In the very recent case of “PETITION FOR LEAVE TO RESUME PRACTICE OF LAW, BENJAMIN M. ACANAY, Petitioner”, docketed as B.M. No. 1678, December 17, 2007, citing R.A. 9225 (Citizenship Retention and Re-Acquisition Act of 2003), the Philippine Supreme Court granted the petition of Attorney Benjamin M. Dacanay to resume his practice of law in the Philippines, subject to compliance with certain conditions and the submission of proofs of such compliance to the Bar Confidant, after which he may retake his oath as a member of the Philippine Bar. The conditions set by the Court were:
(a) the updating and payment in full of the annual membership dues in the IBP;
(b) the payment of professional tax;
(c) the completion of at least 36 credit hours of mandatory continuing legal education; this is specially significant to refresh the applicant/petitioner’s knowledge of Philippine laws and update him of legal developments and
(d) the retaking of the lawyer’s oath which will not only remind him of his duties and responsibilities as a lawyer and as an officer of the Court, but also renew his pledge to maintain allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines.
The Court held that under RA 9225, if a person intends to practice the legal profession in the Philippines and he reacquires his Filipino citizenship pursuant to its provisions “(he) shall apply with the proper authority for a license or permit to engage in such practice.” Stated otherwise, before a lawyer who reacquires Filipino citizenship pursuant to RA 9225 can resume his law practice, he must first secure from this Court the authority to do so.
The petitioner was admitted to the Philippine bar in March 1960. He practiced law until he migrated to Canada in December 1998 to seek medical attention for his ailments. He subsequently applied for Canadian citizenship to avail of Canada’s free medical aid program. His application was approved and he became a Canadian citizen in May 2004.
On July 14, 2006, pursuant to RA 9225, the petitioner reacquired his Philippine citizenship. On that day, he took his oath of allegiance as a Filipino citizen before the Philippine Consulate General in Toronto, Canada. Thereafter, he returned to the Philippines to resume his law practice.
In a report dated October 16, 2007, the Office of the Bar Confidant cites Section 2, Rule 138 (Attorneys and Admission to Bar) of the Rules of Court:
SECTION 2. Requirements for all applicants for admission to the bar. – 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.
Applying the provision, the Office of the Bar Confidant opined that, by virtue of his reacquisition of Philippine citizenship, in 2006, petitioner had again met all the qualifications and has none of the disqualifications for membership in the bar. It recommended that the petitioner be allowed to resume the practice of law in the Philippines, conditioned on his retaking the lawyer’s oath to remind him of his duties and responsibilities as a member of the Philippine bar.
The Court stated that “the practice of law is a privilege burdened with conditions”; that “it is so delicately affected with public interest that it is both a power and a duty of the State (through the Court) to control and regulate it in order to protect and promote the public welfare”; that “adherence to rigid standards of mental fitness, maintenance of the highest degree of morality, faithful observance of the rules of the legal profession, compliance with the mandatory continuing legal education requirement and payment of membership fees to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) are required for membership in good standing in the bar and for enjoying the privilege to practice law”; and that “any breach by a lawyer of any of these conditions makes him unworthy of the trust and confidence which the courts and clients repose in him for the continued exercise of his professional privilege”.
It reiterated that “the Rules of Court mandates that an applicant for admission to the bar be a citizen of the Philippines, at least twenty-one years of age, of good moral character and a resident of the Philippines” (Sec.1, Rule 1389); that “he must produce before this 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”; and that “admission to the bar involves various phases such as furnishing satisfactory proof of educational, moral and other qualifications; passing the bar examinations; taking the lawyer’s oath and signing the roll of attorneys and receiving from the clerk of court of this Court a certificate of the license to practice”.
The second requisite for the practice of law ― membership in good standing ― is a continuing requirement, according to the Court. This means “continued membership” and, concomitantly, “payment of annual membership dues in the IBP; payment of the annual professional tax; compliance with the mandatory continuing legal education requirement; faithful observance of the rules and ethics of the legal profession and being continually subject to judicial disciplinary control”.
The Constitution provides that “the practice of all professions in the Philippines shall be limited to Filipino citizens save in cases prescribed by law” (Article XII, 1987 Constitution). Since Filipino citizenship is a requirement for admission to the bar, loss thereof terminates membership in the Philippine bar and, consequently, the privilege to engage in the practice of law. In other words, “the loss of Filipino citizenship ipso jure terminates the privilege to practice law in the Philippines”. The practice of law is a privilege denied to foreigners, the Court stressed.
The exception is when Filipino citizenship is lost by reason of naturalization as a citizen of another country but subsequently reacquired pursuant to RA 9225. This is because “all Philippine citizens who become citizens of another country shall be deemed not to have lost their Philippine citizenship under the conditions of [RA 9225]”, the Court stated. Therefore, a Filipino lawyer who becomes a citizen of another country “is deemed never to have lost his Philippine citizenship if he reacquires it in accordance with RA 9225”. Although he is also deemed never to have terminated his membership in the Philippine bar, “no automatic right to resume law practice accrues”, the Court qualified.
In the Matter of the IBP Membership Dues Delinquency of Atty. Marcial A. Edillon, A.C. No. 1928, 19 December 1980, 101 SCRA 612. Heck v. Santos, A.M. No. RTJ-01-1657, 23 February 2004, 423 SCRA 329. In re Atty. Marcial Edillon, A.C. No. 1928, 03 August 1978, 84 SCRA 554. Section 2, Rule 138, Rules of Court. In re Integration of the Bar of the Philippines, 09 January 1973, 49 SCRA 22; Section 139, RA 7160. Resolution dated August 8, 2000 in Bar Matter No. 850 (Rules on Mandatory Continuing Legal Education for Members of the IBP). Philippine Association of Free Labor Unions v. Binalbagan Isabela Sugar Co., G.R. No. L-23959, 29 November 1971, 42 SCRA 302. See last paragraph of Section 14, Article XII. In re Bosque, 1 Phil. 88 (1902). Section 2, RA 9225.
Atty. MANUEL J. LASERNA JR.
December 21, 2007
Las Pinas City, Philippines