SECTION 17. Counsel de officio. – The IBP Board of Governors shall appoint a suitable member of the Integrated Bar as counsel de officio to assist the complainant or the respondent during the investigation in case of need for such assistance. (2023 Code of Professional Responsibility and Accountability or CPRA)
If assistance is needed for the complainant or the respondent during an investigation, a suitable IBP member may be appointed as counsel de officio by the IBP Board of Governors.
A counsel de oficio is expected to do his utmost. A mere pro-forma appointment of de oficio counsel who fails to genuinely protect the interests of the accused merits disapprobation. The exacting demands expected of a lawyer should be no less than stringent when one is a counsel de officio. He must take the case not as a burden but as an opportunity to assist in the proper dispensation of justice. No lawyer is to be excused from this responsibility except only for the most compelling and cogent reasons. (People v. Bermas, En Banc, G.R. No. 120420, April 21, 1999, Per Vitug, J.)
People v. Sevilleno, En Banc, G.R. No. 129058, March 29, 1999, Per Bellosillo, J.:
• We cannot right finis to this discussion without making known our displeasure over the manner by which the PAO lawyers dispensed with their duties. All three (3) of them displayed manifest disinterest on the plight of their client. They lacked vigor and dedication to their work. Atty. Agravante did not explain to the accused the nature of the crime of which he was charged and the consequences of his plea. Atty. Pabalinas, instead of assisting the accused, hastily left the courtroom after obtaining leave while the prosecution was presenting its three (3) witnesses. Resultingly, all three (3) witnesses were never cross-examined. On the other hand, Atty. Saldavia moved for the postponement of the scheduled hearings during which he was supposed to present evidence for the defense; worse, on the last scheduled hearing he submitted the case for decision without presenting evidence. In short, no evidence was ever presented for the defense. And, as if to compound his deficiency with ignorance, Atty. Saldavia relied on his client’s plea of guilt in the mistaken belief that it would modify and reduce to reclusion perpetua the imposable penalty of death.
• Canon 18 of [the old Code of Professional Responsibility] requires every lawyer to serve his client with utmost dedication, competence and diligence. He must not neglect a legal matter entrusted to him, and his negligence in this regard renders him administratively liable. Obviously, in the instant case, the aforenamed defense lawyers did not protect, much less uphold, the fundamental rights of the accused. Instead, they haphazardly performed their function as counsel de oficio to the detriment and prejudice of the accused Sevilleno, however guilty he might have been found to be after trial. Inevitably, this Court must advise Attys. Agravante, Pabalinas and Saldavia to adhere closely and faithfully to the tenets espoused in the Code of Professional Responsibility; otherwise, commission of any similar act in the future will be severely sanctioned.
In Re Adriano, En Banc, G.R. No. L-26868, February 27, 1959, Per Sanchez, J.:
• 1. By specific authority, this Court may assign an attorney to render professional aid to a destitute appellant in a criminal case who is unable to employ an attorney. Correspondingly, a duty is imposed upon the lawyer so assigned “to render the required service.” A lawyer so appointed “as counsel for an indigent prisoner”, our Canons of Professional Ethics demand, “should always exert his best efforts” in the indigent’s behalf.
• No excuse at all has been offered for non-presentation of appellant’s brief. And yet, between December 20, 1966, when he received notice of his appointment, and December 5, 1968, when the last show cause order was issued by this Court, more than sufficient time was afforded counsel to prepare and file his brief de oficio. The death sentence below imposed was upon a plea of guilty. The record of the proceedings leading to the lower court’s sentence consists of but 31 pages. Counsel had the record since January 19, 1967. In fact, in his third motion for extension of time, he manifested that the drafting of apellant’s brief “is more than half-way through” and that “additional time is needed to review, effectuate the necessary corrections, put in final form and print the said brief.” In his motion for fourth extension, he intimated that the preparation of the brief “is almost through” and that “additional time is needed to redraft and rehash some significant portions of said brief and have the same stencilled and mimeographed upon completion of a definitive text.” His motion for last (fifth) extension of time came with the excuse that he “suddenly got sick (influenza) in the course of redrafting and rehashing some significant portions of said brief, which ailment hampered and interrupted his work thereon for sometime.” Finally, in his “Special Extension of Time” to file brief, he claimed that he needed only five days from April 21, 1967 to put said brief in final form and have the same stencilled and mimeographed.
• In the face of the fact that no brief has ever been filed, counsel’s statements in his motions for extension have gone down to the level of empty and meaningless words; at best, have dubious claim to veracity.
• It is true that he is a court-appointed counsel. But we do say that as such counsel de oficio, he has as high a duty to the accused as one employed and paid by defendant himself. Because, as in the case of the latter, he must exercise his best efforts and professional ability in behalf of the person assigned to his care. His is to render effective assistance. The accused defendant expects of him due diligence, not mere perfunctory representation. We do not accept the paradox that responsibility is less where the defended party is poor. It has been said that courts should “have no hesitancy in demanding high standards of duty of attorneys appointed to defend indigent persons charged with crime.” 4 For, indeed, a lawyer who is a vanguard in the bastion of justice is expected to have a bigger dose of social conscience and a little less of self interest. Because of this, a lawyer should remain ever conscious of his duties to the indigent he defends.
• Worth remembering is the 1905 case of In the matter of Jose Robles Lahesa. He was counsel de oficio before the Supreme Court in two cases: one for robo en cuadrilla and the other for homicide. He failed to take any action in behalf of the defendants in both eases. This Court imposed upon him a fine of P200. Significant is the pronouncement we there made that: “This court should exact from its officers and subordinates the most scrupulous performance of their official duties, especially when negligence in the performance of those duties necessarily result in delays in the prosecution of criminal cases and the detention of accused persons pending appeal.” The validity of the foregoing observation remains to the present day. It applies to the present case.
• Here, appellant was without brief since December 20, 1966. The effect of this long delay need not be essayed. We, therefore, find that Attorney Lope E. Adriano has violated his oath that he will conduct himself as a lawyer according to the best of his “knowledge and discretion”.
• 2. An attorney’s duty of prime importance is “[t]o observe and maintain the respect due to the courts of justice and judicial officers. The first Canon of the Code of Ethics enjoins a lawyer “to maintain towards the Courts a respectful attitude, not for the sake of the temporary incumbent of the judicial office, but for the maintenance of its supreme importance.” By the oath of office, the lawyer undertook to “obey the laws as well as the legal orders of the duly constituted authorities.” In People vs. Carillo, 8 this Court’s pointed observation was that as an officer of the court, it is a lawyer’s “sworn and moral duty to help build and not destroy unnecessarily that high esteem and regard towards the courts so essential to the proper administration of justice.”
• Here, we have a clear case of an attorney whose acts exhibit willful dis-obedience of lawful orders of this Court. A cause sufficient is thus present for suspension or disbarment. Counsel has received no less than three resolutions of this Court requiring compliance of its orders. To be recalled is that on September 25, 1967, this Court directed him, in ten days from notice, to show cause why disciplinary action should not be taken against him for his failure to file appellant’s brief despite the lapse of the time therefor. Nothing was done by counsel for over a year. To impress upon counsel the gravity of his repeated failure to obey this Court’s orders, on October 3,1968, a fine of P500 was clamped upon him. He was directed to pay that fine in ten days. He was in that order also required to file his brief in fifteen days. He was warned that more drastic disciplinary action would be taken upon his failure to do either. Still he remained unmoved. Then, this Court issued the peremptory order of December 5, 1968 commanding him to show cause within ten days from notice thereof why he should not be suspended from the practice of law for gross misconduct and violation of his oath of office. The Court made it certain that this order would reach him. He personally acknowledged receipt thereof. He has not paid the fine. He has done nothing.
• This is 1969. No brief has as yet been filed. And this, inspite of the fact that as early as March 27, 1967, when he moved for a fourth extension of time to file his brief de oficio, he represented to this Court that all that was needed was to redraft and to rehash some significant portions of the brief which was almost through and to have the same stencilled and mimeographed upon completion of a definitive text.
• Disrespect is here present. Contumacy is as patent. Disciplinary action is in order.
• Controlling here is the 1961 decision In the Matter of Atty. Filoteo Dianala Jo. There, as here, counsel failed to file appellant’s brief (in a criminal case) despite extensions of time granted him by this Court. Likewise, this Court issued a show-cause order why disciplinary action should not be taken against him. The explanation was considered unsatisfactory. This Court imposed a fine of P50 payable in ten days from notice. Attorney Dianala Jo did not pay that fine. Came the subsequent resolution of this Court advising him to pay the fine, otherwise, he would be arrested and confined to jam. This warning was not heeded. On November 18, 1960, the Court resolved to give him ten days from notice within which to explain why he should not be suspended from the practice of law. Despite receipt of this notice, he did not care to explain his behaviour which this Court considered as “contumacy and unwillingness to comply with the lawful orders of this Court of which he is an officer or to conduct himself as a lawyer should, in violation of his oath of office.” He was suspended from the practice of law for three months.
• In the present case, counsel’s pattern of conduct, it would seem to us, reveals a propensity on the part of counsel to benumb appreciation of his obligation as counsel de oficio and of the courtesy and respect that should be accorded this Court.