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Legal ethics as defined by a renowned legal luminary, Macolm, is
that branch of moral science which treats of the duties which an attorney
owes to the court, to his client, to his colleagues in the profession to the
public. It is with this backdrop that the Code of Professional Responsibility
was promulgated by the Supreme Court in 1988 to serve as a judicial
command to lawyers in the performance of their profession. It should be
borne in mind, however, that every dilemma that a lawyer finds himself in
should be considered in the light of the factual milieu of each case. Thus the
Code is purely a general guide that addresses issues that center on the
lawyer and his interaction with his client, the courts, and society as a whole.

In discussing however the prevalent problems in the practice of

law based on the list of cases assigned to us, there are about three doctrinal
pronouncements and certain problem areas in legal ethics, namely, conflict
of duties, conflict of interest, gross immoral conduct, citizenship and

It is however, important to note that the practice of law is a

privilege granted only to those who possess the strict intellectual and moral
qualifications required of lawyers who are instruments in the effective and
efficient administration of justice. It is the sworn duty of this Court not only
to weed out lawyers who have become a disgrace to the noble profession
of the law but, also of equal importance, to prevent misfits from taking
the lawyer's oath, thereby further tarnishing the public image of lawyers
which in recent years has undoubtedly become less than irreproachable.

It has then become one of the problem areas in the legal

practice as to who can lawfully practice law. The law provides several
qualifications or basic requirement for the admission to the Bar but among
the controversial would be the citizenship requirement and possession of
good moral character.

As to the citizenship requirement, unfortunately, several persons

already had the dilemma of passing the Bar but was deprived to be a
member of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and from taking oath since
he was not considered to be a Philippine citizen. Under Article IV, Section
1(3) of the 1935 Constitution, the citizenship of a legitimate child born of a
Filipino mother and an alien father followed the citizenship of the father,
unless, upon reaching the age of majority, the child elected Philippine
citizenship. This right to elect Philippine citizenship was recognized in the
1973 Constitution when it provided that "(t)hose who elect Philippine
citizenship pursuant to the provisions of the Constitution of nineteen
hundred and thirty-five" are citizens of the Philippines. Likewise, this
recognition by the 1973 Constitution was carried over to the 1987
Constitution which states that "(t)hose born before January 17, 1973 of
Filipino mothers, who elect Philippine citizenship upon reaching the age of
majority" are Philippine citizens.

C.A. No. 625 which was enacted pursuant to Section 1(3), Article
IV of the 1935 Constitution, prescribes the procedure that should be followed
in order to make a valid election of Philippine citizenship. Under Section 1
thereof, legitimate children born of Filipino mothers may elect Philippine
citizenship by expressing such intention "in a statement to be signed and
sworn to by the party concerned before any officer authorized to administer
oaths, and shall be filed with the nearest civil registry. The said party shall
accompany the aforesaid statement with the oath of allegiance to the
Constitution and the Government of the Philippines."

An example would be the case of Vicente D. Ching who wasn't

allowed to take the lawyers oath because he belatedly elected his Philippine
citizenship beyond the allowable period of three years. It is provided that
Philippine citizenship can never be treated like a commodity that can be
claimed when needed and suppressed when convenient. One who is
privileged to elect Philippine citizenship has only an inchoate right to such
citizenship. As such, he should avail of the right with fervor, enthusiasm and
promptitude. Sadly, in this case, Ching slept on his opportunity to elect
Philippine citizenship and, as a result. This golden privilege slipped away
from his grasp.

While as to the requirement of good moral conduct it is

elementary that a lawyer shall not engage in conduct that adversely reflects
on his fitness to practice law, nor should he, whether in public or private life,
behave in a scandalous manner to the discredit of the legal profession. Thus,
good moral character is not only a condition precedent to the practice of law,
but a continuing qualification for all members of the bar. Hence, when a
lawyer is found guilty of gross immoral conduct, he may be suspended or
disbarred. In fact several Filipino lawyers have already been suspended from
office others ever disbarred due to want of moral character.
As enunciated in the case of Tapucar vs. Tapucar, the Court
often reminds members of the Bar, they must live up to the standards and
norms expected of the legal profession, by upholding the ideals and tenets
embodied in the Code of Professional Responsibility always. Lawyers must
maintain a high standards of legal proficiency, as well as morality including
honesty, integrity and fair dealing. For they are at all times subject to the
scrutinizing eye of public opinion and community approbation. Needless to
state, those whose conduct both public and private fails this scrutiny would
have to be disciplined and, after appropriate proceedings, penalized

Keeping a mistress, entering into another marriage while a prior

one still subsists, as well as abandoning and/or mistreating complainant and
their children, show his disregard of family obligations, morality and
decency, the law and the lawyers oath. Such gross misbehavior over a long
period of time clearly shows a serious flaw in respondents character, his
moral indifference to scandal in the community, and his outright defiance of
established norms. All these could not but put the legal profession in
disrepute and place the integrity of the administration of justice in peril,
hence the need for strict but appropriate disciplinary action.

Another example would be the case of Garrido vs. Garrido

wherein the Court had resolved to withdraw the privilege of being a member
in the bar from Atty. Angel E. Garrido and Atty. Rowena P. Valencia for the
reason of their blatant violation of Canon 1,Rule 1.01 of the Code of
Professional Responsibility, which commands that a lawyer shall not engage
in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct. Furthermore, the
contention of respondent that they were not yet lawyers when they got
married shall not afford them exemption from sanctions; good moral
character was already required as a condition precedent to admission to the
Bar. As a lawyer, a person whom the community looked up to, Atty. Garrido
and Valencia were shouldered with the expectation that they would set a
good example in promoting obedience to the Constitution and the laws.
When they violated the law and distorted it to cater to his own personal
needs and selfish motives, not only did their actions discredit the legal
profession. Such actions by themselves, without even including the fact of
Garridos abandonment of paternal responsibility, to the detriment of his
children by the petitioner; or the fact that Valencia married Garrido despite
knowing of his other marriages to two other women including the petitioner,
are clear indications of a lack of moral values not consistent with the proper
conduct of practicing lawyers within the country. As such, their disbarment
was affirmed.

Another issue would be the conflicts of duties which have given rise to
a number of legal and disciplinary actions. It is an area that is commonly
identified by lawyers as a problem in legal practice. It is provided by law that
lawyer has a fiduciary duty to his or her client. That duty carries with it two
presently relevant responsibilities. The first is the obligation to avoid any
conflict between his duty to his client and his own interests for it is provided
by law that he must not make a profit or secure a benefit, at the expense of
his client's expense. Knowing that lawyering is not a trade or business, it is a
noble profession whose duty includes upholding the Constitution and
obeying the laws of the land. However, it is of no secret that like other
professions, it is also a means of livelihood to many members of the bar. It is
this so-called conflict between duty and occupation that brings an endless
balancing of interests of an honorable lawyer and a clever entrepreneur. The
second arises when he endeavors to serve two clients and requires the full
disclosure to both.

An example of the first scenario would be the case of Lemoine v.

Balon wherein the petitioner, is a French national who filed an insurance
claim with Metropolitan Insurance. And his friend, Jesus Garcia, arranged for
the engagement of Atty. Balons services as his counsel. And Balon advised
Lemoine that he was charging 25% of the actual amount to being recovered
payable upon successful recovery. Lemoine never gave his consent as to the
fee. However, when Balon received a check payable to Lemoine, he
acknowledge that he is in possession of the check and that he is keeping the
check as attorneys lien pending Lemoines payment of his attorneys fee
equivalent to 50% of the entire amount collected. He also threatened
Lemoine that he will not hesitate to make proper representation with the
Bureau of Immigration and Deportation, DOLE and BIR if Lemoine will make
any trouble to Balon and that he has good network with the mentioned
agencies. However, the court ruled that Atty. Balon had violated Canons 1,
15, 16, 17, 18 and 21. Specifically, Canon 16 which provides that a lawyer
shall hold in trust all moneys and properties of his client that may come into
his possession.
Balon violated this and committed misconduct, when he failed to render an
account upon receipt of the money and further, when he failed to deliver
such amount to Lemoine. It is also the duty of the lawyer to surrender such
money collected when demanded upon him. Balon violated this duty when
he refuses to return the amount to Lemoine contending that he has a lien on
the fund.

The lawyers continuing exercise of his retaining lien, as

provided for in Rule 16.03, presupposes that the client agrees with the
amount of attorneys fees to be charged. In case of disagreement, however,
the lawyer must not arbitrarily apply the funds in his possession to the
payment of his fees, but rather he can file the necessary action with the
proper court to fix the fees. And in the present case, Lemoine never gave his
consent on the proposal of Balon. It must be noted as well that before
receiving the check, Balon proposes a 25% attorneys fees, after receiving
the check, he was already asking for 50%. The Supreme court found Balon
guilty of malpractice, deceit, and gross misconduct, and ordered disbarred.

And finally, the issue of whether a non-lawyer is lawfully allowed

to represent himself in court. The general rule would be yes, in all levels of
court. It is provided by law that if a party believes he can defend himself,
that he can maintain his litigation and appear before the Supreme Court,
that is his business. There are however exceptions to this general rule. The
first is if the party is a juridical person. Naturally he has to be represented by
a lawyer. Another is if the non-lawyer accused is charged with an offense
which carries an afflictive penalty, he has to be represented either by a
counsel de parte or counsel de oficio. That is what happened in the case of
Ferdinand Cruz vs. Judge Priscilla Mijares wherein Petitioner Cruz sought
permission to enter his appearance for and on his behalf, before the RTC in a
civil case for Abatement of Nuisance. Petitioner, a fourth year law student,
anchors his claim on Section 34 of Rule 138 of the Rules of Court that a non-
lawyer may appear before any court and conduct his litigation personally.
However, Judge Mijares denied the motion with finality. In the same Order,
the trial court held that for the failure of petitioner Cruz to submit the
promised document and jurisprudence, and for his failure to satisfy the
requirements or conditions under Rule 138A of the Rules of Court, his
appearance was denied.
However, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the petitioner that
Sec. 34 or Rule 138 recognizes the right of an individual to represent himself
in any case to which he is a party. The Rules state that a party may conduct
his litigation personally or with the aid of an attorney, and that his
appearance must either be personal or by a duly authorized member of the
Bar. The individual litigant may personally do everything in the course of
proceedings from commencement to the termination of the litigation.
Considering that a party personally conducting his litigation is restricted to
the same rules of evidence and procedure as those qualified to practice law,
petitioner, not being a lawyer himself, runs the risk of falling into the snares
and hazards of his own ignorance. Therefore, Cruz as plaintiff, at his own
instance, can personally conduct the litigation. He would then be acting not
as a counsel or lawyer, but as a party exercising his right to represent