Lawyer DISBARRED due to 2nd marriage 1 year after 1st

ATTY. ROGELIO JUAN A. CELERA was found guilty of grossly immoral conduct and willful disobedience of lawful orders rendering him unworthy of continuing membership in the legal profession. The High Court DISBARRED him from the practice of law.

A disbarment case is sui generis for it is neither purely civil nor purely criminal, but is rather an investigation by the court into the conduct of its officers. The issue to be determined is whether respondent is still fit to continue to be an officer of the court in the dispensation of justice. Hence, an administrative proceeding for disbarment continues despite the desistance of a complainant, or failure of the complainant to prosecute the same, or in this case, the failure of respondent to answer the charges against him despite numerous notices.

In administrative proceedings, the complainant has the burden of proving, by substantial evidence, the allegations in the complaint. Substantial evidence has been defined as such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. For the Court to exercise its disciplinary powers, the case against the respondent must be established by clear, convincing and satisfactory proof. Considering the serious consequence of the disbarment or suspension of a member of the Bar, the Supreme Court has consistently held that clear preponderant evidence is necessary to justify the imposition of the administrative penalty.

In Bansig v. Celera (A.C. No. 5581. January 14, 2014), there was a preponderance of evidence that respondent contracted a second marriage despite the existence of his first marriage. The first marriage, as evidenced by the certified xerox copy of the Certificate of Marriage issued on October 3, 2001 by the City Civil Registry of Manila, Gloria C. Pagdilao, states that respondent Rogelio Juan A. Celera contracted marriage on May, 8, 1997 with Gracemarie R. Bunagan at the Church of Saint Augustine, Intramuros, Manila; the second marriage, however, as evidenced by the certified xerox copy of the Certificate of Marriage issued on October 4, 2001 by the City Civil Registry of San Juan, Manila, states that respondent Rogelio Juan A. Celera contracted marriage on January 8, 1998 with Ma. Cielo Paz Torres Alba at the Mary the Queen Church, Madison St., Greenhills, San Juan, Metro Manila.

Bansig submitted certified xerox copies of the marriage certificates to prove that respondent entered into a second marriage while the latter’s first marriage was still subsisting. It must be noted that the second marriage apparently took place barely a year from his first marriage to Bunagan which is indicative that indeed the first marriage was still subsisting at the time respondent contracted the second marriage with Alba.The certified xerox copies of the marriage contracts, issued by a public officer in custody thereof, are admissible as the best evidence of their contents, as provided for under Section 7 of Rule 130 of the Rules of Court.

Respondent ATTY. ROGELIO JUAN A. CELERA exhibited a deplorable lack of that degree of morality required of him as a member of the Bar. He made a mockery of marriage, a sacred institution demanding respect and dignity. His act of contracting a second marriage while his first marriage is subsisting constituted grossly immoral conduct and are grounds for disbarment under Section 27, Rule 138 of the Revised Rules of Court.

Aside from engaging in Bigamy, Atty. Celera also showed a defiant stance against the Supreme Court as demonstrated by his repetitive disregard of its Resolution requiring him to file his comment on the complaint. Because of such defiance, the case dragged on since 2002.

In the span of more than 10 years, the High Court issued numerous directives for respondent's compliance, but respondent seemed to have preselected only those he will take notice of and the rest he will just ignore. The Court issued several resolutions directing respondent to comment on the complaint against him, yet, up until the day of the promulgation of this case, he had not submitted any answer thereto. He claimed to have not received a copy of the complaint, thus, his failure to comment on the complaint against him. Ironically, however, whenever it is a show cause order, none of them have escaped respondent's attention. Even assuming that indeed the copies of the complaint had not reached him, he cannot, however, feign ignorance that there is a complaint against him that is pending before this Court which he could have easily obtained a copy had he wanted to.

The Supreme Court was very tolerant in dealing with respondent's nonchalant attitude towards this case; accommodating respondent's endless requests, manifestations and prayers to be given a copy of the complaint. The Court, as well as Bansig, as evidenced by numerous affidavits of service, have relentlessly tried to reach respondent for more than a decade; sending copies of the Court's Resolutions and complaint to different locations - both office and residential addresses of respondent. However, despite earnest efforts of the Court to reach respondent, the latter, however conveniently offers a mere excuse of failure to receive the complaint. When said excuse seemed no longer feasible, respondent just disappeared. In a manner of speaking, respondent’s acts were deliberate, maneuvering the liberality of the Court in order to delay the disposition of the case and to evade the consequences of his actions. Ultimately, what is apparent is respondent’s deplorable disregard of the judicial process which this Court cannot countenance.
Clearly, respondent's acts constitute willful disobedience of the lawful orders of the Supreme Court, which under Section 27, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court is in itself alone a sufficient cause for suspension or disbarment. Respondent’s cavalier attitude in repeatedly ignoring the orders of the Supreme Court constitutes utter disrespect to the judicial institution. Respondent’s conduct indicates a high degree of irresponsibility. It has been repeatedly held that a Court’s Resolution is "not to be construed as a mere request, nor should it be complied with partially, inadequately, or selectively."

Respondent’s obstinate refusal to comply with the Court’s orders "not only betrays a recalcitrant flaw in his character; it also underscores his disrespect of the Court’s lawful orders which is only too deserving of reproof."

Section 27, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court provides:
Sec. 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 for the purpose of gain, either personally or through paid agents or brokers, constitutes malpractice.
Considering respondent's propensity to disregard not only the laws of the land but also the lawful orders of the Court, it only shows him to be wanting in moral character, honesty, probity and good demeanor. He is, thus, unworthy to continue as an officer of the court.

ADDITIONAL READINGS:

[1] In re Almacen, No. L-27654, February 18, 1970, 31 SCRA 562.
[2] Ferancullo v. Ferancullo, 538 Phil. 501, 511 (2006).
[3] Villatuya v. Tabalingcos, A.C. No. 6622, July 10, 2012, 676 SCRA 37.
[3] Sebastian v. Bajar, 559 Phil. 211, 224 (2007).

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