Immoral and disloyal
A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) - October 9, 2020 - 12:00am

Lawyers or members of the Bar are required to conduct themselves in accordance with the Code of Professional Responsibility (Code). More specifically, they shall not represent conflicting interests except by written consent of all concerned given after a full disclosure of the facts (Rule 15.03), and observe high standards of morality even in their personal life aside from their professional dealings (Rule 7.03). When is there a conflict of interest? What constitutes immoral conduct? And what disciplinary action can be filed for violations of these rules? These are the questions raised and answered in this case of Atty. Pete Payo.

Atty. Payo is a practicing lawyer representing Romy del Fierro who is facing several criminal complaints like grave threats, grave coercion, perjury and estafa. While handling Romy’s cases, Atty. Payo also had occasion to meet Romy’s wife, Marilyn. Marilyn’s beauty and amiability eventually attracted Payo that led him to have adulterous relations with her until they begot a child. When Romy learned about such relations he started maltreating Marilyn, considering his propensity for violence. So Marilyn filed a petition for the issuance of a Temporary Protection Order (TPO) against Romy with Payo as her counsel.

Romy also filed a letter of complaint for disbarment with the Supreme Court (SC) charging Payo with violation the Code through the following acts: (1) conflict of interest for acting as counsel of Marilyn in her Petition for TPO against Romy who was also his client; (2) grossly immoral conduct for engaging in adulterous relations with Marilyn and fathering a child with her; (3) dereliction of duty for abandoning Romy as the latter’s counsel in a case for Grave Threats after filing the Petition for TPO, which led to the conviction of Romy.

Atty. Payo vehemently denied the allegations against him and alleged that: (1) he was only compelled to sign the petition for the issuance of a TPO out of exigency and for humanitarian reasons since prompt and responsive action is needed to preserve the life of Marilyn and her three young daughters, and his engagement was limited only for such purpose. He said that as soon as the TPO was issued he already withdrew as counsel for Marilyn. Besides, he claimed that there was no confidential information in the filing of said petition as they are all based on public records and they are not prejudicial to the cases of Romy; (2) the allegations of grossly immoral conduct has no factual basis as the complaint for adultery against him was dismissed by the investigating prosecutor for lack of merit; and (3) he did not abandon Romy in his Grave Threats case because it was Romy who terminated his services.

After hearing the complaint for disbarment, the Investigating Commission submitted a Report and Recommended to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Board of Governors (IBP Board) that Atty. Pete Payo be disbarred and his name be stricken from the Roll of Attorneys. Such Report and Recommendation was approved by the IBP Board.

Subsequently, the SC also affirmed the Resolution of the IBP Board upon reviewing the records of the case. The SC ruled that Canon 15 of the Code requires lawyers to observe candor, fairness and loyalty in all their dealings and transactions with their clients, particularly by not representing conflict of interests. A conflict of interest exists when a lawyer represents inconsistent interests of two opposing parties, like performing an act that will injuriously affect his first client in any matter in which he represented him or when he uses any knowledge he previously acquired from his first client against said client. This prohibition is based on principles of public policy and good taste because lawyer-client relationship is based on trust and confidence so as to assure freedom of communication that will enable the lawyer to suitably represent his/her client. In this case, Payo was the lawyer of Romy in the latter’s cases and also as counsel of Marilyn in her Petition for issuance of TPO against Romy, which contains references to the criminal cases demonstrating his propensity for violence to prove the maltreatment of Marilyn by Romy. In effect, he is implying that there is merit in these cases which is diametrically opposed to his position as his defense counsel, thus clearly violating the rule against conflict of interest. His defense that he accepted the engagement by Marilyn out of emergency and humanitarian reasons is not convincing because even if the Petition for the issuance of the TPO is an emergency requiring quick response, he could have easily recommended another competent lawyer in his place.

As for gross immorality, the dismissal of the complaint for adultery against him and Marilyn by the Office of the Prosecutor will not exculpate him because the records show that there is merit in the charge. In fact Marilyn herself admitted to maintaining adulterous relations with him. Even his wife stated under oath that Payo admitted having an affair with Marilyn and that he fathered a child with her. In keeping with the high standard of morality imposed upon every lawyer, Atty. Payo should have desisted from the illicit relationship with Marilyn not only because she is married but also because her husband was his client. Besides this administrative case is not affected by the result of any civil or criminal case because it involves investigation of the conduct of lawyers as officers of the Court and may proceed independently of the criminal or civil proceeding and not affected by their outcome where public interest is its primary objective and the real question is whether or not a lawyer is still fit to practice law. The lawyer must present proof that he still maintains the degree of integrity and morality expected of him/her at all times.

So Payo is really guilty of conflict of interest and gross immorality in violation of Rules 15.03 and 7.03 of the Code and is disbarred from the practice of law. This is the ruling the case of Hierro vs. Nava II, A.C. No 9459, Jan. 24, 2020.

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