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SC clears Bacolod mayor in disbarment case

Local government officials who are also Local government officials who are also lawyers cannot be subject to disbarment proceedings for acts as local chief executives under the Local Government Code, such as issuance of executive orders based on their councils’ resolutions, or approving or rejecting ordinances, according to the Supreme Court.lawyers cannot be subject to disbarment proceedings for acts as local chief executives under the Local Government Code, such as issuance of executive orders based on their councils’ resolutions, or approving or rejecting ordinances, according to the Supreme Court.

The high court made the ruling as it dismissed the disbarment complaint filed against Bacolod City Mayor and lawyer Evelio R. Leonardia, who served as city mayor from 2004 to 2013. He was elected city mayor anew in 2016 and 2019.

“Wherefore, the petition for disbarment filed by Sarah Teresa S. Esguerra against Atty. Evelio R. Leonardia is hereby dismissed,” the SC declared.

In a resolution promulgated last month, the high court ruled that Leonardia cannot be held liable for issuing an EO declaring June 18 as anniversary of the law that created Bacolod City instead of October 19, the commemoration of the city’s formal organization.

“Atty. Leonardia was acting in accordance with Resolution No. 439 previously issued by the Sangguniang Panglungsod (SP) of Bacolod City in 2008, which commemorated the 70th year since Bacolod City became a city on June 18, 1938 pursuant to Commonwealth Act No. 326,” the SC stressed.

“The ground cited in the instant petition for disbarment mainly rested on the controversy regarding the date of the Charter Day of Bacolod City. It is not enough justification for the imposition of any disciplinary action on Atty. Leonardia since… he was acting as City Mayor imbued with Local Chief Executive powers and not as a lawyer,” the tribunal said.

Besides, the SC pointed out that the complained acts did not amount to a violation of Canon 1 of the Code of Professional Responsibility (CPR) or the Lawyer’s Oath.

Canon 1 of CPR provides that “a lawyer shall uphold the Constitution, obey the laws of the land, and promote respect for law and legal processes.”

On April 25, 2011, Leonardia, as city mayor, issued EO No. 15-A, which provided that Bacolod City will celebrate its 73rd Charter Day on June 18, 2011.

On May 8, 2012, City Ordinance No. 588 was passed, mandating the celebration of Bacolod City’s Charter Day on June 18 and every year thereafter.

Bacolod City’s council then asked the Office of the President (OP) to declare June 18 as a special non-working day. The OP, however, denied the request, stating that “although CA 326 was signed into law on June 18, 1938, Republic Act (RA) No, 7724 specifically provided that the Charter Day anniversary of Bacolod City should be celebrated every October 19 of each year.”

RA 7724 was enacted in 1994 as “An Act Declaring October 19 of Every Year a Special Non-working Public Holiday in the City of Bacolod to be Known as ‘Bacolod City Charter Day.’”

Even the National Historical Commission declared that for the first 72 years of its existence, Bacolod City has been celebrating its Charter Day every October 19.

A certain Sarah Teresa S. Esguerra filed a disbarment complaint against Leonardia, alleging that the mayor, as a lawyer, violated the CPR. She claimed that Leonardia attempted to amend RA 7724 when the mayor issued EO No. 15-A.

Leonardia denied that violated the CPR when he issued the EO since he was not practicing his profession as a lawyer but acting in his capacity as city mayor.

In 2016, the complaint against Leonardia was referred by the SC to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) for investigation. While the IBP was conducting its probe, Leonardia filed a complaint for unjust vexation against Esguerra. The Bacolod City municipal trial court dismissed the complaint on Nov. 15, 2016.

IBP’s investigating commissioner recommended the suspension of Leonardia for three months. But on Feb. 22, 2018, the IBP Board of Governors (IBP-BOG) reversed the recommendation and resolved to dismiss the complaint with a ruling that “Atty. Leonardia acted in his capacity as mayor and not as a lawyer, and that his actions were done in support of the ordinance passed by the SP of Bacolod City.”

The IBP-BOG also declared that Leonardia’s issuance of EO 15-A and his discretion to sustain a resolution or an ordinance are within his powers as local chief executive under the Local Government Code.

The SC upheld the resolution of the IBP-BOG.

Topics: Sarah Teresa S. Esguerra , Evelio R. Leonardia , Integrated Bar of the Philippines , Supreme Court , Bacolod City
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