THE Court of Appeals (CA) has denied the petition of lawyer Zenaida Ongkiko-Acorda seeking to stop the Commission on Bar Discipline (CBD) of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) from deciding on the disbarment complaint filed against her by businessman Roberto Ongpin.
In a 10-page ruling written by Associate Justice Franchito Diamante, the CA’s Special Fourteenth Division said there was no violation of Acorda’s right to due process on the part of the CBD-IBP that would have warrant the nullification of the September 20, 2012, order issued by Commissioner Eldrid Antiquiera. The CBD-IBP in the said order denied Acorda’s motion for the conduct of a hearing and to subpoena Ongpin and lawyer Alexander Poblador as her adverse witnesses.
Likewise, the CBD-IBP also submitted the disbarment case for report and recommendation on the basis of the evidence gathered.
In her petition filed before the CA, Acorda sought the issuance of a temporary restraining order to enjoin the implementation of the September 20 order of the commission and to subsequently declare null and void the said order.
Acorda argued that the CBD-IBP gravely abused its discretion when Antiquiera denied her request to subpoena Ongpin and Poblador, as well as her right to complete the presentation of her evidence in a proper hearing.
She pointed out that the CBD-IBP can only determine the veracity of the allegations in the complaint against her by conducting a hearing.
It is also during such hearing that the parties could present additional evidence in support of their positions, she said.
The disbarment complaint against Acorda was filed by Ongpin, who accused her of misrepresenting herself as spokesman and counsel for the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) in connection with the graft complaint filed against him for allegedly obtaining behest loans in the amount of P660 million. Ongpin added that Acorda falsely claimed that it was the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) that instructed the DBP to investigate him.
In upholding the CBD-IBP’s order, the appellate court explained that Sections 2 and 3 of Rule V of the Rules of Procedure of the CBD showed that it is merely discretionary on the part of the commissioner to conduct a hearing if necessary.
The CA added that it is also not mandatory to have a formal hearing in disbarment proceedings.
“To us, therefore, the finding of whether a hearing is necessary or not rests upon the investigating commissioner’s discretion, and the same should not be given a mandatory interpretation. Simply stated, a formal hearing is not required in disciplinary actions against lawyers,” the CA stressed.
It added that it is within the power and discretion of the investigating commissioner to determine whether a subpoena may or may not be issued. Acorda, according to the CA, was given an opportunity to be heard when she filed her answer to the complaint.
“In sum, this Court holds that the respondent Commission did not commit grave abuse of discretion in not granting petitioner’s request to issue subpoena to adverse witnesses and to suspend the period within which to file her position paper and in finding that there was no necessity for a formal type of hearing, which, at the outset, was established to be discretionary on the part of the investigating commissioner,” the CA added.
In his complaint, Ongpin recounted that in a news conference called at her office on August 10, 2011, that was not attended by a single DBP official, Ongkiko-Acorda distributed a five-page statement to the press in which she claimed that she was the DBP spokesman.
He claimed that statement “was replete with all kinds of malicious statements regarding to my loan with the DBP, which, contrary to her allegations, were entirely aboveboard, totally secured and paid ahead of time.”
Subsequently, in a statement that was issued by DBP officials which came out in another major daily, it was pointed out that Ongkiko-Acorda was never retained by the DBP as its counsel nor had ever been designated DBP spokesman.
In addition, Ongpin said Ongkiko-Acorda claimed that the DBP had been instructed by the BSP to investigate the Ongpin loans, deliberately neglecting to disclose that the DBP had made the request and that the BSP had only responded to the DBP’s request.
A few days later, Ongpin said Ongkiko-Acorda again representing herself as DBP spokesman in a paid newspaper advertisement, had to retract her statement regarding the BSP’s role and admitted that it was the DBP that had initiated the investigation and only submitted its “findings” to the BSP.
“The paid advertisement-retraction clearly demonstrated the falsehood that Atty. Ongkiko-Acorda, made in her press statement regarding the role of the BSP. She had made a bare-faced false statement she was obviously required by the BSP to retract it to set the records straight,” Ongpin added.
The DBP has filed criminal and administrative cases against former members of its board of directors over P660 million in loans that the bank granted to an Ongpin company to finance his acquisition of Philex Mining shares.