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SC Disbars Former Bureau of Customs Director

By: Anthony Quindoy

The Supreme Court has ordered the disbarment of a lawyer who used his position as a Director of the Bureau of Customs in an elaborate scheme of pretending to sell a vehicle confiscated by the Bureau.

Atty. Jorge P. Monroy was found guilty of violating Canon II, Sections 1, 2, and 28 of the Code of Professional Responsibility and Accountability (CPRA) and was disbarred from the practice of law after he falsely represented that his position as Director III of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) – Financial Services has the specific authority to sell vehicles that have been seized by the agency. The Court ordered Monroy’s name stricken off the Roll of Attorneys. It also fined Monroy in the amount of PHP 20,000.00 for his disobedience to the orders of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP).

In July 2000, Monroy offered to sell to complainant Julieta L. Co for the amount of P1.4 million a Toyota Land Cruiser that was among the vehicles confiscated by the BOC. Monroy assured complainant that the transaction was legal and that official receipts will be issued. Complainant, having known Monroy since high school as a trusted family friend, became convinced to proceed with the purchase of the vehicle.

On July 18, 2000, complainant gave Monroy a check for P150,000, payable to cash. Three days after, Monroy informed complainant that the vehicle was ready for delivery. Complainant prepared a manager’s check for the balance of P1,250,000, but Monroy insisted on cash payment, which he personally received in his office. After waiting the whole day, complainant was told that one signatory from the Department of Finance (DOF) had yet to sign the documents for the vehicle’s release.

Complainant returned to Monroy’s office on July 24, 2000,but was told by Monroy that the signature of the DOF officer was still lacking. Complainant then went with Monroy’s personal staff member to the DOF, where complainant was informed that the documents were still in the office of an undersecretary.

Returning to Monroy’s office, Monroy admitted to complainant that the vehicle could no longer be released as someone ran off with the money. He then issued a receipt to guarantee the return of complainant’s money. However, despite complainant’s repeated demands for Monroy to return her money, the latter kept on avoiding her.

This prompted the complainant to file the instant administrative case for disbarment and two criminal cases against Monroy: one for violation of Section 3 (e) of Republic Act No. (RA) 3019, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and another one for estafa under the Revised Penal Code. The Sandiganbayan found Monroy guilty of both criminal charges. Monroy, however remained at-large despite the warrant for his arrest issued by the Sandiganbayan.

In disbarring Monroy for violating Canon II, Sections 1, 2, and 28 of the CPRA, the Court emphasized that membership in the Bar is a privilege burdened with continuing requirements. As such, the Court may suspend or even withdraw one’s practice of law once it is shown that the lawyer was not able to sustain the high degree of good moral character expected by the community from the members of the legal profession.

As regards Monroy’s conviction for estafa, a crime involving moral turpitude, the Court pointed out that for the same to serve as sufficient ground for disbarment, it must be shown that the conviction has already attained finality.

In this case, the Court noted that other than a copy of the Sandiganbayan Decision, complainant presented no other evidence to show that the judgment has become final. Thus, the Court cannot assume that Monroy’s conviction has attained finality.

Nonetheless, the Court found Monroy’s disbarment justified for his violation of the new CPRA’s parallel provisions in the then Code of Professional Responsibility, specifically Canon 1, Rule 1.01 and Canon 6, Rule 6.02.

Monroy was found to have committed a flagrant violation of Sections 1, 2, and 28 of Canon II of the CPRA when he deceived the complainant through an elaborate scheme of pretending to sell a Land Cruiser confiscated by the BOC.

The Court pointed out that Monroy used his position as a BOC Director to make it appear that the transaction was legitimate by falsely representing to complainant that his position in the BOC had the specific authority to sell vehicles seized by the agency. He carried out the transaction inside his office at the BOC and engaged the participation of his staff members to gain complainant’s trust. He then conveniently claimed that the P1.4 million paid by complainant for the vehicle was taken from his office, and refused to return the amount.

The Court ruled that the totality of evidence presented clearly proved that Monroy miserably failed to live up to the high moral standards required of members of the legal profession. 3 Furthermore, the Court held that Monroy’s blatant violation of the law, as shown by his conviction by the Sandiganbayan; his lack of remorse when complainant repeatedly begged him to return her money and his futile attempt to use an unknown employee of the BOC as a scapegoat all demonstrate his unfitness to continue in the practice of law.

Too, the Court took note of Monroy’s willful disregard and refusal to comply with the lawful orders of the IBP – Committee on Bar Discipline when the same required him to file an answer and brief, and to attend mandatory conferences in connection with the disbarment case against him. Thus, the Court affirmed the P20,000 penalty imposed on him by the IBP Board of Governors.

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