SC suspends lawyer for threatening Harry Roque

MANILA -- A lawyer has been suspended for two years from the practice of law by the Supreme Court (SC) for “underhanded tactics” against his opposing counsel, former Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, who filed the complaint 12 years ago.

In a seven-page decision dated December 4, 2018 penned by Associate Justice Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe and made available late Wednesday, the SC found lawyer Rizal P. Balbin guilty of violating the Code of Professional Responsibility (CPR).

The SC also gave Balbin a stern warning that a repetition of the same or similar acts would be dealt with more severely aside from the suspension.

Roque, in his complaint, claimed that after he had secured a judgment against Balbin’s client, the latter made various telephone calls and sent text messages and electronic mails not just to him, but also to his friends and other clients, threatening to file disbarment and criminal cases against him.

He further claimed that in view of his “high profile status,” Balbin also threatened to publicize such suits to besmirch him.

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) found Balbin liable and recommended that he be suspended from the practice of law for one year with a warning.

The SC gave weight to the IBP Investigating Commissioner’s findings but increased the recommended penalty to two years suspension from the practice of law.

The tribunal underscored that lawyers' ethical code requires that “lawyers should treat their opposing counsels and other lawyers with courtesy, dignity, and civility.”

The SC said Balbin’s acts of threatening Roque with the filing of baseless administrative and criminal complaints violated Canon 19 and Rule 19.01 of the CPR, which provided that lawyers should not threaten to file or file baseless suits as leverage against their adversaries.

The Court also held that Balbin’s administrative liability was aggravated when he moved for extension of time to file comment to Roque’s complaint but did not file the same, prompting the Court to repeatedly fine him and order his arrest.

It also stressed that “(s)uch audacity” not only caused undue delay in the resolution of the administrative case but was in violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility mandating respect for the courts and compliance with judicial orders, among others. (PNA)

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