NOTES ON LEGAL EDUCATION
IN THE PHILIPPINES
Atty. Manuel J. Laserna Jr.
Laserna Cueva-Mercader Law Offices
Las Pinas City Bar Association (LPBA), Inc.
R.A. No. 7662
In 1993, the Philippine Congress passed Republic Act No. 7662, entitled the "Legal Education Reform Act of 1993."
Based on the declared the policies of the Philippines as a state to uplift the standards of legal education in order to prepare law students for advocacy, counseling, problem-solving, and decision-making, to infuse in them the ethics of the legal profession; and to impress on them the importance, nobility and dignity of the legal profession as an equal and indispensable partner of the Bench in the administration of justice and to develop social competence, the Legal Education Board created by the law was tasked to undertake appropriate reforms in the legal education system, require proper selection of law students, maintain quality among law schools, and require legal apprenticeship and continuing legal education.
(Note: It is the Supreme Court and not the Legal Education Board that prepares, adopts, approves and implements the rule on mandatory continuing legal education (MCLE), pursuant to the constitutional powers of the Supreme Court under Article VIII of the 1987 Philippine Constitution).
The law enumerates the specific objectives of legal education as follows:
(1) to impart among law students a broad knowledge of law and its various fields and of legal institutions;
(2) to enhance their legal research abilities to enable them to analyze, articulate and apply the law effectively, as well as to allow them to have a holistic approach to legal problems and issues;
(3) to prepare law students for advocacy, counseling, problem-solving and decision-making, and to develop their ability to deal with recognized legal problems of the present and the future;
(4) to develop competence in any field of law as is necessary for gainful employment or sufficient as a foundation for future training beyond the basic professional degree, and to develop in them the desire and capacity for continuing study and self-improvement;
(5) to inculcate in them the ethics and responsibilities of the legal profession; and
(6) to produce lawyers who conscientiously pursue the lofty goals of their profession and to fully adhere to its ethical norms.
Under the law, the Legal Education Board is attached solely for budgetary purposes and administrative support to the Department of Education. It is composed of a Chairman, who is preferably a former justice of the Supreme Court or Court of Appeals, and the following as regular members: a representative of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP); a representative of the Philippine Association of Law Schools (PALS); a representative from the ranks of active law practitioners; and, a representative from the law students' sector. The Secretary of the Department of Education, Culture and Sports, or his representative, is an ex officio member of the Board. The Chairman and regular members of the Board are appointed by the President for a term of five (5) years without reappointment from a list of at least three (3) nominees prepared, with prior authorization from the Supreme Court, by the Judicial and Bar Council, for every position or vacancy, and no such appointment needs confirmation by the Commission on Appointments. Of those first appointed, the Chairman and the representative of the IBP shall hold office for five (5) years, the representatives of the PALS and the PALP, for three (3) years; and the representative from the ranks of active law practitioners and the representative of the law students' sector, for one (1) year, without reappointment. The Chairman and regular members of the Board have the same salary and rank as the Chairman and members, respectively, of the Constitutional Commissions.
The law enumerates the powers and functions of the Board as follows:
(a) to administer the legal education system in the country in a manner consistent with the provisions of this Act;
(b) to supervise the law schools in the country, consistent with its powers and functions as herein enumerated;
(c) to set the standards of accreditation for law schools taking into account, among others, the size of enrollment, the qualifications of the members of the faculty, the library and other facilities, without encroaching upon the academic freedom of institutions of higher learning;
(d) to accredit law schools that meet the standards of accreditation;
(e) to prescribe minimum standards for law admission and minimum qualifications and compensation of faculty members;
(f) to prescribe the basic curricula for the course of study aligned to the requirements for admission to the Bar, law practice and social consciousness, and such other courses of study as may be prescribed by the law schools and colleges under the different levels of accreditation status;
(g) to establish a law practice internship as a requirement for taking the Bar which a law student shall undergo with any duly accredited private or public law office or firm or legal assistance group anytime during the law course for a specific period that the Board may decide, but not to exceed a total of twelve (12) months. For this purpose, the Board shall prescribe the necessary guidelines for such accreditation and the specifications of such internship which shall include the actual work of a new member of the Bar.
(h) to adopt a system of continuing legal education. For this purpose, the Board may provide for the mandatory attendance of practicing lawyers in such courses and for such duration as the Board may deem necessary; and
(i) to perform such other functions and prescribe such rules and regulations necessary for the attainment of the policies and objectives of this Act.
Educational institutions may not operate a law school unless accredited by the Board. Accreditation of law schools may be granted only to educational institutions recognized by the Government. The Board may withdraw or downgrade the accreditation status of a law school if it fails to maintain the standards set for its accreditation status.
(Note: In the USA, it is the American Bar Association that accredits and rates American law schools).
The law created a special endowment fund, known as the Legal Education Fund, which is under the control of the Board, and administered as a separate fund by the Social Security System (SSS) which invests the same with due and prudent regard to its solvency, safety and liquidity. To form part of the Legal Education Fund, the amount of Ten Million Pesos (P10,000,000.00) was appropriated annually for a period of ten (10) years (1994-2004). Further, the Fund is supported by sixty percent (60%) of the privilege tax paid by every lawyer effective Fiscal Year 1994; and from such donations, legacies, grant-in-aid and other forms of contributions received by the Board for the purposes of the law. Being a special endowment fund, only the interests earned on the Legal Education Fund is used exclusively for the purposes of the law, including support for faculty development grants, professorial chairs, library improvements and similar programs for the advancement of law teaching and education in accredited law schools. The Fund is also used for the operation of the Board. For this purpose, an amount not exceeding ten percent (10%) of the interest on the Fund is utilized.
Rule 138: Admission to the Philippine Bar
Rule 138 of the Rules of court provides that “every applicant for admission as a member of the bar must be a citizen of the Philippines, at least twenty-one years of age, of good moral character, and a resident of the Philippines; and must produce before the Supreme Court satisfactory evidence of good moral character, and that no charges against him, involving moral turpitude, have been filed or are pending in any court in the Philippines.” (Sec. 2).
All applicants for admission other than those referred to in the two preceding sections shall, before being admitted to the examination, satisfactorily show that they have regularly studied law for four years, and successfully completed all prescribed courses, in a law ,school or university, officially approved and recognized by the Secretary of Education. The affidavit of the candidate, accom¬panied by a certificate from the university or school of law, shall be filed as evidence of such facts, and further evidence may be required by the court. (Sec. 5).
No applicant shall be admitted to the bar examination unless he has satisfactorily completed the following courses in a law school or university duly recognized by the government: civil law, commercial law, remedial law, criminal law, public and private international law, political law, labor and social legislation, medical jurisprudence, taxation and legal ethics. (Id.).
No applicant for admission to the bar examination shall be admitted unless he presents a certificate that he has satisfied the Secretary of Education that, before he began the study of law, he had pursued and satisfactorily completed in an authorized and recognized university or college, requiring for admission thereto the completion of a four-year high school course, the course of study prescribed therein for a bachelor's degree in arts or sciences with any of the following subjects as major or field of concentration: political science, logic, English, Spanish, history and economics. (Sec. 6).
Bar examinees shall be subjected to examinations in the following subjects: Civil Law; Labor and Social Legislation; Mercantile Law; Criminal Law; Political Law (Constitutional Law, Public Corporations, and Public Officers); International Law (Private and Public); Taxation: Remedial Law (Civil Procedure, Criminal Procedure, and Evidence); Legal Ethics and Practical Exercises (in Pleading and Conveyancing).
The bar examinations shall take place annually in the City of Manila. They shall be held in four days to be designated by the chairman of the committee on bar examiners (now held on the four  Sundays of November of each year). The subject shall be distributed as follows: First day: Political and International Law (morning) and Labor and Social Legislation (afternoon); Second day: Civil Law (morning) and Taxation (afternoon); Third day: Mercantile Law (morning) and Criminal Law (afternoon); Fourth day: Remedial Law (morning) and Legal Ethics and Practical Exercises (afternoon). (Sec. 11).
Examinations shall be conducted by a committee of bar examiners to be appointed by the Supreme Court. This committee shall be composed of a Justice of the Supreme Court, who shall act as chairman, and who shall be designated by the court to serve for one year, and eight members of the bar of the Philippines, who shall hold office for a period of one year. (Sec. 12).
In order that a candidate may be deemed to have passed his examinations successfully, he must have obtained a general average of 75 per cent in all subjects, without falling below 50 per cent in any subject. In determining the average, the subjects in the examination shall be given the following relative weights: Civil Law, 15 per cent; Labor and Social Legislation, 10 per cent; Mercantile Law, 15 per cent; Criminal Law, 10 per cent: Political and International Law, 15 per cent; Taxation, 10 per cent; Remedial Law, 20 per cent; Legal Ethics and Practical Exercises, 5 per cent. (Sec. 14).
Candidates who have failed the bar examinations for three times shall be disqualified from taking another examination unless they show to the satisfaction of the court that they have enrolled in and passed regular fourth year review classes as well as attended a pre-bar review course in a recognized law school.
The professors of the individual review subjects attended by the candidates under this rule certify under oath that the candidates have regularly attended classes and passed the subjects under the same conditions as ordinary students and the ratings obtained by them in the particular subject. (Sec.16).
(Note: Under B.M. No. 1161, June 8, 2004, Re: Reform in the Bar Examinations, a candidate who has failed three (3) examinations may take a fourth and a fifth examinations if he successfully completes a one (1) year refresher course for each examination. Under the new rule, a candidate who has already failed in five (5) or more bar examinations shall be allowed to take only one (1) more bar examination after completing (1) year refresher course. If he again fails that final chance, he must take the entire law course all over again).
Rule 138 enumerates the duties of an attorney as follows:
(a) To maintain allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines and to support the Constitution and obey the laws of the Philippines.
(b) To observe and maintain the respect due to the courts of justice and judicial officers;
(c) To counsel or maintain such actions or proceedings only as appear to him to be just, and such defenses only as he believes to be honestly debatable under the law;
(d) To employ, for the purpose of maintaining the causes confided to him, such means only as are consistent with truth and honor, and never seek to mislead the judge or any judicial officer by an artifice or false statement of fact or law;
(e) To maintain inviolate the confidence, and at every peril to himself, to preserve the secrets of his client, and to accept no compensation in connection with his client's business except from him or with his knowledge and approval;
(f) To abstain from all offensive personality and to advance no fact prejudicial to the honor or reputation of a party or witness, unless required by the justice of the cause with which he is charged;
(g) Not to encourage either the commencement or the continuance of an action or proceeding, or delay any man's cause, from any corrupt motive or interest;
(h) Never to reject, for any consideration personal to himself, the cause of the defenseless or oppressed;
(i) In the defense of a person accused of crime, by all fair and honorable means, regardless of his personal opinion as to the guilt of the accused, to present every defense that the law permits, to the end that no person may be deprived of life or liberty, but by due process of law. (Sec. 20).
The foregoing duties must be correlated to the lawyer’s oath, thus:
"I,_____________, having been permitted to continue in the practice of law in the Philippines, do solemnly swear that I recognize the supreme authority of the Republic of the Philippines; I will support its Constitution and obey the laws as well as the legal orders of the duly constituted authorities therein; I will do no falsehood, nor consent to the doing of any in court; I will not wittingly or willingly promote or sue any groundless, false or unlawful suit, nor give aid nor consent to the same; I will delay no man for money or malice, and will conduct myself as a lawyer according to the best of my knowledge and discretion with all good fidelity as well to the courts as to my clients; and I impose upon myself this voluntary obligation without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion. So help me God." (Sec. 3).
Rule 138-A: Clinical Legal Education Program
Under Rule 138-A of the Rules of Court, the Supreme Court approves the clinical legal education programs of Philippine law schools, subject to the following adjustments/requirements:
1. Only students who have passed Civil Procedure, Criminal Procedure, Evidence, Special Proceedings, Legal Forms, and Legal Ethics may be enrolled in the program, subject to the requirements set forth in Rule 138-A of the Rules of Court;
2. Only students who have completed the 3rd year of the regular four-year prescribed law curriculum may be enrolled in the program; and
3. The amount of the allowance given to students should be minimal in compliance with the provision of the law that students should appear without any compensation. (For example, see: B.M. No. 1489 , November 15, 2005, RE: CLINICAL LEGAL EDUCATION PROGRAM OF THE MARCELO H. DEL PILAR, COLLEGE OF LAW, BULACAN STATE UNIVERSITY).
Rule 138-A provides that a law student who has successfully completed his 3rd year of the regular four-year prescribed law curriculum and is enrolled in a recognized law school's clinical legal education program approved by the Supreme Court, may appear without compensation in “any civil, criminal or administrative case before any trial court, tribunal, board or officer, to represent indigent clients” accepted by the legal clinic of the law school.
The appearance of the law student shall be under, the direct supervision and control of a member of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines duly accredited by the law school. All pleadings, motions, briefs, memoranda or other papers to be filed, must be signed by the supervening attorney for and in behalf of the legal clinic.
The rules safeguarding privileged communications between attorney and client shall apply to similar communications made to or received by the law student, acting for the legal clinic.
The law student shall comply with the standards of professional conduct governing members of the Bar.
Failure of a supervising attorney to provide adequate supervision to the law students enrolled in the program may be a ground for disciplinary action. (SC Circular No. 19, prom. Dec. 19, 1986.)
Corollary to this, Sec. 34, Rule 138, provides that in the court of a municipality a party may conduct his litigation in person, with the aid of an agent or friend appointed by him for that purpose, or with the aid of an attorney. In any other court, a party may conduct his litigation personally or by aid of an attorney, and his appearance must be either personal or by a duly authorized member of the bar.
Under Sec. 31, Rule 138, a court may assign an attorney to render professional aid free of charge to any party in a case, if upon investigation it appears that the party is destitute and unable to employ an attorney, and that the services of counsel are necessary to secure the ends of justice and to protect the rights of the party. It shall be the duty of the attorney so assigned to render the required service, unless he is excused therefrom by the court for sufficient cause shown. (Sec. 31, Rule 138).
Subject to availability of funds as may be provided by law the court may, in its discretion, order an attorney employed as counsel de oficio to be compensated in such sum as the court may fix in accordance with section 24 of this rule. But the amounts thereof as provided in sec. 31, Rule 138, are embarrassingly impoverished, thus: “Whenever such compensation is allowed, it shall not be less than thirty pesos (P30) in any case, nor more than the following amounts: (1) Fifty pesos (P50) in light felonies; (2) One hundred pesos (P100) in less grave felonies; (3) Two hundred pesos (P200) in grave felonies other than capital offenses; (4) Five hundred pesos (P500) in capital offenses.” (Sec. 31, Id.).
B.M. No. 1161 (2004): Bar Examinations Reform
Since 2004, the Supreme Court has attempted to reform the bar examinations. The reforms stated in B.M. No. 1161, June 8, 2004 are enumerated hereinbelow.
For implementation within one (1) up to two (2) years:
1. Initial determination by the Chairman of admission to the bar examinations of candidates (on the merits of the each case) to be passed upon by the Court en banc.
2. Submission by law deans of a certification that a candidate has no derogatory record in school and, if any, the details and status thereof.
3. Disqualification of a candidate after failing in three (3) examinations, provided, that he may take a fourth and fifth examination if he successful completes a one (1) year refresher course for each examination; provided, further, that upon the effectivity of this Resolution, those who have already failed in five(5) or more bar examinations shall be allowed to take only one (1) more bar examination after completing (1) year refresher course.
4. Promulgation of disciplinary measures for those involved in (a) attempts to violate or vitiate the integrity and confidentiality of the bar examination process; (b) improper conduct during the bar examination; and (c) improper conduct of "bar examinations."
5. Disqualification of a Bar Examination Chairperson:
5.1. kinship with an examinee who if his or her spouse or relative within the third civil degree of consanguinity;
5.2. having a member of his or her office staff as an examinee, or when the spouse or child of such staff member is an examinee; and
5.3. being a member of the governing board, faculty or administration of a law school.
6. Desirable qualifications of Examiners:
6.1. membership in good standing in the Philippine Bar;
6.2. competence in the assigned subject;
6.3. a teacher of the subject or familiarity with the principles of test construction; and
6.4. commitment to check test papers personally and promptly pending the creation and organization of the readership panels provided for in item B(6) below
7. Disqualifications of Examiners:
7.1. kinship with an examinee who is his or her spouse or relative within the third civil degree of consanguinity or affinity;
7.2. having a member of his or her office staff as an examinee; or when the spouse or child of such staff member is an examinee;
7.3. being a member of the governing board, faculty or administration of a law school;
7.4. teaching or lecturing in any law school, institution or review center during the particular semester following the bar examinations;
7.5. having any interest or involvement in any law school, bar review center or group; and
7.6. suspension or disbarment from the practice of law or the imposition of any other serious disciplinary sanction.
8. Personal preparation, by handwriting or using a typewriter, of fifty (50) main questions, excluding subdivisions, and their submission to the Chairperson in sealed envelope at least forty-five (45) days before the schedule examination on any particular subject; examiners should not use computers in preparing questions;
9. Apportionment of examination questions among the various topics covered by the subject;
10. Burning and shredding of rough drafts and carbon papers used in the preparation of questions or in any other act connected with such preparation;
11. Publication of names candidates admitted to take the bar examinations;
12. Disqualification of a candidate who obtains a grade below 50% in any subject;
13. Fixing at June 30 of the immediately preceding year as the cut-off date for laws and Supreme Court decisions and resolutions to be included in the bar examinations; and
14. Consideration of suggested answers to bar examinations questions prepared by the U.P. Law Center and submitted to the Chairperson.
For implementation within two (2) years up to five (5) years:
1. Adoption of objective multiple-choice questions for 30% to 40% of the total number of questions;
2. Formulation of essay test questions and "model answers" as part of the calibration of test papers;
3. Introduction of performance testing by way of revising and improving the essay examination;
4. Designation of two (2) examiners per subject depending on the number of examinees ;
5. Appointment of a tenured Board of Examiners with an incumbent Supreme Court Justice as Chairperson;
6. Creation and organization of readership panels for each subject area to address the issue of bias or subjectivity and facilitate the formulation of test questions and the correction of examination booklets; and
7. Adoption of the calibration method in the corrections of essay questions to correct variations in the level of test standards.
For implementation within five (5) years and beyond is the further computerization or automation of the bar examinations to facilitate application, testing, and reporting procedures.
Items not covered by the resolution, such as those that pertain to a possible review of the coverage and relative weights of the subjects of the bar examinations, are maintained.
For referral to the Legal Education Board:
1. Accreditation and supervision of law schools.
2. Inclusion of a subject on clinical legal education in the law curriculum, including an apprenticeship program in the Judiciary, prosecution service, and law offices.
3. Imposition of sanctions on law schools that fail to meet the standards as may be prescribed by the Legal Education Board.
4. Mandatory Law School Admission Test.
University of the East vs. Romeo A. Jader,
G.R. No. 132344, February 17, 2000.
May an educational institution be held liable for damages for misleading a student into believing that the latter had satisfied all the requirements for graduation when such is not the case? The Supreme Court answered the question in the affirmative.
The Court held that when a student is enrolled in any educational or learning institution, a “contract of education” is entered into between said institution and the student. The professors, teachers or instructors hired by the school are considered “merely as agents and administrators tasked to perform the school’s commitment under the contract”. Since the contracting parties are the school and the student, the latter is not duty-bound to deal with the former’s agents, such as the professors with respect to the status or result of his grades, although nothing prevents either professors or students from sharing with each other such information.
Petitioner, in belatedly informing respondent of the result of the removal examination, particularly at a time when he had already commenced preparing for the bar exams, could not be said to have acted in good faith. Good faith connotes an honest intention to abstain from taking undue advantage of another, even though the forms and technicalities of the law, together with the absence of all information or belief of facts, would render the transaction unconscientious. It was the school that had access to those information and it was only the school that could compel its professors to act and comply with its rules, regulations and policies with respect to the computation and the prompt submission of grades. Students did not exercise control, much less influence, over the way an educational institution should run its affairs, particularly in disciplining its professors and teachers and ensuring their compliance with the school’s rules and orders. Being the party that hired them, it was the school that exercised general supervision and exclusive control over the professors with respect to the submission of reports involving the students’ standing. Exclusive control means that no other person or entity had any control over the instrumentality which caused the damage or injury.
The college dean is the senior officer responsible for the operation of an academic program, enforcement of rules and regulations, and the supervision of faculty and student services. He must see to it that his own professors and teachers, regardless of their status or position outside of the university, must comply with the rules set by the latter. The negligent act of a professor who fails to observe the rules of the school, for instance by not promptly submitting a student’s grade, is not only imputable to the professor but is an act of the school, being his employer.
The Court cited Articles 19 and 20 of the Civil Code:
Art. 19. Every person must, in the exercise of his rights and in the performance of his duties, act with justice, give everyone his due, and observe honesty and good faith.
Art. 20. Every person who, contrary to law, willfully or negligently causes damage to another, shall indemnify the latter for the same.
Article 19 was intended to expand the concept of torts by granting adequate legal remedy for the untold number of moral wrongs which is impossible for human foresight to provide specifically in statutory law. In civilized society, men must be able to assume that others will do them no intended injury – that others will commit no internal aggressions upon them; that their fellowmen, when they act affirmatively will do so with due care which the ordinary understanding and moral sense of the community exacts and that those with whom they deal in the general course of society will act in good faith. The ultimate thing in the theory of liability is justifiable reliance under conditions of civilized society. Schools and professors cannot just take students for granted and be indifferent to them, for without the latter, the former are useless. Jksm â Ó
Educational institutions are duty-bound to inform the students of their academic status and not wait for the latter to inquire from the former. The conscious indifference of a person to the rights or welfare of the person/persons who may be affected by his act or omission can support a claim for damages. Want of care to the conscious disregard of civil obligations coupled with a conscious knowledge of the cause naturally calculated to produce them would make the erring party liable. Petitioner ought to have known that time was of the essence in the performance of its obligation to inform respondent of his grade. It cannot feign ignorance that respondent will not prepare himself for the bar exams since that is precisely the immediate concern after graduation of an LL.B. graduate. It failed to act seasonably. Petitioner cannot just give out its student’s grades at any time because a student has to comply with certain deadlines set by the Supreme Court on the submission of requirements for taking the bar. Petitioner’s liability arose from its failure to promptly inform respondent of the result of an examination and in misleading the latter into believing that he had satisfied all requirements for the course.
Petitioner cannot pass on its blame to the professors to justify its own negligence that led to the delayed relay of information to respondent. When one of two innocent parties must suffer, he through whose agency the loss occurred must bear it. The modern tendency is to grant indemnity for damages in cases where there is abuse of right, even when the act is not illicit. If mere fault or negligence in one’s acts can make him liable for damages for injury caused thereby, with more reason should abuse or bad faith make him liable. A person should be protected only when he acts in the legitimate exercise of his right, that is, when he acts with prudence and in good faith, but not when he acts with negligence or abuse.
However, the Court stated that while petitioner was guilty of negligence and thus liable to respondent for the latter’s actual damages, it held that respondent should not have been awarded moral damages by the lower courts. The Court did not agree with the Court of Appeals’ findings that respondent suffered shock, trauma and pain when he was informed that he could not graduate and will not be allowed to take the bar examinations. At the very least, it behooved on respondent to verify for himself whether he has completed all necessary requirements to be eligible for the bar examinations. As a senior law student, respondent should have been responsible enough to ensure that all his affairs, specifically those pertaining to his academic achievement, were in order. Given these considerations, the Court failed to see how respondent could have suffered untold embarrassment in attending the graduation rites, enrolling in the bar review classes and not being able to take the bar exams. If respondent was indeed humiliated by his failure to take the bar, he brought this upon himself by not verifying if he had satisfied all the requirements including his school records, before preparing himself for the bar examination. Certainly, taking the bar examinations does not only entail a mental preparation on the subjects thereof; there are also prerequisites of documentation and submission of requirements which the prospective examinee must meet, the Court added.
FERDINAND A. CRUZ vs. JUDGE PRISCILLA MIJARES, et. al.,
G.R. No. 154464, September 11, 2008.
In the case of Cruz vs. Judge Mijares, G.R. No. 154464, September 11, 2008, the Supreme Court held that under Bar Matter 730, in relation to Section 34 of Rule 138, “a law student may appear as an agent or a friend of a party litigant, without need of the supervision of a lawyer, before inferior courts”. The Court recognized the right of an individual to represent himself in any case to which he is a party. Sec. 34 of Rule 138 states that a party may conduct his litigation personally or with the aid of an attorney, and that his appearance must either be personal or by a duly authorized member of the Bar. The individual litigant may personally do everything in the course of proceedings from commencement to the termination of the litigation. Considering that a party personally conducting his litigation is restricted to the same rules of evidence and procedure as those qualified to practice law, he runs the risk of falling into the snares and hazards of his own ignorance. In the case at bar, the petitioner Cruz was the plaintiff, at his own instance, in Civil Case No. 01-0410 before the Regional Trial Court of Pasay City. He would then be acting not as a counsel or lawyer, “but as a party exercising his right to represent himself”.
On March 5, 2002, Ferdinand A. Cruz (petitioner) sought permission to enter his appearance for and on his behalf, before the RTC, Branch 108, Pasay City, as the plaintiff in Civil Case No. 01-0410, for Abatement of Nuisance. Petitioner, a fourth year law student, anchors his claim on Section 34 of Rule 138 of the Rules of Court that a non-lawyer may appear before any court and conduct his litigation personally.
Rule 138-A, or the Law Student Practice Rule, provides:
LAW STUDENT PRACTICE RULE
Section 1. Conditions for Student Practice. – A law student who has successfully completed his 3rd year of the regular four-year prescribed law curriculum and is enrolled in a recognized law school's clinical legal education program approved by the Supreme Court, may appear without compensation in any civil, criminal or administrative case before any trial court, tribunal, board or officer, to represent indigent clients accepted by the legal clinic of the law school.
Sec. 2. Appearance. – The appearance of the law student authorized by this rule, shall be under the direct supervision and control of a member of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines duly accredited by the law school. Any and all pleadings, motions, briefs, memoranda or other papers to be filed, must be signed by the supervising attorney for and in behalf of the legal clinic.
The respondent court held that the petitioner could not appear for himself and on his behalf because of his failure to comply with Rule 138-A. In denying petitioner’s appearance, the court a quo tersely found refuge in the fact that, on December 18, 1986, this Court issued Circular No. 19, which eventually became Rule 138-A, and the failure of Cruz to prove on record that he was enrolled in a recognized school’s clinical legal education program and was under supervision of an attorney duly accredited by the law school.
However, the petitioner insisted that the basis of his appearance was Section 34 of Rule 138, which provides:
Sec. 34. By whom litigation is conducted. - In the court of a justice of the peace, a party may conduct his litigation in person, with the aid of an agent or friend appointed by him for that purpose, or with the aid of an attorney. In any other court, a party may conduct his litigation personally or by aid of an attorney, and his appearance must be either personal or by a duly authorized member of the bar.
and is a rule distinct from Rule 138-A.
From the clear language of this provision of the Rules, the Court conceded that the contention of the petitioner had merit. The Court recognized the right of an individual to represent himself in any case to which he was a party. The Rules state that a party may conduct his litigation personally or with the aid of an attorney, and that his appearance must either be personal or by a duly authorized member of the Bar. The individual litigant may personally do everything in the course of proceedings from commencement to the termination of the litigation. Considering that a party personally conducting his litigation is restricted to the same rules of evidence and procedure as those qualified to practice law, he, not being a lawyer himself, runs the risk of falling into the snares and hazards of his own ignorance. In the case at bar, Cruz who was the plaintiff, at his own instance, in Civil Case No. 01-0410 before the Regional Trial Court of Pasay City was “acting not as a counsel or lawyer, but as a party exercising his right to represent himself”.
The trial court must have been misled by the fact that the petitioner was a law student and must, therefore, be subject to the conditions of the Law Student Practice Rule. It erred in applying Rule 138-A, when the basis of the petitioner’s claim is Section 34 of Rule 138. The former rule provides for conditions when a law student may appear in courts, while the latter rule allows the appearance of a non-lawyer as a party representing himself.
The Court held that the conclusion of the trial court that Rule 138-A superseded Rule 138 by virtue of Circular No. 19 was misplaced. The Court never intended to repeal Rule 138 when it released the guidelines for limited law student practice. In fact, it was intended as an addendum to the instances when a non-lawyer may appear in courts and was incorporated to the Rules of Court through Rule 138-A.
It may be relevant to recall that, in respect to the constitutional right of an accused to be heard by himself and counsel, the Court has held that during the trial, the right to counsel cannot be waived. Even the most intelligent or educated man may have no skill in the science of law, particularly in the rules of procedure, and without counsel, he may be convicted not because he is guilty but because he does not know how to establish his innocence.
The case at bar involves a civil case, with the petitioner as plaintiff therein. The solicitous concern that the Constitution accords the accused in a criminal prosecution obviously did not obtain in a civil case. Thus, a party litigant in a civil case, who insists that he can, without a lawyer’s assistance, effectively undertake the successful pursuit of his claim, may be given the chance to do so. In this case, petitioner alleges that he was a law student and impliedly asserted that he had the competence to litigate the case himself. Evidently, he was aware of the perils incident to this decision.
In addition, it was subsequently clarified that under Bar Matter 730, in relation to Section 34, Rule 138, “a law student may appear as an agent or a friend of a party litigant, without need of the supervision of a lawyer, before inferior courts”. In the case at bar, petitioner Cruz “was a law student who, as party litigant, wished to represent himself in court”. The Court said it should grant his wish.
June 30, 2009