Legal Ethics

Gonzales v. Cabucana A.C. NO. 6836, January 23, 2006 Conflict of Interest


Leticia Gonzales filed a petition before the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) alleging that: 

She was the complainant in a case for sum of money and damages (Civil Case No. 1-56) filed before the MTCC where she was represented by the law firm CABUCANA LAW OFFICE, with Atty. Edmar Cabucana handling the case and herein respondent Atty. Marcelino Cabucana, as an associate/partner;

A decision was rendered therein ordering the losing party to pay Gonzales the amount of P17,310.00 with interest and P6,000.00 as attorney’s fees;

Sheriff Romeo Gatcheco failed to fully implement the writ of execution issued thereof which prompted Gonzales to file a complaint against the said sheriff with this Court;

Sheriff Gatcheco and his wife went to the house of Gonzales, harassed Gonzales and asked her to execute an affidavit of desistance regarding her complaint before this Court;

Gonzales filed against the Gatchecos criminal cases for trespass, grave threats, grave oral defamation, simple coercion and unjust vexation; 

Notwithstanding the pendency of Civil Case No. 1-567, where respondent’s law firm was still representing Gonzales, herein respondent represented the Gatchecos in the cases filed by Gonzales; 

Respondent should be disbarred from the practice of law since respondent’s acceptance of the cases of the Gatchecos violates the lawyer-client relationship between complainant and respondent’s law firm and renders respondent liable under the Code of Professional Responsibility.

In his Answer, respondent averred: He never appeared and represented complainant in Civil Case No. 1-567 since it was his brother, Atty. Edmar Cabucana who appeared and represented Gonzales in said case. He admitted that he is representing Sheriff Gatcheco and his wife in the cases filed against them but claimed that his appearance is pro bono and that the spouses pleaded with him as no other counsel was willing to take their case. He entered his appearance in good faith and opted to represent the spouses rather than leave them defenseless.

Commissioner Wilfredo E.J.E. Reyes issued an Order notifying both parties to appear before his office on October 28, 2004 for a clarificatory question regarding said case. 

On the said date, only respondent appeared presenting a sworn affidavit executed by Gonzales withdrawing her complaint against respondent.

Commissioner Reyes issued an Order requiring Gonzales to appear before him to affirm her statements and to be subject to clarificatory questioning. However, none of the parties appeared.

Commissioner Reyes submitted his Report and Recommendation, recommending that Atty. Marcelino C. Cabucana, Jr. (be) sternly warned and reprimanded and advised to be more circumspect and careful in accepting cases which might result in conflict of interests.

Said recommendation was adopted and approved in a Resolution by the Board of Governors of the IBP.


Whether the representation of opposing clients in said cases, though unrelated, constitutes conflict of interests.


Before going to the merits, let it be clarified that contrary to the report of Commissioner Reyes, respondent did not only represent the Gatcheco spouses in the administrative case filed by Gonzales against them. As respondent himself narrated in his Position Paper, he likewise acted as their counsel in the criminal cases filed by Gonzales against them.

With that settled, we find respondent guilty of violating Rule 15.03 of Canon 15 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, to wit:

Rule 15.03 – A lawyer shall not represent conflicting interest except by written consent of all concerned given after a full disclosure of the facts.

It is well-settled that a lawyer is barred from representing conflicting interests except by written consent of all concerned given after a full disclosure of the facts. 

Such prohibition is founded on principles of public policy and good taste as the nature of the lawyer-client relations is one of trust and confidence of the highest degree. 

Lawyers are expected not only to keep inviolate the client’s confidence, but also to avoid the appearance of treachery and double-dealing for only then can litigants be encouraged to entrust their secrets to their lawyers, which is of paramount importance in the administration of justice.

One of the tests of inconsistency of interests is whether the acceptance of a new relation would prevent the full discharge of the lawyer’s duty of undivided fidelity and loyalty to the client or invite suspicion of unfaithfulness or double-dealing in the performance of that duty.

The claim of respondent that there is no conflict of interests in this case, as the civil case handled by their law firm where Gonzales is the complainant and the criminal cases filed by Gonzales against the Gatcheco spouses are not related, has no merit. The representation of opposing clients in said cases, though unrelated, constitutes conflict of interests or, at the very least, invites suspicion of double-dealing which this Court cannot allow.

The claim of respondent that he acted in good faith and with honest intention will also not exculpate him as such claim does not render the prohibition inoperative.

In the same manner, his claim that he could not turn down the spouses as no other lawyer is willing to take their case cannot prosper as it is settled that while there may be instances where lawyers cannot decline representation they cannot be made to labor under conflict of interest between a present client and a prospective one. 

Granting also that there really was no other lawyer who could handle the spouses’ case other than him, still he should have observed the requirements laid down by the rules by conferring with the prospective client to ascertain as soon as practicable whether the matter would involve a conflict with another client then seek the written consent of all concerned after a full disclosure of the facts. 

These respondent failed to do thus exposing himself to the charge of double-dealing.

We shall consider however as mitigating circumstances the fact that he is representing the Gatcheco spouses pro bono and that it was his firm and not respondent personally, which handled the civil case of Gonzales.

Thus, for violation of Rule 15.03, Canon 15 of the Code of Professional Responsibility and taking into consideration the aforementioned mitigating circumstances, Atty. Marcelino Cabucana, Jr. is FINED the amount of Two Thousand Pesos (P2,000.00) with a STERN WARNING that a commission of the same or similar act in the future shall be dealt with more severely. 

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