board had constituted to assist in the canvassing. They claimed that the errors pointed out by complainant could be attributed to honest mistake, oversight, and/or fatigue.

Issue: Whether the respondents are held guilty of misconduct.

Held: YES. A lawyer who holds a government position may not be disciplined as a member of the bar for misconduct in the discharge of his duties as a government official. However, if the misconduct also constitutes a violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility or the lawyer’s oath or is of such character as to affect his qualification as a lawyer or shows moral delinquency on his part, such individual may be disciplined as a member of the bar for such misconduct. Here, by certifying as true and correct the SoVs in question, respondents committed a breach of Rule 1.01 of the Code which stipulates that a lawyer shall not engage in “unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct.” By express provision of Canon 6, this is made applicable to lawyers in the government service. In addition, they likewise violated their oath of office as lawyers to “do no falsehood.” It may be added that, as lawyers in the government service, respondents were under greater obligation to observe this basic tenet of the profession because a public office is a public trust.

Respondents' participation in the irregularities herein reflects on the legal profession, in general, and on lawyers in government in particular. Such conduct in the performance of their official duties, involving no less than the ascertainment of the popular will as expressed through the ballot, would have merited for them suspension were it not for the fact that this is their first administrative transgression and, in the case of Salayon, after a long public service. Under the circumstances, a penalty of fine in the amount of P10,000.00 for each of the respondents should be sufficient and issued a stern warning that similar conduct in the future will be severely punished.

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