Holding a notary public liable for gross neglect

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Persida Acosta

Dear PAO,
My neighbor friend’s father is a notary public. He leaves his notarial job to a secretary. Recently, my friend disclosed to me that her father is being held administratively liable for not properly ascertaining the identity of affiants in an affidavit he notarized because what were asked were mere Community Tax Certificates (CTCs). My friend said her father denied the signatures in the affidavit, but she was surprised that the clerk of court said that the document was authentic based on their records. I remember that before, we were only asked to present CTCs. Why is it no longer sufficient? Her father also denied the signatures.Can he still be made liable?
Sincerely yours,
Akeelah

Dear Akeelah,
The case of Orlando S. Castelo, et al. vs. Atty. Ronald C. Ching (A.C. No. 11165, February 6, 2017) is similar to the situation you presented. To Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, who penned the decision, “[a]notarized document is entitled to full faith and credit upon its face. Thus, a notary public should observe utmost care in performing his duties to preserve public confidence in the integrity of notarized documents.”

In this case, the lawyer, just like your friend’s father, has similar defenses. Other than the fact that he only sought CTCs to evidence identity, which is no longer acceptable under the 2004 Notarial Rules (A.M. No. 02-8-13-SC), he was also able to notarize documents having actually dead persons as parties.
Under the Notarial Rules:

“SEC. 12. Competent Evidence of Identity. – The phrase “competent evidence of identity” refers to the identification of an individual based on:


at least one current identification document issued by an official agency bearing the photograph and signature of the individual; or the oath or affirmation of one credible witness not privy to the instrument, document or transaction who is personally known to the notary public and who personally knows the individual, or of two credible witnesses neither of whom is privy to the instrument, document or transaction who each personally knows the individual and shows to the notary public documentary identification.”

Clearly none of which allowed by the rules can the CTC still be found.

Moreover, as observed by the court in the case of Castello vs. Atty. Ching:

“While there may be reasons to give Atty. Ching the benefit of the doubt as to who signed the deed, the court does not and cannot lose sight of the fact that Atty. Ching still failed in ensuring that only documents which he had personally signed and sealed with his notarial seal, after satisfying himself with the completeness of the same and the identities of the parties who affixed their signatures therein, would be included in his notarial register. This also means that Atty. Ching failed to properly store and secure his notarial equipment in order to prevent other people from notarizing documents by forging his signature and affixing his notarial seal, and recording such documents in his notarial books, without his knowledge and consent. This is gross negligence.” [Emphasis supplied]

Considering that the clerk of court confirmed the existence and validity of the affidavit as found in the records of your friend’s father, you cannot lose sight of the fact that her father committed gross neglect and may be held administratively liable for the same.

As a fair warning, the Supreme Court cautioned:

“As a final note, this case should serve as a reminder for notaries public, as well as for lawyers who are applying for a commission, that the duty to public service and to the administration of public justice is the primary consideration in the practice of law. This duty to public service is made more important when a lawyer is commissioned as a notary public. Like the duty to defend a client’s cause within the bounds of law, a notary public has the additional duty to preserve public trust and confidence in his office by observing extra care and diligence in ensuring the integrity of every document that comes under his notarial seal, and seeing to it that only documents that he personally inspected and whose signatories he personally identified are recorded in his notarial books. In addition, notaries public should properly secure the equipment they use in performing notarial acts, in order for them not to fall into the wrong hands, and be used in acts that would undermine the public’s trust and confidence in the office of the notary public” [Emphasis supplied, citations omitted.]
Verily, your friend’s father may accordingly be held liable for his omissions.

Again, we find it necessary to mention that this opinion is solely based on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. The opinion may vary when the facts are changed or elaborated.

We hope that we were able to enlighten you on the matter.

Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to dearpao@manilatimes.net

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