Legal Ethics

ANG v. BELARO, A.C. No. 12408, December 11, 2019 Code of Professional Responsibility, The 2004 Rules on Notarial Practice

FACTS:

The late Peregrina Dela Rosa (Peregrina) owned a parcel of land with a building erected thereon which is covered by TCT No. 528991 situated in Quezon City. In 1982, she appointed complainant Venson Ang as administrator of the subject property. Upon Peregrina’s demise on November 24, 2002, the property was inherited by Venson and his siblings namely: Virginia, Venhart, Villy, and Vermont. The siblings never partitioned the property or assigned their rights to any of the co-owners.

On March 6, 2015, complainant Venson and his siblings were surprised to learn that Peregrina’s title to the subject property was already cancelled by virtue of an Extrajudicial Settlement of Estate Among Heirs with Waiver of Rights which they allegedly executed on March 26, 2014. The Extrajudicial Settlement was notarized by respondent Atty. Belaro on March 26, 2014 before whom complainant Venson and his siblings purportedly personally appeared and subscribed therein. Complainant Venson and his siblings also discovered two other versions of the same document that were submitted to the MERALCO and the Office of the Clerk of Court, RTC of Quezon City that were likewise notarized by respondent Atty. Belaro.

Perusal of the three versions of the Extrajudicial Settlement showed several irregularities therein. These are, among others, the Extrajudicial Settlement instrument was allegedly executed on March 26, 2014, but the subject property remained in the name of Peregrina as of July 2014; Villy was indicated as a signatory therein despite her demise on April 5, 2012, two years before it was executed; and the Extrajudicial Settlement submitted to MERALCO bore no witnesses while the LRA’s copy was signed by two unknown witnesses, and the instrument submitted to the RTC-Quezon City indicated Ma. Shiela Dioneda, the alleged secretary of respondent Atty. Belaro, as the sole witness therein.

Complainant Venson and his siblings also discovered that respondent Atty. Belaro notarized a Deed of Absolute Sale dated December 16, 2014 which was purportedly executed by and between Vermont and Rowena Ang as sellers, and Lou Aldrin Ridad, et al, as buyers.

An Acknowledgement Receipt dated December 16, 2014 was likewise notarized by respondent Atty. Belaro showing that Vermont and Rowena allegedly received P5,000,000.00 from the buyers in consideration of the purported sale of the subject property.

As a result thereof, complainant Venson filed the instant letter­-complaint. 

He claimed before the  Commission on Bar Discipline (CBD) of the IBP that his alleged signatures found therein were forgeries. He likewise claimed, among others, that he does not personally know Dioneda and that she was never employed as his secretary.

CBD IBP noted that the signatures of respondent Atty. Belaro in the Extrajudicial Settlement instrument appear to be falsified. Despite the alleged forgery, his notarial seal was used in the documents. Based on this, the Investigating Commissioner concluded that respondent Atty. Belaro failed to properly secure the same since no other person was allowed to use it other than him.

Anent the signatures of respondent Atty. Belaro in the Deed of Absolute Sale and in the Acknowledgement Receipt, the Investigating Commissioner found that these were similar to his admitted genuine signatures.

The Investigating Commissioner therefore found respondent Atty. Belaro negligent in the performance of his duties and obligations as a notary public. He thus recommended that respondent Atty. Belaro be suspended from the practice of law for six months and ineligible for being commissioned as notary public for a period of one year.

The findings were adopted by the IBP Board of Governors (BOD).

Atty. Belaro’s motion for reconsideration was partially granted. The IBP BOD imposed the penalty of DISQUALIFICATION FROM BEING COMMISSIONED AS NOTARY PUBLIC FOR TWO (2) YEARS, in lieu of the penalty of Suspension from the practice of law for three (3) months considering that – (i) the complainant had executed an Affidavit of Desistance and ii) this is Respondent’s first offense.

ISSUE:

Whether or not the findings and recommendations of the IBP were proper.

RULING:

Respondent Atty. Belaro is liable for breach of notarial law and for violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility.

The act of notarization is not an ordinary routine but is imbued with substantive public interest. It converts a private document into a public document resulting in the document’s admissibility in evidence without further proof of its authenticity. A notarial document is therefore entitled to full faith and credit on its face and by law.

It is the duty of notaries public to observe utmost care in complying with the formalities intended to protect the integrity of the notarized document and the act or acts it embodies. 

The Court, in Gonzales v. Ramos, elucidated the importance of notarization, to wit:

By affixing his notarial seal on the instrument, the respondent converted the Deed of Absolute Sale, from a private document into a public document. Such act is no empty gesture. The principal function of a notary public is to authenticate documents. When a notary public certifies to the due execution and delivery of a document under his hand and seal, he gives the document the force of evidence. Indeed, one of the purposes of requiring documents to be acknowledged before a notary public, in addition to the solemnity which should surround the execution and delivery of documents, is to authorize such documents to be given without further proof of their execution and delivery. A notarial document is by law entitled to full faith and credit upon its face. Courts, administrative agencies and the public at large must be able to rely upon the acknowledgement executed before a notary public and appended to a private instrument. Hence, a notary public must discharge his powers and duties, which are impressed with public interest, with accuracy and fidelity.

We agree with the IBP that the signatures of respondent Atty. Belaro found in the three versions of the Extrajudicial Settlement were indeed forgeries. Likewise, the signatures in the Deed of Absolute Sale and in the Acknowledgement Receipt were not the genuine signatures of respondent Atty. Belaro.

Nonetheless, respondent Atty. Belaro is not exculpated from administrative liability. As observed by the IBP, the Extrajudicial Settlement bore his notarial seal. The 2004 Rules on Notarial Practice clearly states that, when not in use, the official seal of the notary public must be kept safe and secure and shall be accessible only to him or the person duly authorized by him.

Here, respondent Atty. Belaro utterly failed to sufficiently provide any laudable explanation why his notarial seal was found in the documents. He simply asserted in his Answer to the Letter-Complaint that the signatures of the notary public found in the subject instruments were not his, that he did not cause the filing of these documents to any government agencies, and that he never employed Dioneda as his secretary. Indubitably, respondent Atty. Belaro did not properly secure and keep his notarial seal in a safe place inaccessible to other persons so as to ensure that nobody can use the same without his authority. Had he done so, his notarial seal would not have been affixed to the Extrajudicial Settlement which converted the same from a private document into a public document. Thus, respondent Atty. Belaro has been remiss in his duty to exercise utmost diligence in the performance of his functions as a notary public and to comply with the mandates of law.

In being careless in failing to secure and keep his notarial seal in a safe place away from any person not authorized to use the same, respondent Atty. Belaro committed a transgression of the Notarial Law and the Code of Professional Responsibility (CPR).

Undoubtedly, respondent Atty. Belaro failed to discharge with fidelity the sacred duties of his office which are dictated by public policy and impressed with public interest. His negligence therefore not only caused damage to those directly affected by the notarized documents but also undermined the integrity of a notary public and degraded the function of notarization. Hence, it is but proper to hold respondent Atty. Belaro liable for his negligence as a notary public and as a lawyer.

He is hereby SUSPENDED from the practice of law for a period of SIX MONTHS, effective upon receipt of copy of this Decision. Moreover, his notarial commission, if any, is hereby REVOKED, and he is DISQUALIFIED from reappointment as a notary public for a period of two years from finality of this Decision.

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