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Don’t mess with a lawyer

Attorney Becca knew Remy for more than 25 years, the latter being the niece of her long-time neighbor. During this period, Atty. Becca and her children established a close relationship with Remy to the point that they treated her as a member of their family. Soon, Atty. Becca hired Remy to work in her office as legal secretary and liaison officer. One of Remy’s tasks as liaison officer was to process the transfer of titles of Atty. Becca’s clients.

In the course of her employment, Atty. Becca noticed that the completion of the transfer of titles was taking longer than usual. Upon inquiry, Remy attributed the delay to the cumbersome procedure of transferring titles, as well as to the fact that the personnel processing the documents could not be bribed. Atty. Becca took Remy’s word for it. Things took a bad turn when Remy abandoned her job.

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Atty. Becca reviewed Remy’s unfinished work, she discovered that the latter betrayed her trust and confidence on several occasions by stealing sums of money entrusted to her as payment for capital gains tax, documentary stamp tax, transfer tax and other expenses intended for the transfer of the titles of properties from their previous owners to Atty. Becca’s clients.

Remy admitted that she used to be the legal secretary and liaison officer of Atty. Becca. She admitted that, as liaison officer, she attended to the transfer of titles of said Atty. Becca’s clients. She further admitted that she was given money to pay the capital gains tax at the BIR. When confronted with the charges filed against her, Remy merely denied the allegations.

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Q: What are the elements of qualified theft?

A: The elements of the crime of Theft as provided for in Article 308 of the Revised Penal Code are: (1) there was taking of personal property; (2) the property belongs to another; (3) the taking was done with intent to gain; (4) the taking was without the consent of the owner; and (5) the taking was accomplished without the use of violence against or intimidation of persons or force upon things.”

Q: Is Remy guilty of qualified theft?

A: Yes. While it is true that there is no direct evidence to prove Remy’s taking of the questioned amount, the absence of direct evidence proving Remy’s stealing and carrying away of the alleged moneys for the payment of transfer taxes and fees from Atty. Becca would not matter as long as there is enough circumstantial evidence that would establish such element of “taking.” After all, the Rules on Evidence provide that an accused may be convicted on the basis of circumstantial evidence if more than one circumstance is involved, the facts of which, inferring said circumstances have been proven, and provided that the combination of all such circumstances would suffice to produce a conviction beyond reasonable doubt.

Q: What are the pieces of circumstantial evidence establishing Remy’s guilt?

A: These are (a) Remy was the legal secretary and liaison officer of private complainant during the period in question.

She was the only person working for the private complainant during said period; (b) as legal secretary and liaison officer, Remy was tasked to process land titles of Atty. Becca’s clients. Her duties included the payment of taxes (documentary stamp taxes, capital gains taxes, transfer tax for the transfer of title from previous owners to new owners/buyers of the property; (c) Because of the nature of her work and the trust reposed in her by Atty. Becca, the latter confidently gave her considerable amounts of cash without need of receipts. Remy even admitted that she often received money from Atty. Becca for payment of capital gains and transfer taxes; (d) There were also instances when Remy was authorized by Atty. Becca to collect money from her clients especially when Remy ran out of money needed in the processing of titles; (e) Remy was given a free hand in liquidating her expenses in her own handwriting; (f) Upon verification from banks and government agencies with which Remy transacted in relation to her tasks, Atty. Beca discovered that what Remy submitted were handwritten “padded” liquidation statements because her reported expenses turned out to be higher than what she actually spent; and worse, the “official” receipts she submitted to Atty. Becca were fake; (g) Remy did not specifically deny her submitting altered or fake receipts in liquidating her expenses for said taxes; and (h) conceding her guilt, Remy suddenly disappeared leaving some of her tasks, unfinished.

These pieces of circumstantial evidence constitute an unbroken chain leading to a fair and reasonable conclusion that Remy took sums of money that were entrusted to her by said counsel.

Q: When can circumstantial evidence sustain a conviction?

A: Circumstantial evidence may prove the guilt of the accused and “justify a conviction if the following requisites concur: (a) there is more than one circumstance; (b) the facts from which the inferences are derived are proven; and (c) the combination of all the circumstances is such as to produce a conviction beyond reasonable doubt.” In other words, “for circumstantial evidence to be sufficient to support conviction, all circumstances must be consistent with each other, consistent with the hypothesis that the accused is guilty and at the same time inconsistent with the hypothesis that he is innocent, and with every other rational hypothesis except that of guilt.”

(Source: People vs. Tanchanco, G.R. No. 177761, April 18, 2012)

Ma. Soledad Deriquito-Mawis Dean, College of Law, Lyceum of the Philippines University; Board of Trustees, Philippine Association of Law Schools; Founder, Mawis Law Office

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