A privilege, not a right

A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison - The Philippine Star

This is a disbarment case filed by the girlfriend of a lawyer whom we shall name Mila. She had known Atty. Ramos during their college days and later on reconnected through social media. From then on, she met Atty. Ramos again about the problem of her brother Danny, based in another country, who wanted to have his marriage annulled so that he could continue working in said country.

Atty. Ramos promised Mila that he knows a judge in a province who could issue a judgment of annulment for a fee. So, she contacted her brother, who agreed that Atty. Ramos will handle the annulment case for P180,000 payable in two installments of P90,000 upon acceptance and P90,000 upon issuance of the judgment. Thus, Danny paid P90,000 to Atty. Ramos as first payment of the judge.

Thereafter, Atty. Ramos handed to Danny a final decision of annulment. Upon advice of the National Statistics Office however, it turned out that it had no records of said marriage. Mila attempted to contact Atty. Ramos but the latter could no longer be found. The whole ordeal caused Mila and her brother Danny undue stress. So Mila sent a demand letter to Atty. Ramos demanding the return of the P90,000 plus interest because the decision handed to them was fake and spurious.

Atty. Ramos, for his part, asked Mila not to file the case yet as he will try to get another genuine decision. Despite the lapse of time, the attempt of Atty. Ramos to do so also failed, as the decision he obtained was also spurious. He admitted his involvement in the reprehensible practice of perpetuating “annulment packages,” although he denied authorship as he did so only in order to help Mila and in the process was also scammed.

Upon recommendation of the investigating commissioner, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Board of Governors adopted the findings of the investigating commissioner, with penalty of suspension from the practice of law for five years.

The Supreme Court upheld this ruling of the IBP Board of Governors but modified the penalty with disbarment instead of suspension for five years. According to the SC, regardless of the intention of Atty. Ramos of presenting mitigating circumstances, his involvement in the reprehensible practice of perpetuating false or fake marriages besmirched the legal profession to the highest degree by making a mockery of judicial system. He simply violated his sworn oath to be honest and to obey the law and the constitution.

It also created an impression to the public that the judicial process can be trifled with and undermined. A lawyer shall not do any falsehood nor consent to the doing of any in court. Nor shall he mislead or allow the court to be misled by any artifice. Fabricating a judicial decision or perpetuating acts leading to such undeniably comes within the prohibitive acts of the Code of Professional Responsibility (CPR), which Atty. Ramos committed.

The right to practice law is not a natural or constitutional right but a privilege or franchise. It is limited to persons of good moral character with special qualifications duly ascertained and certified. Atty. Ramos, while admitting his infractions, invokes leniency and supplicates that he be unqualifiedly absolved of his liability out of humanitarian reasons. He admits that his acceptance of the case transgressed the ethical yardstick but pleads not to be judged on that aspect alone and cited his accolades.

Atty. Ramos admitted having transgressed the sanctity of the legal profession and apologized for it but maintained that he only did so out of his good intention of helping Danny. If he were doing it with malice, then he said that he would have conducted his actions clandestinely and would not have returned Danny’s monies under his own name as sender. Finally, he also contended his returning the money was not an admission of authorship of the spurious decision.

But Atty. Ramos’ supplication should be denied. Jurisprudence says that disciplinary proceedings against lawyers are sui generis, neither purely civil nor purely criminal. They do not involve a trial of an action or a suit, but is rather an investigation by the court into the conduct of one of its officers. Its primary objective is public interest, and the real question for determination is whether or not the attorney is still a fit person to be allowed the privileges as such.

The members of the Bar must account for their actuations as officers of the court with the end in view of preserving the purity of the legal profession and the proper and honest administration of justice. So, members of the profession are no longer worthy to be entrusted with the duties and responsibilities of an officer of the court pertaining to the office of an attorney. Atty. Ramos should be disbarred from the practice of law and his name stricken off the Roll of Attorneys. (Bartolome vs. Reyes, AC 13226, Oct. 4, 2023).

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