Legal Ethics

Atty. Francis Gustilo vs Atty. Estefano De la Cruz

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A.C. No. 12318 – 865 Phil. 237 – Legal Ethics – A lawyer must be honest – MCLE Rules; A lawyer may be disbarred for using false MCLE Compliance Number

Atty. Francis Gustilo and Atty. Estefano De La Cruz were opposing counsels in a civil case. Atty. Gustilo found out that in the pleadings submitted by Atty. De La Cruz, he used a MCLE Compliance Number belonging to another lawyer. Atty. Gustilo then filed a disbarment case against Atty. De La Cruz. Atty. De La Cruz, in his defense, manifested that he may be MCLE exempt because he once served as the Assistant City IBP Investigating Commissioner of the Office of the City IBP Investigating Commissioner for Makati City, a prosecutor in the National Prosecution Service of the Department of Justice and now retired from government service since 2015.

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines recommended for Atty. De La Cruz’ suspension for one year.

ISSUE: Whether or not the recommended penalty is proper.

HELD: No. The proper penalty is disbarment.

The MCLE Rules expressly directs attorneys to indicate their MCLE certificate of compliance or certificate of exemption in all the pleadings they file in the courts. The requirement ensures that the practice of the law profession is reserved only for those who have complied with the recognized mechanism for “keeping abreast with law and jurisprudence, maintaining the ethics of the profession, and enhancing the standards of the practice of law.” This requirement is not a mere frivolity. To willfully disregard it is to willfully disregard mechanisms put in place to facilitate integrity, competence, and credibility in legal practice; it is to betray apathy for the ideals of the legal profession and demonstrates how one is wanting of the standards for admission to and continuing inclusion in the bar. Worse, to not only willfully disregard them but to feign compliance only, in truth, to make a mockery of them reveals a dire, wretched, and utter lack of respect for the profession that one brandishes. Here, De La Cruz failed to comply with the MCLE Rules. Worse, in order to conceal his non-compliance, he used a false MCLE compliance number. And when made to explain, he offered no explanation but a mere manifestation that he may be MCLE exempt and that he will process his application for exemption.

The actuations of De La Cruz deserved to be severely punished in order to foster respect towards the Supreme Court, and to enhance fealty to the Rule of Law. He made himself totally unworthy of the title of attorney and of the privilege and standing of a member of the law profession in this country. The Court should be intolerant of his kind, for there is no place for individuals like De La Cruz who openly abuse the privilege of membership in the law profession for all the devious and dubious reasons.

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