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Dignified government service, C2S28 CPRA

Section 28, Canon II

SECTION 28. Dignified government service. – Lawyers in government service shall observe the standard of conduct under the CPRA, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, and other related laws and issuances in the performance of their duties.
Any violation of the CPRA by lawyers in government service shall be subject to disciplinary action, separate and distinct from liability under pertinent laws or rules. (2023 Code of Professional Responsibility and Accountability or CPRA)

1. Dignified government service

a. Observe various standard of conduct

Lawyers in government service are required to observe the standard of conduct under the following:

1) 2023 Code of Professional Responsibility and Accountability or CPRA,

2) Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, and

3) Other related laws and issuances in the performance of their duties.

1) CPRA violations

Government lawyers who violate CPRA may also be liable for disciplinary action for other liability under pertinent laws or rules, as liability under CPRA is separate and distinct from the other liabilities.

2) Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees

A member of the Bar who assumes public office does not shed his professional obligations. Hence, the Code of Professional Responsibility, promulgated on June 21, 1988 [now Code of Professional Responsibility and Accountability], was not meant to govern the conduct of private practitioners alone, but of all lawyers including those in government service… Lawyers in government are public servants who owe the utmost fidelity to the public service. Thus, they should be more sensitive in the performance of their professional obligations, as their conduct is subject to the ever-constant scrutiny of the public. (Vitriolo v. Dasig, En Banc, A.C. No. 4984, April 1, 2003, Per Curiam)

b. SC as disciplining authority

1) Constitutional mandate

Guevarra-Castil v. Trinidad, En Banc, A.C. No. 10294, July 12, 2022, Per Curiam:

• Despite the foregoing, the Court has nevertheless refused to shirk away from its constitutional mandate to regulate the admission to, and the practice of law, which necessarily includes the authority to discipline, suspend, or even disbar misbehaving members of the legal profession, whenever proper and called for. Indeed, “if the government official’s misconduct is of such character as to affect his [or her] qualification as a lawyer[,] or to show moral delinquency, he [or she] may be disciplined as a member of the bar on such ground.”

• This mandate is enjoined no less by the 1987 Constitution, specifically Article VIII, Section 5, paragraph (5), which states:

SECTION 5. The Supreme Court shall have the following powers:

x x x x

(5) Promulgate rules concerning the protection and enforcement of constitutional rights, pleading, practice, and procedure in all courts, the admission to the practice of law, the integrated Bar, and legal assistance to the underprivileged. Such rules shall provide a simple and inexpensive procedure for the speedy disposition of cases, shall be uniform for all courts of the same grade, and shall not diminish, increase, or modify substantive rights. Rules of procedure of special courts and quasi-judicial bodies shall remain effective unless disapproved by the Supreme Court. (Emphasis supplied).

• Pursuant to this mandate, the Court has codified conditions before one may be admitted to the practice of law, as well as ethical conduct legal practitioners must always abide to. Foremost of these are Rule 138 (Attorneys and Admission to the Bar), and Rule 139-B (Disbarment and Discipline of Attorneys) of the Rules of Court, as well as the Lawyer’s Oath, and the CPR. Indeed, compliance with these issuances are so strictly enforced that our legal landscape is replete with cases stripping undeserving lawyers of their licenses to practice law.

2) Sui generis proceeding

Unlike regular civil and criminal cases, disbarment proceedings are sui generis in character, and are not meant to inflict criminal or civil sanctions. Instead, the main question to be resolved is whether the lawyer involved is still fit to continue to be an officer of the court in the dispensation of justice. (Guevarra-Castil v. Trinidad, En Banc, A.C. No. 10294, July 12, 2022, Per Curiam)

a) No invocation of forum shopping

[O]wing to the sui generis nature of a disbarment complaint as with impeachment, forum shopping can neither be invoked by a government lawyer against whom separate complaints have been filed. The Court emphasizes that it is not unaware of this unethical practice – which may be called effective forum shopping – whereby complainants weaponize the law and file, successively or simultaneously, multiple complaints against government lawyers: usually one before the IBP, and another before the concerned agency. (Guevarra-Castil v. Trinidad [2022], supra.)

While technically, there is no forum shopping as the reliefs commonly sought are different, such is a practice that should strongly be shunned for it serves no other purpose than to vex government lawyers. (Guevarra-Castil v. Trinidad [2022], supra.)

c. Rules in filing administrative cases against government lawyers

Guevarra-Castil v. Trinidad, En Banc, A.C. No. 10294, July 12, 2022, Per Curiam:

• [The following are the rules] in the filing and handling of complaints against government lawyers, to serve as guidelines for both the bench and the bar:

• 1. All complaints against and which seek to discipline government lawyers in their respective capacities as members of the Bar must be filed directly before this Court. Conversely, complaints which do not seek to discipline them as members of the Bar shall be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction and referred to the Ombudsman or concerned government agency for appropriate action.

• 2. In connection with paragraph 1, upon filing, the Court must determine whether the concerned agency, the Ombudsman, or the Court, has jurisdiction over the complaint against the government lawyer. In making such determination, the following must be considered: did the allegations of malfeasance touch upon the errant lawyer’s continuing obligations under the CPR and/or the Lawyer’s Oath? To put it more simply, the primordial question to be asked in making this determination is this: do the allegations in the complaint, assuming them to be true, make the lawyer unfit to practice the profession?

• 2a. If the question in paragraph 2 yields a positive answer, the case properly lies before the Court, which shall retain jurisdiction. This is so because again, the power to regulate the practice of law, and discipline members of the bar, belongs to Us. Necessarily, proceedings to be had before this Court should concern these and only these matters. This rule shall hold, even if the complaint also contains allegations of administrative and/or civil service rules infractions. In such situation however, the Court shall limit its ruling only to the matter of the respondent’s fitness as a lawyer.

• 2b. On the other hand, if the question in paragraph 2 yields a negative answer, the Court, for lack of jurisdiction, shall dismiss the case and refer the same to the appropriate government office or the Ombudsman.

• 3. If multiple complaints have been filed, the process shall be the same.

• In the event that paragraph 2b shall apply, and results in a situation where one or more complaint/s have been dismissed and referred to the appropriate government office or the Ombudsman, and one or more complaint/shave been retained by this Court, the cases shall proceed independently from one another.

• To reiterate, the fitness to be a lawyer is a continuing requirement, measured against the standards laid out in the Lawyer’s Oath and the CPR, and apply to all facets of their life, including private dealings. Needless to say, the same standards of honesty and fairness expected of a lawyer apply to all, whether privately or publicly employed. Accordingly, with such guidelines, the doctrine in Spouses Buffe and similar cases, which state that the Court has no jurisdiction to discipline, as member of the bar, government lawyers who committed acts or omissions involving their official duties, are thus abandoned.

d. Lawyer’s oath as source of obligation

The Attorney’s Oath is the source of the obligations and duties of every lawyer and any violation thereof is a ground for disbarment, suspension, or other disciplinary action. (Vitriolo v. Dasig, En Banc, A.C. No. 4984, April 1, 2003, Per Curiam)

Vitriolo v. Dasig, En Banc, A.C. No. 4984, April 1, 2003, Per Curiam:

• At the threshold is the query of whether respondent attorney-at-law, as Officer-in-Charge (OIC) of Legal Services, CHED, may be disciplined by this Court for her malfeasance, considering that her position, at the time of filing of the complaint, was “Chief Education Program Specialist, Standards Development Division, Office of Programs and Standards, CHED.”

• In this case, the record shows that the respondent, on various occasions, during her tenure as OIC, Legal Services, CHED, attempted to extort from Betty C. Mangohon, Rosalie B. Dela Torre, Rocella G. Eje, and Jacqueline N. Ng sums of money as consideration for her favorable action on their pending applications or requests before her office. The evidence remains unrefuted, given the respondent’s failure, despite the opportunities afforded her by this Court and the IBP Commission on Bar Discipline to comment on the charges. We find that respondent’s misconduct as a lawyer of the CHED is of such a character as to affect her qualification as a member of the Bar, for as a lawyer, she ought to have known that it was patently unethical and illegal for her to demand sums of money as consideration for the approval of applications and requests awaiting action by her office.

• The Attorney’s Oath is the source of the obligations and duties of every lawyer and any violation thereof is a ground for disbarment, suspension, or other disciplinary action. The Attorney’s Oath imposes upon every member of the bar the duty to delay no man for money or malice. Said duty is further stressed in Rule 1.03 of the [old Code of Professional Responsibility]. Respondent’s demands for sums of money to facilitate the processing of pending applications or requests before her office violates such duty, and runs afoul of the oath she took when admitted to the Bar. Such actions likewise run contrary to Rule 1.03 of the Code of Professional Responsibility.

• Respondent’s attempts to extort money from persons with applications or requests pending before her office are violative of Rule 1.0118 of the [old Code of Professional Responsibility], which prohibits members of the Bar from engaging or participating in any unlawful, dishonest, or deceitful acts. Moreover, said acts constitute a breach of Rule 6.0219 of the [old Code] which bars lawyers in government service from promoting their private interests. Promotion of private interests includes soliciting gifts or anything of monetary value in any transaction requiring the approval of his office or which may be affected by the functions of his office. Respondent’s conduct in office falls short of the integrity and good moral character required from all lawyers, specially from one occupying a high public office. For a lawyer in public office is expected not only to refrain from any act or omission which might tend to lessen the trust and confidence of the citizenry in government, she must also uphold the dignity of the legal profession at all times and observe a high standard of honesty and fair dealing. Otherwise said, a lawyer in government service is a keeper of the public faith and is burdened with high degree of social responsibility, perhaps higher than her brethren in private practice.

• For her violation of the Attorney’s Oath as well as of Rule 1.01 and Rule 1.03 of Canon 120 and Rule 6.02 of Canon 6 of the [old Code of Professional Responsibility], particularly for acts of dishonesty as well as gross misconduct as OIC, Legal Services, CHED, we find that respondent deserves not just the penalty of three years’ suspension from membership in the Bar as well as the practice of law, as recommended by the IBP Board of Governors, but outright disbarment. Her name shall be stricken off the list of attorneys upon finality of this decision.

References

Canon II, 2023 Code of Professional Responsibility

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