Supreme Court ruling: ‘Frailties of a woman’ not a defense against disbarment

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Atty. Dodo Dulay

Atty. Dodo Dulay

LEST we be misunderstood, we are using the term “frailties of a woman” loosely to refer to the different excuses given by a woman for cavorting with a married man. But, however it is used, the line made infamous by former Justice Secretary and now Senator Leila de Lima might not be able to absolve her of wrongdoing, at least insofar as the Supreme Court is concerned.

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In an interview with Winnie Monsod on “BawalangPasaway kay Mareng Winnie” on GMA television a few weeks ago, De Lima finally confirmed the rumor that she had an affair with her erstwhile driver and bodyguard Ronnie Dayan for “a few years.” Seven, Dayan said.

Dayan says De Lima already knew he was married when they began their relationship while he was working at the latter’s law office in 2007. But De Lima argued that Dayan was already separated from his wife when they had an affair.

After her confession raised a hailstorm, De Lima called on her detractors to “respect [her]right to privacy over [her]personal life and not impute any more malice.” However, in contrast to her recent public pronouncements about wanting to keep her private affairs private, De Lima wasn’t at all embarrassed at publicly flaunting her relationship with a married man.

According to the elder sister of Dayan, Elmita Dayan-Torreta,all their relatives were aware of the love affair. In fact, Dayan and De Lima frequently visited the former’s relatives and were always present during weddings, baptisms and children’s parties. The senator reportedly even paid for the band during the barangay fiesta and was seen dancing with Dayan. The lovebirds even went around the public market of Urbiztondo, Pangasinan to buy vegetables, meat and fish.

In fact, Dayan admitted that his former boss and lover De Lima gave him P2million to partly finance the construction of his Urbiztondo residence, which his neighbors call the “white house.” The title to the house and lot, however, is in the name ofTorreta, who initially claimed ownership of the property. De Lima confirmed giving “financial assistance” to Dayan but denied that it reached millions.

On account of her “frailties,” De Lima now faces a disbarment case before the Supreme Court, accused of gross immorality and violation of the Lawyer’s Oath and the Code of Professional Responsibility. Based on the high court’s ruling in a 2010 case, the prognosis doesn’t look too good for De Lima.

There, the Supreme Court meted the ultimate penalty of disbarment on a female lawyer who knowingly cavorted with a married man.

The facts: Angel married Constancia but left her afterwards to pursue his law studies. Meanwhile, misrepresenting himself as a bachelor, Angel married Maelotisea, with whom he eventually had six children. Because of financial problems, Angel became close to Ramona, also an aspiring lawyer, to whom he confided his difficulties. When Constancia died, Angel married (a third time) Ramona in Hong Kong, and they had a daughter. Angel and Ramona later became lawyers.

But due to Angel’s failure to support his children with Maelotisea, the latter filed a disbarment case against him and Ramona.

In her defense, Ramona argued that Maelotisea was not the legal wife of Angel since their marriage was void due to the existing marriage of Angel and Constancia. Ramona also claimed that Maelotisea knew of the romantic relationship between herself and Angel but that Maelotisea kept silent because she was helping Angel build a house for his second family (with Maelotisea).

In a per curiam decision, the Supreme Court declared: “The contention of respondent [Ramona] that they were not yet lawyers…when they got married shall not afford them exemption from sanctions…There is no distinction whether the misconduct was committed in the lawyer’s professional capacity or in his private life.”

“Under the circumstances, we cannot overlook that prior to becoming a lawyer, [Ramona] already knew that [Angel] was a married man (either to Constancia or to Maelotisea), and that he already had a family. As [Angel’s] admitted confidante, she was under the moral duty to give him proper advice; instead, she entered into a romantic relationship with him for about six years during the subsistence of his two marriages.”

“These circumstances, to our mind, support the conclusion that she lacked good moral character; even without being a lawyer, a person possessed of high moral values, whose confidential advice was sought by another with respect to the latter’s family problems, would not aggravate the situation by entering into a romantic liaison with the person seeking advice, thereby effectively alienating the other person’s feelings and affection from his wife and family.”

“While [Ramona] contends that [Angel’s] marriage with Maelotisea was null and void, the fact remains that he took a man away from a woman who bore him six children. Ordinary decency would have required her to ward off [Angel’s] advances, as he was a married man, in fact a twice-married man with both marriages subsisting at that time; she should have said no to [Angel] from the very start. Instead, she continued her liaison with [Angel], driving him, upon the death of Constancia, away from legitimizing his relationship with Maelotisea and their children…This scenario smacks of immorality even if viewed outside of the prism of law.”

“Measured against the definition of gross immorality, we find [Ramona’s] actions grossly immoral. Her actions were so corrupt as to approximate a criminal act, for she married a man who, in all appearances, was married to another and with whom he has a family. Her actions were also unprincipled and reprehensible to a high degree; as the confidante of [Angel], she preyed on his vulnerability and engaged in a romantic relationship with him during the subsistence of his two previous marriages.”

“[Ramona’s] conduct could not but be scandalous and revolting to the point of shocking the community’s sense of decency; while she professed to be the lawfully wedded wife, she helped the second family build a house prior to her marriage to [Angel], and did not object to sharing her husband with the woman of his second marriage.”

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