Mere privilege, not a right
A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) - June 19, 2019 - 12:00am

This case involves the practice of law. As ruled by the Supreme Court here, the practice of law is not a natural, absolute or constitutional right granted to everyone who wants or demands it. Rather, it is a privilege limited to citizens of good moral character. Hence, one of the issues answered here is the meaning of “good moral character”. Also answered in this case is whether somebody who has already passed the Bar exams can still be stricken off the Roll of Attorneys and barred from being admitted again as member of the Bar.

This is the case of the brothers Markus and Cedric who are the sons of Arturo and Thelma. Both of them studied and finished high school in the university of the city where they lived. Cedric is about two years older than Markus but the latter was the one who graduated and obtained a degree in Business Administration and became one of the managers in a big retail store with a chain of branches all over the country.

Cedric, on the other hand, studied at another university but stayed there for only one year because he transferred to the Philippine Military Academy where he was also discharged after one year. So he just helped their father in the family’s car rental business. But four years later, he moved to another province up north with his wife Ana and their three children where he enrolled in a law school using Markus’ name and college records. And after finishing his law course he took and passed the Bar examinations using the name “Markus Valdez.”

Markus first learned from his mother about Cedric’s use of his name and school records in order to study law and become a lawyer.  Later on, Markus was able to confirm all these information when he saw the name ‘Markus Valdez’ in the Certificate of Admission to the Bar displayed in Cedric’s law office. But he brushed these aside as he did not anticipate any adverse consequences to him.

However, when Markus was already a manager of the company where he works, he was informed by the head office that the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) was requiring him to appear in its office in connection with an investigation involving Cedric who was using his name. He learned Cedric’s involvement in a case for qualified theft and estafa filed by one of the principal sponsors in Cedric’s wedding. Eventually Markus also learned the various other cases involving Cedric like the fraudulent sale of a lot, gun running activities, illegal possession of explosives and violation of BP 22.

Due to these cases involving his brother Cedric Valdez using his name, Markus was even forced to resign from his job. So he already filed a complaint before the Commission on Bar Discipline (CBD of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, IBP) against “Atty Markus Valdez” whose real name is “Cedric Valdez” for assuming his identity and falsely representing that he has the required qualification to take the Bar examinations and be admitted to the practice of law. He presented clear and overwhelming evidence that he is the real “Markus Valdez.”

In his Answer, Cedric denied the allegations against him and invoked res judicata (barred by prior judgment) as a defense. He maintained that his identity can no longer be raised as an issue because it has already been resolved in the previous case decided by the CBD where the IBP Board of Governors dismissed the administrative case filed by one of his principal sponsors in his wedding which had already been declared closed and terminated by the SC. Cedric however failed to controvert all the allegations against him and did not present any proof of his identity. He even admitted upon his arrest that he and Markus are siblings whose parents are Arturo and Thelma and that he is married to Ana whereas the marriage certificate issued by the NSO shows that his wife’s name is the name of Markus’ wife.

So IBP Investigating Commissioner issued his Report and Recommendation finding Cedric guilty of illegally and falsely assuming Markus’ name, identity and academic records. The Commissioner drew attention to Cedric’s admissions, and the fact that the photograph taken  when he was arrested as “Cedric Valdez” shows the same person in the photograph of the IBP records of “Atty. Markus Valdez.” The Commissioner thus declared that Cedric indeed assumed Markus’ identity to study law and take the Bar examinations. Thus he recommended that the name Markus Valdez in the Roll of Attorney be dropped and stricken off and that Cedric be barred from being admitted as a member of the bar. The IBP Board in its resolution, adopted the Commissioner’s Report and recommendation.

This resolution was also affirmed by the Supreme Court. According to the SC the foregoing findings of the commissioner indubitably confirm that Cedric falsely used Markus’ name, identity and school records to gain admission to the Bar. The SC said that since the real Markus Valdez never took the Bar examinations, the IBP correctly recommended that the name “Markus Valdez” being used by Cedric, be stricken off the Roll of Attorneys.

The IBP was also correct in ordering that Cedric be barred from admission to the Bar because he never completed his college degree. His false assumption of his brother’s name, identity, and educational records renders him unfit for admission to the Bar. The practice of law is a privilege granted only to citizens of good moral character which includes at least common honesty. In this case, Cedric exhibited his dishonesty and utter lack of moral fitness to be a member of the Bar when he assumed the name, identity, and school records of his own brother and dragged him into controversies which eventually caused him to fear for his own safety and to resign from the company where he has been working for years. Good moral character is essential to would-be lawyers because of the trust relation which exists between him and his client as well as between him and the court. Cedric also tarnished the image of lawyers with his unscrupulous activities. So the name “Markus Valdez” which he used should be dropped and stricken off the roll of attorneys and that Cedric Valdez be prohibited from practicing law and barred from being admitted as a member of the Philippine Bar (Coronan vs Coronan, A.C. No. 11316, July 12, 2016)

CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT SUPREME COURT
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