A.C. No. 8788. January 13, 2016


For resolution is a petition for disbarment against Atty. Philip Pantojan and Atty. Frances Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi filed by respondents Editha M. Tiamzon, Zenaida O. Duhay, Juliet P. Evardo, Ma. Cipriana Gatchalian, Glenna G. Legarta, Arlyn D. Lupogan, Mary Jean M. Merisco, Catherine Nunez, Noemi E. Parcon, Myrna P. Reblando and Erlyn Idalo Umpad before the Supreme Court. Respondent Atty. Philip S. Pantojan filed his Comment to said Petition on April 7, 2011, while co-respondent Atty. Frances Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi filed hers on September 6, 2011.

In a Resolution dated November 16, 2011, the Supreme Court referred this case to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines for investigation, report and recommendation or resolution within ninety (90 days) from notice.

The Report and Recommendation dated May 5, 2014 of Investigating Commissioner Salvador B. Belaro, Jr., Commission on Bar Discipline, IBP, follows:

The instant Complaint stemmed from the criminal cases filed against the Ampatuan family in what is now known in our contemporary history as the Maguindanao massacre cases (Criminal Case Nos. Q-09-162148 to 72, Q-09-162216 to 31, Q-10-1625652 to 66 and Q-10-163766) which are pending before the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City, Branch 221.

In the said cases, a certain Lakmudin Saliao, who claims to be a personal assistant of the Ampatuans, testified on September 28, 2010 about a "conspiracy to cover up the participation of, his former employer in the massacre."

In his testimony, Saliao implicated the Respondents when he claimed that the Respondent attorneys as the latter apparently met the Ampatuans in their mansion "to work out. an alternative escape plan."

In his subsequent testimony on September 16, 2010, Saliao further testified in court that Andal Ampatuan, Sr., while detained at Camp Panacan, "gave away P386 million to his supporters to bribe government witnesses, tamper with evidence and commit perjury." Saliao further said that in one instance, he even personally counted the P36 Million in cash that Ampatuan Sr. had ordered him to get from Ustadz Farid Ads, the patriarch's "spiritual adviser" and Omar Sayadi, the husband of Respondent Sayadi, who was then the ARMM solicitor general.

In view of Saliao's aforecited court testimonies, the Complainants claim the following charges against both Respondents, viz.: (1) "Respondents participated willfully in conspiracy to cover up the direct participation of the Ampatuan clan patriarch in what has been labeled as single worst [attack] on press freedom in history;" (2) x x x Respondents not only counseled Andal Sr. to escape prosecution by pretending that he was stricken with a serious illness but even actively assisted his escape to Davao City; (3) Respondents counseled their client to obstruct justice or to resort to acts that express defiance of the law or lessen confidence in the legal system;

Complainants also specifically charge Respondent Sayadi who was at the lime of the massacre was the ARMM Solicitor General acted contrary to [her] oath of office to defend the interest of the government since it is her duty "to prosecute crimes and not abet nor commit them, and "that she was an active participant in the conspiracy to shield Andal Sr. from prosecution as her very own husband Omar Sayadi was entrusted by the former governor with millions of pesos to bribe government functionaries xxx"

Complainants also specifically charge Respondent Pantojan that the latter, also based from Saliao's testimony, caused the filing of trumped up charge against an Army Officer detailed in Camp Panacan in Davao City "in aid of the twisted cause of his clients, the Ampatuans."

In view of the foregoing, the Complainants allege that Respondent attorneys violated the Code of Professional Responsibility, particularly Canon 1 and Rule 1.02 which provides that:
"Canon 1. A lawyer shall uphold the Constitution, obey the laws of the land and promote respect for law and legal processes."

"Rule 1.02. A lawyer shall not counsel or abet activities aimed at defiance of the law or at lessening confidence in the legal system."
Also, as for Respondent Pantojan, in view of the alleged filing of the aforementioned trumped up charge against an Army Officer, Complainants are charging him additionally, for violating Rule 1.03 of the Code of Professional Responsibility which states:

"A lawyer shall not, for any corrupt motive or interest, encourage any suit or proceeding or delay any man's cause."'


In his Comment to the Petition for Disbarment, Atty. Pantojan denied the claims based on the testimonies in court of Saliao; that he, together with Atty. Sayadi, worked out an escape plan; that there was conspiracy in working out such a plan or to cover up participation of the Ampatuan family in the aforementioned massacre; that they advised the former governor to fake his health condition.

In addition, he claimed that Mr. Saliao was not a personal assistant; of the former governor Andal Ampatuan, Sr. but was a mere househelper assigned to Bai Amira, the daughter of the former governor. Being a mere househelper, Saliao could not have any personal knowledge of the activities of the said family as he does not have any access to confidential and private informations of the Ampatuan family. He also claimed that the services of Mr. Saliao was subsequently terminated by the Ampatuan family because he stole jewelries and cash from Bai Amira.

Atty. Pantojan also claims that considering that on Dec. 4, 2009, a Martial Law was declared in the Province of Maguindanao and as a result, most of the members of the Ampatuan family, including the former governor and their relatives were detained, locked in and/or barred by the AFP, PNP and NBI from going in and out of their respective residences, it was impossible for the former governor to flee the province. Also, he claimed that Governor Andal had serious hypertensive attacks which disallow him to move out of his house in Sharif f Aguak.

Atty. Pantojan, while admitting to being part of the legal team of the Ampatuans, claims that as a lawyer for the Ampatuans he "possesses special powers of trust and confidence reposed in him by his client and that he has the obligation to faithfully, honestly and conscientiously represent the interest of his client" but at the same time he is compliant with the Lawyer's Code of Professional Responsibility and that he "did not at anytime disrespect the law and the legal processes" while performing his duties to his client.

As for the alleged trumped-up charge against an Army Officer, he denied the claim of Mr. Saliao on this, stating that it is a fabricated charge and that Saliao is lying as the latter did not even identify said Army Officer in his testimony.

In her Comment to the Petition for Disbarment, Respondent Atty. Sayadi raised the same aforementioned defenses of Atty. Pantojan, pointing out that Complainants in seeking her disbarment, relied solely on the testimony of Lakmodin Saliao. She specifically denied that there was a plot to plan the escape of Datu Andal Ampatuan, Sr.

With respect to the alleged participation of her husband Omar Sayadi in the alleged conspiracy, she denied having knowledge thereof and moreover, she claimed that she cannot be held liable for acts of others owing to the Res Inter Alios Ada rule.

Atty. Sayadi likewise argued that conspiracy should be clear and convincing and that it should be, proven by positive and conclusive evidence.

Atty. Sayadi also argued that for obstruction of justice to obtain, the Complainants must prove any of the acts constituting obstruction of justice as provided in Presidential Decree No. 1829 entitled "Penalizing Obstruction of Apprehension and Prosecution of Criminal Offenders" and that there is nowhere in the Petition for Disbarment that she committed any of said acts.

Atty. Sayadi likewise claimed that she has untarnished reputation and that she does not have any record of misbehavior, misconduct or breach of her obligations as a member of the Bar. She even attached to her Comment a copy of the Resolution issued by the IBP Cotabato City Chapter vouching for her professionalism and integrity.


At the outset, this Commission notes that in their Petition for Disbarment filed before the Supreme Court, the Complainants undertook to provide the High Court with certified true copies of the transcript of the court testimonies ofSaliao in the Maguindanao massacre cases. They never did before the Supreme Court or even when this case was referred to this Commission.

That being the case, and considering the apparent disinterest of the parties in continuing this case as evidenced by their failure to submit the required Position Papers despite the lapse of more or less two years from the time of the issuance of the Order for the submission thereof, this Commission is constrained to decide this case on the basis of the evidence on record before this Office.

In administrative cases like the instant case, substantial evidence, defined as such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind may accept as adequate to support a conclusion, needs to be proved by the Complainants. The requirement is satisfied where there is reasonable ground to believe that the petitioner is guilty of the act or omission complained of, even if the evidence might not be overwhelming (Orbase v. Office of the Ombudsman, G.R. 175115, December 23, 2009)..

Although substantial evidence is not a function of quantity but rather of quality, the peculiar circumstances of the instant case demand that something more should have been proffered.

Assessing the evidence on record for the Complainants, this Commission notes that the only basis of the charges against the Respondents arc the court testimonies of Lakmudin Saliao. Furthermore, this Commission notes that Saliao's credibility has been put in issue by the Respondents and that his credibility as a witness is yet to be judged by the trial court where the Maguindanao massacre cases are pending.

On the other hand, it appears on record that Respondents presented evidence consisting of news reports of the local media as well as affidavits of various persons (Lt. Gen. Raymundo Ferrer and Co. Cresente M. Ferrer) attesting to the fact that they did not in any way plan or abet in letting their client escape from prosecution or faked his medical condition. In particular, the said affidavits [proved] that the transfer of the former governor from the Ampatuan mansion to Davao Doctor's Hospital was not a devious plan to escape from the eyes of the law but that it is a sanctioned legal procedure carried out by the authorities during the implementation of Martial Law in the Province of Maguindanao.

Based on the foregoing evidence adduced on record, this Commission is not ready to discipline, let alone disbar, fellow members of the legal profession based merely on a questionable and uncorroborated testimony made by a witness in a case where the Respondents are not even parties to said cases.

IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING, it is hereby recommended that the complaint be dismissed for lack of merit.[1]
In Resolution No. XXI-2014-795, the Board of Governors of the IBP adopted and approved the Report and Recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner and the case against respondent was dismissed.

Finding the recommendation of the IBP to be fully supported by the evidence on record and applicable laws, and for lack of merit, the Court RESOLVES to DISMISS the case against Atty. Philip Pantojan and Atty. Frances Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi and consider the same to be CLOSED and TERMINATED.


[1] Rollo, pp. 190-194.