(Editor’s Note: katataspulong recently wrote the President of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, bringing to the group’s attention the palpable anti-lawyers practices of various Philippine administrative (and the Courts) agencies. The latest of which was when this writer went to the Quezon Provincial Fiscal’s Office to inquire about an unresolved double homicide thru imprudence. The victims were two motorcycle-riders who died instantly upon impact by a PUJ last October 15, 2006 in a remote barangay between Majayjay and Lucban, Quezon. The widows of the deceased approached this writer for legal assistance. Some well-placed persons were working on the release of the impounded vehicle now parked in Lucban municipal hall. Nobody from the driver’s end was attempting any settlement after the burial, and the driver was already out on bail. This writer went to the office of the prosecutor to inquire about the status of the case. First bad news, the prosecutor was out the whole day; second bad news, the secretary wanted this counsel to submit a written appearance with clients’ consent before she allows the lawyer to get a peek on the records; and bad news three, and this got me a wayward Manny Pasquiao's south, she wants the lawyer to pay first before she receives the entry of appearance (remember the DOJ Circular requiring litigants to pay docket fees as condition precedent before the Prosecutor looks at the case); and bad news four, without the first three being accomplished, the lawyer could not hold or look at the records. Of course, the veteran lawyer got to work and said the Rules are blah blah liberally read and the interests of the clients primordial without mentioning what ever happened to the old fashioned justice and equity? while the monies for DOJ’s kitty is not even tertiary. This writer left empty handed and vowed to see the records another day).
November 9, 2006
ATTY. JOSE VICENTE B. SALAZAR
Integrated Bar of the Philippines
IBP Bldg., Julia Vargas Ave.,
Ortigas Center, Pasig City,
I would like to bring to your kind attention the creeping unwritten anti-practicing lawyers policies of administrative agencies threatening, as they do, the administration of justice.
Many administrative agencies particularly the Bureau of Immigration, Department of Labor and Employment, the Bureau of Internal Revenue, the Philippine Overseas and Employment Agency, the Register of Deeds and other high profile agencies with visible daily human traffic into fostering policies antagonistic to lawyers, thus, discouraging their practice in the said agencies leaving the public to the devices of lawyers-examiners-hearing officers all to themselves.
There are apparently informal policies now being implemented by these agencies to augment the incomes of their examiners sanctioned by their bureau chiefs. They feel that being low paid, they now have the right to practice within their turfs. Their “professional fees” are inclusive of filing fees and this justifies convincing the public or prospective clients not to avail themselves anymore of the services of a lawyer, whose fees add up to the cost. There is no assurance anyway that the petition or matter before their office will be expedited or approved. For instance, matters brought before them thru the intercession of lawyers get stuck up and forgotten. Once personally inquired into by the clients themselves, the hearing officer cozies them up and springs their trade secret. “Bakit ka pa kasi kumuha ng abogado, dapat dumeretso ka na lang sa amin”. Remember that administrative agencies were invented for shortcut results, unlike the Courts where dispositions take ages because of the stringent requirements of the Rules.
In the case of the Bureau of Immigration, during the time of now Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago and then Commissioner Rufus Rodriguez, they professionalized practice in that agency. On Miriam Defensor Santiago’s watch, she issued a Yellow Book Compendium of the various Visas and other Alien requirements of BID simplifying its procedures with the corresponding fees to the last centavos, timetable of processing, number of signatories thus cutting red tape and avoided wasted time. Visas were stripped of mysteries and esoteric significations within the comprehension of the applicants and the Immigration lawyers themselves. On Commissioner Rodriguez's stint, he accredited law offices before they practice before the Bureau complete with supporting fidelity bond. Both Commissioners proscribed their examiners from entertaining their own “clients”.
In the POEA for example, there are recruiters whose clients abroad posted bonds in foreign currencies to backstop local violations. There is a group in that agency cornering the processing of the release of their bonds in view of the change of policies in the recruitment and deployment that made recruitment of talents abroad Japan for example, difficult. These foreign groups simply called it quits and they want their money back. But what do you know? POEA is bent on holding on to the foreign currency bonds and raises the number of requirements before letting them go. Lawyer-represented clients were mothballed. We have been trying to set an appointment with the POEA Commissioner for the last four (4) months and we are unsuccessful.
In the Regional Trial Courts, the Clerks of Courts capture the ex parte special proceedings like Change of Name or Correction of Entries, Adoption, Reconstitution of Titles, and even Annulments of Marriage. These Clerks of Courts packaged these petitions (with their suki psychologists from the Philippine Center of Mental Health in Mandaluyong City, a government agency) to the exclusion of lawyers whose signatures in the petitions are merely ceremonial. These proceedings are what they call de cajon, yet these are the bestsellers.
In the Register of Deeds, examiners are engaged in hecho derecho paying off as part of their service fees capital gains tax, estate taxes, donor’s tax, real and local taxes, etc. that include surveyor’s relocation plan in case of extra-judicial partition, for instance, up to the eventual release of new titles.
In the Bureau of Internal Revenue, it takes a couple of years or more before they issue an opinion for exemption or inquiries on payment of particular taxes preparatory to the registration of real/movable properties, unless the client himself comes across. So what happened to the constitutional right to speedy disposition?
Clients want swift results and that is the selling point of these government enterprising lawyers to the prejudice of practicing lawyers who are given the run-around. “Mabilis, segurado, at walang bulilyaso”. The matters before these administrative agencies do not require rocket science- intelligence and that makes clients all the more exasperated with their lawyers who have painstakingly submitted all the documentary requirements. Notwithstanding, the valuable discretion is withheld. Delay now is synonymous with lawyers. Yet annually the Supreme Court gives license to 1,500 new barristers.
Of course, there are few law offices who can deliver the goods. But these are exceptions owing to some miraculous connections but not on the merits of the cause.
We don’t have to belabour the escalation in judicial fees that halved practically the volume of cases filed in the Courts. Only those who have wherewithal have access privilege with the Courts. Free access becomes a farce. Our fate as a nation is imperilled, thus:
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This failure, or at least incompletion, of leadership is today being replicated across much of Asia. From Taiwan to Thailand, Pakistan to the Philippines, people are mad that the officials they entrusted with the privilege of governance have not delivered on their pledges to clean up and reform their nations. Too many of Asia’s leaders do not seem to realize that their citizens are no longer content just with having enough to eat and spend. They want more: for their governments to be transparent and accountable, their legislatures to enact fair laws, their judiciaries to be impartial, their media to be independent, their societies to be caring. In short, people want their institutions strengthened, so they are not vulnerable to the idiosyncrasies of an adequate system, and so they can boot out leaders who go from hero to zero. [Zoher Abdoolcarim, TIME, November 13, 2006 page 95] (emphasis ours)
Lastly, (and this is a digression already) what happened to the sub judice rule? Litigants and their lawyers engaged the services of PR consultants and columnists ventilating their theories of their pending case in the Courts and administrative agencies before the tri-media. Recently, we saw the spectacle of one Atty. Raul Lambino, the proponent of People’s Initiative, calling a press conference and debunked point by point the ruling of the Supreme Court in the Initiative Cases. These breed of lawyers who take their cases before the public that causes the depressed perception of the image of our profession. With the patronizing preface “I’m not a lawyer but”, pedantic newspaper columnists dissect court decisions like some piece of pedestrian literature. Some even heap personal insults on the justices who did not vote to their liking. People now snicker at us like some funny anachronistic professional. Anecdotal proof has it that one cabinet officer called it quits when his legal advice was ignored. A sulking lawyer whose importance is minimized is dangerous, as a monkey-wrench can be thrown at the system anytime for good measure.
The President from Day One sneered at the lawyers. Her lessons came from the impeachment of Erap itself. She saw for herself that the law or anything that remains of it is nothing but mere icing on the cake. The House partisans worked for railroaded endorsement of the articles of impeachment to the Senate. While on trial, she saw the Senate partisans on track for acquittal.
The Firm, in good graces, hammered that the law is pronounced by a good partisan majority. The pupil-president learnt fast. She packed the Courts with the Firm’s protégés. By 2010 or beyond she has the law by the palm of her hand. Or so she thought. Almost. 8-7, a couple from the eight listened from their hearts, the rest were simply partisans. The word harebrained went down in history.
I hope your good office and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) promptly address these concerns for the protection of our now threatened “noble” profession.