Ex-Leyte bokal Astorga disbarred for defrauding relative of P1.8M, ignoring SC orders to comment
The Supreme Court (SC) has disbarred former Leyte provincial board member Arturo Astorga for tricking his distant relative into giving P1.82 milion for a fraudulent land purchase and for ignoring numerous directives to comment on the ensuing complaint.
In a recent 13-page en banc decision, the SC found Astorga guilty of the administrative offenses of deceit, gross misconduct in office, violation of the Lawyer’s Oath and the Code of Professional Responsibility, and willful disobedience of the SC’s lawful orders.
The SC said its decision would come “without prejudice to any pending or contemplated proceedings to be initiated against respondent [Astorga].”
“Respondent has shown that he has a penchant for violating not only his oath as a lawyer and the Code, but orders from the Court as well… His reprehensible conduct has time and again brought embarrassment and dishonor to the legal profession,” read the per curiam decision.
The penalty arose from the compaint of Vidaylin Yamon-Leach, who alleged that Astorga enticed her into giving four payments from 2001 to 2002 to buy a beachfront property of Villaflora Un in Baybay City.
Her brother later learned from Un that she did not receive a single centavo and that the land covered by the deed given by Astorga did not belong to her and was not a beachfront property.
The two signatories in the deed given by Astorga also turned out to have died in 1994 and 1995. These discoveries prompted Yamon-Leach to confront Astorga, who apologized and promised several times to return the money.
In November 2002, Astorga wrote Yamon-Leach to say he could not fulfill his promise. This prompted her to seek the abogado’s disbarment.
The case dragged for more than a decade, as Astorga ignored the SC’s April 2, 2003 resolution requiring him to file his comment. On July 22, 2009, the SC ordered Astorga to pay a P1,000 fine and reiterated its directive.
On July 14, 2011, Astorga paid the fine and requested a 10-day extension to file his comment, which the SC granted. Still, he failed to comply.
Yamon-Leach actually asked the SC four times to consider Astorga’s comment waived and submit the case for resolution, and the SC admitted it “has been very tolerant” of the abogado’s failure by giving him numerous opportunities to be heard.
Making Astorga’s offenses worse was the fact that he had previously been found guilty and penalized in two administrative cases.
In a 2005 case, he was ordered to pay a P2,000 fine for using offensive language against the complainants in the pleadings he filed to defend himself in a misconduct case against him.
In a 2014 case, he was suspended for two years for selling his land even as it had been foreclosed twice, depriving the buyer of the enjoyment of the property. In the said case, he was also held liable for disregarding several orders by the SC to submit various pleadings.
The SC noted that a check of Astorga’s records with the Office of the Bar Confidant (OBC) showed nothing that indicated he had served his suspension.
Lastly, the SC noted that a copy of its latest resolution dated February 13, 2019 was returned unserved, although the words “RTS – No One to Receive – Addressee is sick due to his old age” were written on the envelope.
The SC said it was not willing to believe Astorga’s claim of poor health because of the lack of competent evidence and his “propensity of manipulating people and misrepresenting facts.”
The justices of the SC unanimously voted to disbar Astorga. Then-Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin, however, took no part in the case.