RE: DECISION DATED 17 MARCH 2011 IN CRIMINAL CASE NO. SB-28361 ENTITLED “PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES VS. JOSELITO C. BARROZO”, FORMER ASSISTANT PROSECUTOR JOSELITO C. BARROZO, RESPONDENT. EN BANC, A.C. No. 10207, July 21, 2015.
“x x x.
Under Section 27, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court, one of the grounds for the suspension or disbarment of a lawyer is his conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude. And with the finality of respondent’s conviction for direct bribery, the next question that needs to be answered is whether direct bribery is a crime that involves moral turpitude.
To consider a crime as one involving moral turpitude, the act constituting the same must have been “done contrary to justice, honesty, modesty, or good morals. [It must involve] an act of baseness, vileness, or depravity in the private duties which a man owes his fellowmen, or to society in general, contrary to the accepted and customary rule of right and duty between man and woman, or conduct contrary to justice, honesty, modesty, or good morals.”1
In Catalan, Jr. v. Silvosa,2 the Court already had the occasion to answer the same question posed in this case, viz:
Moral turpitude is defined as an act of baseness, vileness, or depravity in the private duties which a man owes to his fellowmen, or to society in general, contrary to justice, honesty, modesty, or good morals. Section 27, Rule 138 provides:
‘Section 27. Disbarment or suspension of attorneys by Supreme Court; grounds therefor. — A member of the bar may be disbarred or suspended from his office as attorney by the Supreme Court for any deceit, malpractice, or other gross misconduct in such office, grossly immoral conduct, or by reason of his conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude, or for any violation of the oath which he is required to take before admission to practice, or for a willful disobedience of any lawful order of a superior court, or for corruptly or willfully appearing as an attorney for a party to a case without authority [to do so]. The practice of soliciting cases at law for the purpose of gain, either personally or through paid agents or brokers, constitutes malpractice.’
[T]he crime of direct bribery is a crime involving moral turpitude. In Magno v. COMELEC,3 we ruled:
‘By applying for probation, petitioner in effect admitted all the elements of the crime of direct bribery:
1. the offender is a public officer;
2. the offender accepts an offer or promise or receives a gift or present by himself or through another;
3. such offer or promise be accepted or gift or present be received by the public officer with a view to committing some crime, or in consideration of the execution of an act which does not constitute a crime but the act must be unjust, or to refrain from doing something which it is his official duty to do; and
4. the act which the offender agrees to perform or which he executes is connected with the performance of his official duties.
Moral turpitude can be inferred from the third element. The fact that the offender agrees to accept a promise or gift and deliberately commits an unjust act or refrains from performing an official duty in exchange for some favors, denotes a malicious intent on the part of the offender to renege on the duties which he owes his fellowmen and society in general. Also, fee fact that the offender takes advantage of his office and position is a betrayal of the trust reposed on him by the public. It is a conduct clearly contrary to the accepted rules of right and duty, justice, honesty and good morals. In all respects, direct bribery is a crime involving moral turpitude.4 (Emphases and italics in the original)
Clearly, direct bribery is a crime involving moral turpitude which, as mentioned, is a ground for the suspension or disbarment of a lawyer from his office as an attorney.
The Court is mindful that a lawyer’s conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude does not automatically call for the imposition of the supreme penalty of disbarment since it may, in its discretion, choose to impose the less severe penalty of suspension. As held, “the determination of whether an attorney should be disbarred or merely suspended for a period involves the exercise of sound judicial discretion.”5 Here, however, the circumstances surrounding the case constrain the Court to impose the penalty of disbarment as recommended by the OBC.
It must be recalled that at the time of the commission of the crime, respondent was an Assistant Public Prosecutor of the City of Dagupan. His act therefore of extorting money from a party to a case handled by him does not only violate the requirement that cases must be decided based on the merits of the parties’ respective evidence but also lessens the people’s confidence in the rule of law.
Indeed respondent’s conduct in office fell short of the integrity and good moral character required of all lawyers, specially one occupying a public office. Lawyers in public office are expected not only to refrain from any act or omission which tend to lessen the trust and confidence of the citizenry in government but also uphold the dignity of the legal profession at all times and observe a high standard of honesty and fair dealing. A government lawyer is a keeper of public faith and is burdened with a high degree of social responsibility, higher than his brethren in private practice.6
Hence, for committing a crime which does not only show his disregard of his oath as a government official but is likewise of such a nature as to negatively affect his qualification as a lawyer, respondent must be disbarred from his office as an attorney.
As a final note, it is well to state that:
The purpose of a proceeding for disbarment is to protect the administration of justice by requiring that those who exercise this important function be competent, honorable and reliable – lawyers in whom courts and [the public at large] may repose confidence. Thus, whenever a clear case of degenerate and vile behavior disturbs that vital yet fragile confidence, [the Court] shall not hesitate to rid [the] profession of odious members.7
X x x.”
1 Re: SC Decision Dated May 20, 2008 in G.R. No. 161455 Under Rule 139-B of the Rules of Court v. Atty. Rodolfo D. Pactolin, A.C. No. 7940, April 24,2012,670 SCRA 366, 371.
2 A.C. No. 7360, July 24,2012, 677 SCRA 352.
3 439 Phil. 339, 346-347 (2002).
4 Id at 361-362.
5 Figueras v. Atty. Jimenez, A.C, No. 9116, March 12, 2014.
6 Ramos v. Atty. Imbang, 557 Phil. 507, 516 (2007).
7 Ramos v. Atty. Imbang, 557 Phil. 507, 516 (2007).