Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Practice of law

The American Bar Association’s Task Force on the Model Definition of the Practice of Law, in its Draft (9/18/02) of DEFINITION OF THE PRACTICE OF LAW, defined the term “practice of law”, which shall be performed only by those authorized by the highest court of a jurisdiction, as “the application of legal principles and judgment with regard to the circumstances or objectives of a person that require the knowledge and skill of a person trained in the law”.

In the Philippines, as in most countries, even non-lawyers are de facto practicing law, without the benefit of legal training, legal licensing, and judicial disciplinary supervision, such as, paralegals, brokers, agents, appraisers, consultants, labor union officers, accountants, and the like. This poses a problem to the legal profession and to the general public, who are exposed to the risk of subjecting their life, limb and property to the incompetence of unauthorized legal practitioners.

Under the ABA rules, a person is presumed to be practicing law when engaging in any of the following conduct on behalf of another:

(1) Giving advice or counsel to persons as to their legal rights or responsibilities or to those of others;

(2) Selecting, drafting, or completing legal documents or agreements that affect the legal rights of a person;

(3) Representing a person before an adjudicative body, including, but not limited to, preparing or filing documents or conducting discovery; or

(4) Negotiating legal rights or responsibilities on behalf of a person.

Whether or not they constitute the practice of law, the following are permitted, according to ABA rules:

(1) Practicing law authorized by a limited license to practice;

(2) Pro se representation;

(3) Serving as a mediator, arbitrator, conciliator or facilitator; and

(4) Providing services under the supervision of a lawyer in compliance with the Rules of Professional Conduct.

Any person engaged in the practice of law shall be held to the same standard of care and duty of loyalty to the client independent of whether the person is authorized to practice law in this jurisdiction.

The nonlawyer who provides the authorized services above shall disclose that fact in writing.

In the case of an entity engaged in the practice of law, the liability of the entity is unlimited and the liability of its constituent members is limited to those persons participating in such conduct and those persons who had knowledge of the conduct and failed to take remedial action immediately upon discovery of same.

If a person who is not authorized to practice law is engaged in the practice of law, that person shall be subject to the civil and criminal penalties of this jurisdiction.

The primary consideration in defining the practice of law is the protection of the public. Thus, for a person’s conduct to be considered the practice of law, there must be another person toward whom the benefit of that conduct is directed. That explains the exception for pro se representation. The conduct also must be targeted toward the circumstances or objectives of a specific person. Thus, courts have held that the publication of legal self-help books is not the practice of law.

US pro se definition is very liberal: The exception for pro se representation contemplates not only self-representation by an individual but also representation of an entity by an authorized nonlawyer agent of the entity in those jurisdictions that permit such representation.

See: (ABA, Aug. 16, 2003)


Atty. Manuel J. Laserna Jr.

LCM Law, Las Pinas City, Philippines

Young lawyers

Young lawyers’ job satisfaction

In 2000 the American Bar Association conducted a Young Lawyers Career Satisfaction Survey among its members. Its highlights were as follows:

1. The median billable year was 1860 hours.

2. Half of young lawyers spent more than fifty hours per week on legal work.

3. Most young lawyers were at least somewhat satisfied both with their job and with the practice of law generally.

4. More than seven out of ten were at least somewhat satisfied with the balance between thir professional and personal lives.

5. Among those in private practice, small-firm practitioners were likelier than those in larger firms to find that their expectations are being met with regard to their ability to contribute to the social good, help others, and enjoy a certain quality of life. On the other hand, larger-firm practitioners are likelier to experience greater financial rewards and significant potential for advancement.

6. Despite a high level of overall satisfaction with current position and the practice of law generally, more than sixty-five percent indicated that they would consider switching jobs within two years.

There were many factors that contributed to an individual’s satisfaction with his or her situation with regard to practice setting or the practice of law generally. The majority of the respondents who were employed in legal positions (86.5%) reported that they were practicing in substantive areas of law which they enjoyed. Only 13.5% of the young lawyers did not appear to be satisfied with this aspect of their careers. This pattern was strikingly similar to the percentage of respondents to the 1995 survey who reported discontent with the substantive focus of their practice. At that time 13.4% of the young lawyers indicated that they were not practicing in a substantive area that they enjoyed.

The alignment of expectations and experience with regard to intellectual challenge was the strongest of those tested, as it was in 1995. About 70% of the young lawyers responding to the 2000 survey felt that their actual experience had lived up very well to their expectations regarding the level of intellectual challenge involved in the practice of law. Only 2.6% reported that their expectations had been completely disappointed with regard to this aspect of practice. With regard to financial remunera­tion, career satisfaction, the ability to help others, and quality of life, the majority of the respondents working in legal positions appeared to be at least somewhat satisfied with the convergence between their expectations and experience. The inability to make a contribution to social good was the aspect of practice that seemed to disappoint young lawyers the most. A quarter of the responding young lawyers felt that their expecta­tions with regard to their ability to make a contribution to social good through the practice of law had not been met, a situation which had not improved in the interval between surveys.

Among private practitioners in firms of various sizes, there were some significant differences with regard to the convergence of expectations and experience. Small firm lawyers were less likely than those in large firms to find that their expectations with regard to financial remuneration were being met. Conversely, private practitioners in large firms were less pleased with their ability to make a contribution to social good, their quality of life, and the ability to help others than were those in smaller firms.

Among private practitioners, firm size was an important factor in the evaluation of these practice descriptors. Smaller firm practitioners were significantly more likely than those in larger firms to report that they had substantial control over their work, that they experienced a lower level of job tension/pressure, and that the balance between time spent on work and family responsibilities was satisfactory. The price paid for these benefits was that larger firm lawyers were more likely than those in smaller firms to report that the financial reward was great and that there was substantial potential for advancement.

In the face of what appeared to be a high level of general satisfaction among the young lawyers generally regarding their current position and the practice of law, it was interesting to note that 30.1% of those who responded to a question about the likeli­hood of their leaving the firm or organization where they were currently employed in the next two years said that they would strongly consider doing so. Another 37.2% reported that they might consider doing so. Only 9.5% of the responding members would definitely not consider changing firms or organizations. (In 1995, 32.8% indi­cated that they would strongly consider a move within two years of the survey and 31% reported that they might consider doing so.) There were no significant differences between the female and male respondents with regard to their willingness to change positions. Newer lawyers are significantly more likely than those who have been in practice for a while to be strongly considering leaving their current firm or organization within the next two years. For example, 38.8% of the respondents admitted to practice in 1999 or 2000 are strongly considering such a move compared to 16.1% of the lawyers admitted in 1993 or earlier. There were also significant differences among private practitioners in firms of various sizes.

Young lawyers in private practice in larger firms were significantly more likely to be contemplating a move from their current firm or organiza­tion and less likely than those in smaller firms to report that they would definitely not consider changing their current employment setting in the next two years. About 80.7% of the private practitioners in firms of more than 200 lawyers indicated that they might at least consider such action.

Slightly over two-fifths of the survey respondents (42.4%) were female. With regard to ethnicity, 86% of the members who indicated their ethnicity were Caucasian; 4.2% are African American; 4.3% are Asian American; 2.5% were Hispanic or Mexican American; and 0.3%

About 58.7% of the members who provided information on marital status were married; 36.3% were single and had never been married; 4.7% were divorced and single; and 0.4% are currently separated. Slightly over half of the survey respondents (54%) were members of two career families. A quarter of those respondents report that their spouse or significant other was also a lawyer.

The survey respondents reported their personal income from all sources in 1999. The median income fell between $60,000 and $69,999. The difference in the median income levels between female and male respondents was in some part attributable to the fact that the female members were less likely than the males to be employed in private practice, and among private practitioners, women were less likely to be working in large law firms than were their male counterparts.


There are certain values that a lawyer must cherish in the practice of law. The first value is the obligation to learn to represent clients competently; the second, the obligation to promote justice, morality and fairness; the third, the obligation to improve the profession; the fourth, an obligation to constantly improve one's skills and the obligation to take positions consistent with one's personal values and professional goals.

Be aware of your personal values and professional goals. Self-assessment is becoming aware of your interests, your values, your skills - who you are and what you want in a position.

You can also conduct a written self-interview. It will be surprising if you don't become very thoughtful after writing answers to the following questions:

  • When did you first entertain the notion of being a lawyer?
  • Who were the people who supported or influenced you to become a lawyer? What did they see in you? What were their personal attributes, skills and characteristics that seem to have contributed to their accomplishment and satisfaction. Were there those who discouraged you? Why?
  • How did you choose your college major?
  • At the time you applied, what were your reasons for applying to law school?
  • What was your experience your first year of law school?
  • What was the evolution of your study methods and your attitude toward grades (i.e. your analytic strengths and weaknesses and your attitude toward competition)?
  • What courses did you like best, and do they have the slightest bearing on what you do now? Is this a problem?
  • If you ever seriously considered dropping out of law school, what was the turning point that changed your mind?
  • What impact did your summer jobs and your first permanent job have on your self-image and career plans?

In addition to interviewing yourself, you might wish to review your significant accomplishments: not just the professionally recognizable triumphs that are standard fare on resumes, but achievements you know to be privately and personally significant. Often the groundwork for a sense of mastery has been laid well before your formal professional training. Things your have done successfully and well at any stage of life are apt to be windows on your talents and interests. It will do you good if you write ten achievement stories, describe the skills essential to your successes, and look for underlying themes and continuities.

The foregoing is based on an article of Dr. Mark Byers, a counseling and vocational psychologist, who has counseled students and lawyers at Harvard Law School since 1978 (visit

Atty. Manuel J. Laserna Jr.

LCM Law, Las Pinas City, Philippines

Friday, August 22, 2008

Judicial independence and press freedom

In the recent case of IN THE MATTER OF THE ALLEGATIONS CONTAINED IN THE COLUMNS OF MR. AMADO P. MACASAET PUBLISHED IN MALAYA DATED SEPTEMBER 18, 19, 20 AND 21, 2007, En Banc, A.M. No. 07-09-13-SC, August 8, 2008, balancing press freedom and judicial independence, the Philippine Supreme Court declared respondent newspaperman Amado P. Macasaet guilty of indirect contempt of court and sentenced him to pay a fine of P20,000.00, in accordance with Sections 3(d) and 7, Rule 71 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure.

The case stemmed from certain articles that appeared in the “Business Circuit” column of Amado P. Macasaet in the Malaya, a newspaper of general circulation of which he is the publisher. The articles, containing statements and innuendoes about an alleged bribery incident in the Supreme Court, came out in four (4) issues of the newspaper on September 18, 19, 20 and 21, 2007, reproduced as follows :

September 18, 2007

Bribery in the Court

A lady justice (I have not been told whether she is from the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeals) did not report for a day last week.

Her secretary received a gift-wrapped box about the size of two dozen milk cans.

Believing that the “gift” might be something perishable, she opened the box. Indeed, it was a gift – estimated at P10 million. Posthaste, the secretary informed the magistrate about the gift. She thought she was doing her job. The lady justice fired her instead.

She would not have anybody catch her accepting a bribe. But she practically did.

The stupidity here is that the bribe-giver – what else would we call him or her – did not check whether the lady justice was in the office or not. Better still he or she could have the box full of money delivered to her home. But then her family would get to know about and ask who was the kind soul that was so liberal with money – a boxful of it.

The Supreme Court cannot let this pass. A full investigation should be conducted. The magistrate who was sent the bribe should be impeached.

The gift gives proof to the pernicious rumor that the courts are dirty. This time, the lady justice is with a higher court.

The court is like a basket of apples. There a few which are rotten that makes the whole basket rotten.

The names and reputation of highly-respected jurists must be saved from suspicions they are thieves.

Here’s the clue

The Court employee who was fired by the lady jurist is a niece of another lady justice who earlier retired. The worker was inherited by the incumbent lady justice.

My problem with this report is that while my source is definite about the employee opening a gift-wrapped box that contained at least P10 million, he won’t confide to me the identity of the jurist.

Unless the employee who was fired talks against her boss – and she should as a matter of duty – we will never know who this justice really is. The members of the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, the Sandiganbayan are all called justices.

The head of the Office of Government Corporate Counsel is also honored by being addressed as such. So is the head of the Court of Tax Appeals.

Since the employee was fired for opening the box which she thought contained perishable goods but turned out there was an estimated P10 million in it, she should be loyal to her duty of telling the truth.

That way, she would have rendered a great service to the justice system. Without her talking, every lady with the title of Justice is suspect. There are more than a dozen of them in different courts but only one was caught red-handed taking a bribe. Her name should be known so that the Supreme Court can act swiftly on a clear case of bribery.

Otherwise, this case becomes one where the pot calls the kettle black. Or is that the reason the employee would not talk, that her former boss could spill the beans on her peers?

September 19, 2007

The Bribe Giver

I learned from some lawyers that the bribe money given to a lady justice came from a Chinese-Filipino businessman who has been criminally charged.

It is funny that the delivery of five boxes of money (I said only one earlier) coincided on the day the lady justice, obviously acting as ponente, acquitted the prospect.

The secretary of the lady justice who took the bribe made five trips to the guardhouse to pick up the boxes.

Incidentally, this secretary is a namesake of her aunt, a deceased associate justice of the Supreme Court.

I dare say that if her name is Cecilia, it is entirely possible that the lady justice is a member of the Supreme Court. The late justice Cecilia Muñoz-Palma is the only lady justice I know who retired and died at a ripe old age and left behind a reputation of decency and integrity.

We are coming closer and closer to the truth. The lady justice shamed her court. She should resign or be impeached.

That is the only way the soiled reputation of the Highest Court could be restored.

September 20, 2007

Cecilia, please save the court

I have established the lady justice’s secretary who opened one of the five milk boxes containing bribe money is a niece of the late, respected and honorable Associate Justice Cecilia Muñoz Palma from Batangas.

The secretary is a niece of the late justice and a namesake.

Cecilia, you have a duty to honor the memory of your aunt, who, during her stay in the court, was known for having balls.

More important than that, you have a duty to save the sagging reputation of the Supreme Court.

Cecilia, you must tell the Court en banc everything you know about the money that was sent in five boxes to your boss.

Not in retaliation for your dismissal, but for no other reason than as a duty to your country and, I must again say, to honor the memory of your late illustrious aunt, a legal luminary and staunch defender of the Constitution.

The other reason you must spill the beans is that if you do not, other lady justices are suspects. That is not fair to them.

September 21, 2007

Wrong date, same facts

On verification, I discovered that the secretary of a lady justice of the Supreme Court who was said to have accepted five milk boxes of money, was fired as early as March. Not last week as I mistakenly reported.

It turns out that Cecilia Muñoz-Delis from Bicol picked up the last five boxes several times in March.

She never opened the first four boxes which she picked up from the guardhouse of the Court.

She opened the last and saw the money because the lady justice was absent on that day. Forthwith, she was fired. Cecilia, who is from Bicol, never opened any of the first four boxes delivered on various dates (I have not been told when). She picked up all of them from the Supreme Court guardhouse and left them with the lady justice. She wouldn’t dare open the first four because the lady justice was in her office. She opened the fifth one because the lady justice did not report for work on that day.

Cecilia thought that the gift-wrapped box contained some perishables like food. What she found was money instead. She was fired.

Whenever a gift for lady justice comes, she would order Cecilia to pick it up from the guardhouse. So the fifth she picked up was one of those errands.

Where is Cecilia?

I cannot get any information on the present whereabouts of Cecilia. However, if the Supreme Court has intentions to investigate what I have been saying, maybe the Chief Justice himself should find out where she could be sent an invitation to appear before an investigation group in the Court.

Better still, as I said, yesterday, Cecilia should disclose everything she knows regarding the box before the Court en banc.

Farthest thing from my mind is to embarrass the lady justice whose identity I do not know up to now.

It is my conviction that the Court should investigate reports of wrongdoing by any of its peers. Justice is served that way.

The Chief Justice and the rest of the justices should not have a problem finding out who she is.

It is a simple job of asking a clerk to go to personnel department of the Court and find out who Cecilia worked for.

Also on September 20, 2007, at around 6:00 p.m., Marites Dañguilan-Vitug, Editor in Chief of Newsbreak, faxed a letter to Supreme Court Associate Justice Consuelo Ynares-Santiago asking for three things –

1. On April 13, 2007, you concurred with a decision penned by Justice Romeo Callejo, Sr. ruling that the Sandiganbayan Fifth Division did not commit a grave abuse of discretion by finding probable cause against Henry Go. However, five months later (September 3, 2007), acting on Go’s motion for reconsideration, you reversed yourself and ordered the dismissal of the graft case against Go. Please explain the circumstances that led to this reversal.

2. We have gathered from three sources that you received a cash gift of P10 million after you issued the decision early September. Please comment.

3. We’re checking if this is accurate. Your secretary, who opened the gift-wrapped box thinking that it contained perishable items, found cash instead. It was after this incident that you removed her.

Upon receipt of the faxed letter, Mme. Justice Ynares-Santiago called for ACA Marquez, showed him the letter of Dañguilan-Vitug, and requested him to tell Dañguilan-Vitug that she (Mme. Justice Ynares-Santiago) had been consistent on her position in the Go case, that she never reversed herself, that she never received a cash gift, and that no secretary was terminated for opening a gift-wrapped box containing money. Accordingly, ACA Marquez went back to his office, called up Dañguilan-Vitug and told her what Mme. Justice Ynares-Santiago told him.

Upon the request of Mme. Justice Ynares-Santiago, the Chief Justice instructed ACA Marquez to have the 18th, 19th, 20th, and 21st September 2007 Business Circuit columns of respondent Macasaet included in the September 25, 2007 agenda of the Court En Banc, which case was docketed as A.M. No. 07-09-13-SC. (Re: In the Matter of the Allegations Contained in the Columns of Mr. A.P. Macasaet Published in Malaya dated September 18, 19, 20, and 21, 2007).

On September 24, 2007, Daisy Cecilia Muñoz Delis, accompanied by the Clerk of Court En Banc, Hon. Ma. Luisa D. Villarama, went to see Mme. Justice Ynares-Santiago and gave the latter copies of her letter to respondent Macasaet and her affidavit. Delis, in her letter to respondent Macasaet, described his articles as “baseless reports.” “In other words,” she wrote respondent Macasaet, “the scenario you painted and continue to paint is improbable and could only have emanated from a polluted source, who, unfortunately, chose me to be a part of this fictional charge.” She clarified that she was a Judicial Staff Officer, and not a secretary as the articles claimed she was; that she voluntarily resigned from office and was not fired; that as a matter of procedure, she would not have been tasked to receive boxes, as such was a duty assigned to their utility personnel; that it was “highly unlikely for something as blatant as [a] bribery attempt to have been done right in the doors of the Court.”

In her affidavit, Delis stated that she “had nothing to do with, nor did x x x have any knowledge of such alleged attempted bribery,” and that she executed her affidavit “to allow Justice Consuelo Ynares-Santiago to defend her honor,” and “for the purpose of correcting the erroneous information of Mr. Macasaet.”

That same morning, too, despite the prior telephone conversation between ACA Marquez and Dañguilan-Vitug, Newsbreak posted an on-line article written by Danguilan-Vitug herself and Aries Rufo, which was regularly updated, entitled “Supreme Court Justice Suspected of Accepting Payoff (update) with the picture of Mme. Justice Ynares-Santiago.

Later that morning, Mme. Justice Ynares-Santiago called ACA Marquez to her office and gave him copies of her written statement “categorically deny(ing) the accusations and insinuations, all malicious and unfounded, published in Malaya and in Newsbreak;” and underscoring “that these are blatant lies clearly aimed at smearing and maligning my character and person, and the integrity of the Judiciary which (she has) been faithfully serving for 34 years now.” Mme. Justice Ynares-Santiago also gave ACA Marquez copies of Delis’ letter to respondent Macasaet and her affidavit, which Delis herself had brought to Mme. Justice Ynares-Santiago earlier that morning.

In the afternoon of September 24, 2007, ACA Marquez held a press conference and released to the media copies of Delis’ letter to respondent Macasaet, her affidavit, and the written statement of Mme. Justice Santiago.

On September 25, 2007, the Court En Banc issued a resolution stating –

Upon evaluation of the columns “Business Circuit” of Amado P. Macasaet in the September 18, 19, 20, and 21, 2007 issues of the Malaya, it appears that certain statements and innuendoes therein tend, directly or indirectly, to impede, obstruct, or degrade the administration of justice, within the purview of Section 3(d), Rule 71 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure.

WHEREFORE, Amado P. Macasaet is ORDERED to EXPLAIN why no sanction should be imposed on him for indirect contempt of court in accordance with Section 3(d), (Rule 71) of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, within five (5) days from receipt hereof. Ynares-Santiago, J., no part.

The following day, September 26, 2007, Newsbreak posted its on-line article entitled “Supreme Court Orders Malaya Publisher to Explain Stories with a banner headline, “This is not meant to chill the media.”

On October 16, 2007, the Court En Banc noted respondent Macasaet’s Explanation dated October 1, 2007, and directed the Clerk of Court to include in the records of the case the affidavit of Delis dated September 24, 2007. The High Court also created an investigating committee composed of retired Supreme Court justices, namely, Justice Carolina Griño-Aquino as Chairperson; and Justices Vicente V. Mendoza and Romeo J. Callejo, Sr., as members, “to receive the evidence from all parties concerned. The Committee may, on its own, call such persons who can shed light on the matter. It shall be endowed with all the powers necessary to discharge its duty.” The Committee was likewise directed “to submit its report and recommendation within thirty (30) days from the start of its hearing.” Retired Justices Mendoza and Callejo, however, both begged off and were eventually replaced by retired Supreme Court Justices Jose C. Vitug and Justo P. Torres.

From October 30, 2007 to March 10, 2008, the Investigating Committee held hearings and gathered affidavits and testimonies from the parties concerned.

The Committee invited respondent Macasaet, Dañguilan-Vitug, Delis, and ACA Marquez to a preliminary meeting, in which they were requested to submit their respective affidavits which served as their testimonies on direct examination. They were then later cross-examined on various dates: respondent Macasaet on January 10, 2008, Dañguilan-Vitug on January 17, 2008, Delis on January 24, 2008, and ACA Marquez on January 28, 2008. The Chief of the Security Services and the Cashier of the High Court likewise testified on January 22 and 24, 2008, respectively.

AMADO P. MACASAET testified on January 10, 2008 but, as expected, he invoked his right under R.A. No. 53, as amended by R.A. No. 1477 to refuse to disclose the source/s of his story regarding the rumored bribery of a Lady Justice (later identified as Justice Consuelo Ynares-Santiago) of a high court (later revealed as the Supreme Court) who allegedly received Php 10 million contained in a gift-wrapped Carnation carton box (later changed to five [5] gift-wrapped boxes), for deciding a criminal case in favor of a rich Chinese-Filipino businessman. (Pls. see columns of September 18 and 19, 2007).

The pay-off was allegedly discovered when Cecilia Muñoz-Delis (not the Lady Justice’s secretary but a judicial staff officer V of the PET or Presidential Electoral Tribunal) who is a niece and namesake of retired Supreme Court Justice Cecilia Muñoz Palma, allegedly opened the “last” box (according to his column of September 21, 2007 titled “Wrong date same facts”); but the “first” (according to his testimony on January 10, 2008, pp. 71, 89, 92, 125, tsn).

By his “own conclusion,” the boxes of money were delivered on different dates because “I don’t think a bribe giver will deliver five boxes at the same time” (87, tsn, January 10, 2008).

Macasaet testified that his “source” is not a relative of his, nor a government employee, certainly not an employee of the judiciary, and, that he (Macasaet) has known him for some 10 to 15 years (12-20, tsn, January 10, 2008).

Significantly, in his column of September 19, 2007, Macasaet revealed that he did not have only one source, but several sources, i.e., “some lawyers,” who told him “that the bribe money given to a lady justice came from a Chinese-Filipino businessman who has been criminally charged.”

He emphatically declared on the witness chair that he trusts his source “with my heart and soul” and believes his word “as coming straight out of the Bible” (94, 113, tsn, January 10, 2008; 14, tsn, January 17, 2008). But because this source did not have direct knowledge of the bribery (26, tsn, January 10, 2008), he allegedly tried to verify from other sources the information he had received, but “I could not get confirmation” (29, tsn, January 10, 2008).

Notwithstanding the lack of confirmation and the paucity of details as to the identity of the Lady Justice and of the High Court where she sits, Macasaet believes that “the bribery had actually taken place” because “I trust my source with my heart and soul” (93-94, 113, tsn, January 10, 2008).

He decided to go ahead and publish the story because he “thought that eventually my effort at consistently x x x exposing the alleged bribery, one day sooner or later somebody will come up and admit or deny (it). And I think that (was) what really happened” (29, tsn, January 10, 2008).

He found out that the Lady Justice involved is Justice Consuelo Ynares-Santiago of the Supreme Court, after he received a letter dated September 21, 2007 from Cecilia Muñoz-Delis, the “Cecilia” mentioned in his columns, denying any knowledge of the alleged bribery or boxes of money for she had already resigned (not dismissed) from the Court on March 15, 2007, six (6) months before the alleged bribery supposedly occurred a week before Macasaet wrote about it in his column of September 18, 2007. (Annex “A,” Letter dated September 21, 2007 of Cecilia Delis to Macasaet)

So, when did the bribery happen? The date was never made certain, for in his first column of September 18, 2007, Macasaet stated that the gift-wrapped box of money was delivered to the office of the Lady Justice, “a day last week” when the Lady Justice did not report for work. That must have been sometime on September 10-14, 2007 – the week before September 18, 2007.

However, the next day, September 19, 2007, he wrote in his column that the delivery of five boxes (not just one box) of money, “coincided on the day that the Lady Justice, acting as ponente, dismissed the criminal case against Chinese-Filipino businessman Henry T. Go in the Sandiganbayan. That must be September 3, 2007 because the Resolution in G.R. No. 172602 “Henry T. Go versus The Fifth Division, Sandiganbayan, et al.” was promulgated on that date. This he affirmed when he testified on January 10, 2008 (46, 74, tsn, January 10, 2008).

However, when he returned to the witness chair on January 17, 2008, after going back to his informant (on his own request) to ascertain the dates when the boxes of money were delivered to the Office of Justice Santiago, so that the Investigating Committee could subpoena the relevant logbooks of the Security Services of the Court to verify the truth of the alleged deliveries, Macasaet again changed his earlier testimonies on date/dates of the deliveries. He informed the Committee that, according to his informant, the deliveries were made “between November 2006 and March 2007”; “before Cecilia Delis resigned or was dismissed from the Court.”

On March 11, 2008 the Investigating Committee submitted to the Office of the Chief Justice its March 10, 2008 Report and Recommendation, with the following findings of facts on the subject columns –

The following statements in Macasaet’s columns appear to the Supreme Court to be “innuendoes (that) tend, directly or indirectly, to impede, obstruct, or degrade the administration of justice, within the purview of Section 3(d), Rule 71 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure.”

1) From the column of Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The gift gives proof to the pernicious rumor that the courts are dirty. This time, the lady justice is with a higher court.

The court is like a basket of apples. There (are) a few which are rotten. That makes the whole basket rotten.

The names and reputation of highly-respected jurists must be saved from suspicion that they are thieves.

Her name should be known so that the Supreme Court can act swiftly on a clear case of bribery. Otherwise, this case becomes one where the pot calls the kettle black. Or, is that the reason the employee would not talk, that her former boss could spill the beans on her peers?”

2) From the column of Wednesday, September 19, 2007

“The lady justice shamed her court. She should resign or be impeached. That is the only way the soiled reputation of the Highest Court could be restored.”

3) From the column of Thursday, September 20, 2007

“Cecilia x x x you have a duty to save the sagging reputation of the Supreme Court.”

Inasmuch as Macasaet’s snide remarks about the courts, particularly the Highest Court, and about the justices being suspected as thieves, appear to have [been] provoked by the rumored bribery in the Court, the Investigating Committee was constrained to find out how true the accusations were and whether the columnist had exercised due care and diligence in checking out the credibility of his informant and the veracity of the derogatory information fed to him before he published it in his columns in the Malaya.

Consequently, the Committee concluded –

In view of its tenuous underpinnings, we find the bribery story in Macasaet’s columns of September 18-21, 2007, and in Ms. Vitug’s Newsbreak issue of September 25, 2007, unbelievable. Why should five boxes supposedly containing a total of Php 10 million as bribe money be delivered to the office of a Lady Justice in the Supreme Court, where it would have to pass examination by the security guards and the quizzical eyes of her own employees? Why not to her home? Or at some agreed meeting place outside the Court and her home? Or why not quietly deposit it in her bank account? And why was she absent from her office on the day of the presumably agreed date for the payment of the bribe? If the bribe was for dismissing the information against Henry Go in the Sandiganbayan, why was it paid prematurely in November 2006-March 2007 when the case of Henry Go was still up in the air and, in fact, was decided against him on April 13, 2007? The favorable resolution on his motion for reconsideration, penned by Justice Santiago, was promulgated on September 3, 2007, almost one year after the pay-off, if there was such a pay-off?

x x x x

The Committee considers this case not just another event that should pass unnoticed for it has implications far beyond the allocated ramparts of free speech. Needless to say, that while we espouse the enjoyment of freedom of expression by media, particularly, it behooves it to observe great circumspection so as not to destroy reputations, integrity and character so dear to every individual, more so to a revered institution like the Supreme Court. Everyone deserves respect and dignity.

Finding sufficient basis to hold respondent Macasaet in indirect contempt of court, the Committee recommended –

The Committee finds that the statements of respondent Amado P. Macasaet about the Supreme Court in his “Business Circuit” columns in the September 18-21, 2007 issues of the newspaper Malaya, maligning and degrading the Supreme Court and tending directly or indirectly to impede, obstruct, or degrade the administration of justice, to be utterly unjustified.

WHEREFORE, the Committee believes there exist valid grounds for this Honorable Court, if it is so minded, to cite Amado P. Macasaet for indirect contempt within the purview of Section 3(d), Rule 71 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure. (Emphasis supplied)

In Gonzales v. Commission on Elections, the Court ruled that “[f]rom the language of the specific constitutional provision, it would appear that the right (to free expression) is not susceptible of any limitation. No law may be passed abridging the freedom of speech and of the press. The realities of life in a complex society preclude, however, a literal interpretation. Freedom of expression is not absolute. It would be too much to insist that, at all times and under all circumstances, it should remain unfettered and unrestrained. There are other societal values that press for recognition.”

In Lagunzad v. Vda. De Gonzales, it was held that while the right of freedom of expression occupies a preferred position in the hierarchy of civil liberties, it is not without limitations. As the revered Holmes once said, the limitation on one’s right to extend one’s fist is when it hits the nose of another.

In Zaldivar v. Gonzalez, the Court said that “freedom of speech and expression, like all constitutional freedoms, is not absolute and that freedom of expression needs on occasion to be adjusted to and accommodated with requirements of equally important public interests. One of these fundamental public interests is the maintenance of the integrity and orderly functioning of the administration of justice. There is no antinomy between free expression and the integrity of the system of administering justice. For the protection and maintenance of freedom of expression itself can be secured only within the context of a functioning and orderly system of dispensing justice, within the context, in other words, of viable independent institutions for delivery of justice which are accepted by the general community.”

Judges have an affirmative duty to defend and uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary. The courts need to be able to sanction those who obstruct their processes. The judiciary itself must continue to be a voice that explains and preserves its own independence. The respect accorded to judges is an adjunct of the social-contract necessity for impartial judges in the creation of a civil society.

In Perkins v. Director of Prisons, the Court had an occasion to examine the fundamental foundations of the power to punish for contempt: “The power to punish for contempt is inherent in all courts; its existence is essential to the preservation of order in judicial proceedings and to the enforcement of judgments, orders, and mandates of the courts, and, consequently, to the due administration of justice.”

In the 1995 case People v. Godoy, the Court, citing In Re: Vicente Sotto, had the opportunity to define the relations of the courts and of the press. Quoting the statements made by Judge Holmes in U.S. v. Sullen, the Court said:

The administration of justice and the freedom of the press, though separate and distinct, are equally sacred, and neither should be violated by the other. The press and the courts have correlative rights and duties and should cooperate to uphold the principles of the Constitution and laws, from which the former receives its prerogative and the latter its jurisdiction. x x x In a clear case where it is necessary in order to dispose of judicial business unhampered by publications which reasonably tend to impair the impartiality of verdicts, or otherwise obstruct the administration of justice, the Court will not hesitate to exercise undoubted power to punish for contempt. This Court must be permitted to proceed with the disposition of its business in an orderly manner free from outside interference obstructive of its constitutional functions. This right will be insisted upon as vital to an impartial court, and, as a last resort, as an individual exercises the right of self-defense, it will act to preserve its existence as an unprejudiced tribunal. (Emphasis supplied)

Finally, in the more recent 2007 case Roxas v. Zuzuarregui, the Court en banc in a unanimous per curiam resolution imposed a P30,000 fine on Atty. Romeo Roxas for making “unfair and unfounded accusations against a member of this Court, and mocking the Court for allegedly being part of the wrongdoing and being a dispenser of injustice.” We found the letter of Atty. Roxas full of “contemptuous remarks that tended to degrade the dignity of the Court and erode public confidence that should be accorded to it.” We also said that his invocation of free speech and privacy of communication “will not, however, free him from liability. As already stated, his letter contained defamatory statements that impaired public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary. The making of contemptuous statements directed against the Court is not an exercise of free speech; rather, it is an abuse of such right. Unwarranted attacks on the dignity of the courts cannot be disguised as free speech, for the exercise of said right cannot be used to impair the independence and efficiency of courts or public respect therefore and confidence therein. Free expression must not be used as a vehicle to satisfy one’s irrational obsession to demean, ridicule, degrade and even destroy this Court and its magistrates.” Accordingly, Atty. Roxas was found guilty of indirect contempt of court and fined P30,000.00, with a warning that a repetition of a similar act would warrant a more severe penalty.

Respondent has absolutely no basis to call the Supreme Court a court of “thieves” and a “basket of rotten apples.” These publications directly undermine the integrity of the justices and render suspect the Supreme Court as an institution. Without bases for his publications, purely resorting to speculation and “fishing expeditions” in the hope of striking – or creating – a story, with utter disregard for the institutional integrity of the Supreme Court, he has committed acts that degrade and impede the orderly administration of justice.

Respondent Macasaet’s wanton disregard for the truth was exhibited by his apathetic manner of verifying the veracity of the information he had gathered for his September 18, 19, 20, and 21, 2007 articles concerning the alleged bribery of a Lady Justice. His bases for the amount of money, the number of boxes, the date of delivery of the boxes, among other important details, were, by his own admission founded on personal assumptions.

Respondent admited to having written his articles as means to “fish out” the Lady Justice involved in an alleged bribery fed to him by his source, with reckless disregard of whether or not such bribery indeed took place. It defies reason why any responsible journalist would go on to publish any material in a newspaper of general circulation without having ascertained even the five W’s and one H of the story.

That he could not, through his extensive network of informants, confirm the approximate date when the alleged bribery took place, the identities of the persons involved, or any other important detail, before he began his series of articles only leads to the rational conclusion that he did not care whether or not the story he published was true. His aim, as he admits, was to go on a fishing expedition to see if someone would confirm or deny his now clearly baseless accusations. This practice of “fishing” for information by publishing unverified information in a manner that leads the reading public to believe such is true cannot be tolerated.

Aggravating respondent’s affront to the dignity of the Court is his unwillingness to show any remorse or repentance for his contemptuous acts. In fact, as he made clear in his testimony before the Investigating Committee when asked what his thoughts were about his having published the instant articles, he replied that he was “happy in the sense that [he] did a job in [his] best lights and the effort ended up in the creation of [the investigating panel].”

Respondent claims that there is a violation of his right to due process. From the time his articles were published, no formal charge has been filed against him as required under Section 3, Rule 71 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure.

Respondent fails to see, however, that under Section 4 of the same Rule, proceedings for indirect contempt may be initiated motu proprio by the court against which the contempt was committed, by an order or any other formal charge requiring respondent to show why he should not be punished for contempt. The Resolution dated September 25, 2007 satisfied the Rule. He cannot validly claim that such resolution is vague. He cannot feign ignorance of the contents of his September 18, 19, 20, and 21, 2007 articles in the Malaya.

Rule 71 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure pertinently provides:

SEC. 3. Indirect contempt to be punished after charge and hearing. – After a charge in writing has been filed, and an opportunity given to the respondent to comment thereon within such period as may be fixed by the court and to be heard by himself or counsel, a person guilty of any of the following acts may be punished for indirect contempt.

x x x x

(d) Any improper conduct tending, directly or indirectly, to impede, obstruct, or degrade the administration of justice;

x x x x

SEC. 7. Punishment for indirect contempt. – If the respondent is adjudged guilty of indirect contempt committed against a Regional Trial Court or a court of equivalent or higher rank, he may be punished by a fine not exceeding thirty thousand pesos or imprisonment not exceeding six (6) months, or both. x x x (Underscoring supplied)

A free press is regarded as a key pillar of democracy. Reporters must be free to report, expose, and hold government officials and agencies – including an independent judiciary – accountable. Press attention surrounding the judiciary ensures public accountability. Such publicity acts as a check on judicial competence and integrity, exposes inefficiencies and irregularities, keeps vigil over various public interest cases, and puts pressure on responsible judicial officials. This freedom has been used and has benefited the cause of justice. The press has become an important actor – a judicial watchdog – in the ongoing judicial transformation. When properly validated, its acts are protected speech from an accepted function.

Freedom, however, has not guaranteed quality journalism. The press has been vulnerable to a host of legitimate criticisms such as incompetence, commercialism, and even corruption. By disproportionately informing the public about specific court processes, or by spreading unsubstantiated allegations about corruption and other forms of judicial misconduct, the press dramatically undermines the public’s faith in the courts and threatens the very foundation of our democratic government.

Oftentimes, journalists writing about the judiciary and court cases lack basic knowledge of the law and judicial procedures, on the basis of which they draw faulty conclusions which they pass on to their readers as gospel truths. Trial by publicity also influences the independence of judges as the public is fed with partial information and vocal opinions, and judges are pressured to decide in accordance with the public opinion. Faith in the judiciary is undermined when judges rule against the expectations of the public which has been brainwashed by dramatic reports and graphic comments. In some cases, unchecked rumors or allegations of irregularities are immediately published because journalists lack professional competence to verify the information, or are simply eager to break the news and attract a wider readership.

The role of the press in relation to the judiciary needs to be regulated. This can be done through voluntary codes of conduct on the part of the press and through judicial policies, such as the rule on sub judice and contempt of court rulings. The absence of clear voluntary codes developed by the press, as its self-regulator, strengthens the need for the Court to use its power in the meantime to cite critics for contempt. This is necessary in cases where such criticism is obviously malicious or in violation of the sub judice rule, or where there is an evident attempt to influence the outcome of a case. Judges have the duty to defend and uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary. They should sanction those who obstruct or impede the judicial processes. The effective administration of justice may only be realized with the strong faith and confidence of the public in the competence and integrity of the judiciary, free from political and popular pressure.

Criticism at every level of government is certainly welcome. After all, it is an essential part of the checks and balances in our republican system of government. However, criticisms should not impede or obstruct an integral component of our republican institutions from discharging its constitutionally-mandated duties.

As the Court said in In Re: Almacen:

Courts and judges are not sacrosanct. They should and expect critical evaluation of their performance. For like the executive and the legislative branches, the judiciary is rooted in the soil of democratic society, nourished by the periodic appraisal of the citizen whom it is expected to serve.

x x x x

But it is the cardinal condition of all such criticism that it shall be bona fide, and shall not spill over the walls of decency and propriety. A wide chasm exists between fair criticism, on the one hand, and abuse and slander of courts and the judges thereof, on the other. x x x

All told, illegitimate and uninformed criticisms against the courts and judges, those which cross the line and attempt to subvert the judicial process, must be avoided. They do a great disservice to the Constitution. They seriously mislead the public as to the proper functioning of the judiciary. While all citizens have a right to scrutinize and criticize the judiciary, they have an ethical and societal obligation not to cross that too important line.


LCM LAW, Las Pinas City, Philippines


Blackstone, W., Commentaries, 145 (1876).

Record of the Constitutional Commission: Proceedings and Debates (1987), p. 758.

De Jesus, M.Q., Overview, Press Freedom in the Philippines (2004).

Teodoro, L.V., Survey of Media, Press Freedom in the Philippines (2004).

Guidebook for Journalists Covering the Courts: Strengthening Judiciary-Media Relations, Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication (2004), p. 13.

Jacobson, M.K., Assault on the Judiciary: Judicial Response to Criticism Post-Schiavo, 61 U. Miami L. Rev. 931 (2007).

Attorney-General v. Leveller Magazine, Ltd., AC 440 (1979); Scott v. Scott, AC 417 (1913).

Coker, H.C., Responding to Judicial Criticism, 73 Fla. B.J. 10 (1999).

Blatz, K., The State of the Judiciary, 62 Bench & B. Minn 26, 27 (2005).

The Federalist No. 78.

Constitution (1987), Art. VIII, Sec. 1.

See Abrahamson, S.S., Remarks of the Hon. Shirley S. Abrahamson before the American Bar Association Commission on the Separation of Powers and Judicial Independence, Washington, D.C., December 13, 1996, 12 St. John’s J. Legal Comment. 71 (1996).

Kelson, S., Judicial Independence and the Blame Game: The Easiest Target Is a Sitting One, 15 Utah B.J. 15-16 (2002).

G.R. No. L-27833, April 18, 1969, 27 SCRA 835.

Gonzales v. Commission on Elections, id. at 858.

G.R. No. L-32066, August 6, 1979, 92 SCRA 476.

In Re: Lozano, 54 Phil. 801 (1929).

G.R. Nos. 79690-707 & L-80578, October 7, 1988, 166 SCRA 316.

Zaldivar v. Gonzalez, id. at 354, citing the concurring opinion of Mr. Justice Frankfurter in Pennekamp v. Florida, 328 US 331, 354-356 (1946).

Adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession by the UN General Assembly Resolution 2200A (XXI), December 16, 1966, entered into force on January 3, 1976.

E.T.S. No. 5, adopted November 4, 1950, entered into force on September 3, 1953.

Adopted at San Jose, Costa Rica, November 22, 1969, entered into force on July 18, 1978.

Adopted at Nairobi, Kenya, June 26, 1981, entered into force on October 21, 1986.

Locke, J., Second Treatise of Government (1689), §§ 124-126, reprinted in Locke, J., Political Writings 325 (1985 ed.).

1 Phil. 1 (1901).

In the matter of the proceedings against Marcelino Aguas for contempt of the Court of First Instance of Pampanga, id. at 2.

In Re: Amzi B. Kelly, 35 Phil. 944 (1916).

In Re: Vicente Sotto, 82 Phil. 595 (1949).

In the Matter of Proceedings for Disciplinary Action Against Atty. Wenceslao Laureta and of Contempt Proceedings Against Eva Maravilla-Illustre in G.R. No. 68635, entitled “Eva Maravilla-Illustre vs. Hon. Intermediate Appellate Court, et al.,” G.R. No. 68635, March 12, 1987, 148 SCRA 382.

58 Phil. 271 (1933).

Perkins v. Director of Prisons, id. at 274, citing Ex parte Terry, 128 US 225, 32 L Ed., 405; In re Kelly, 35 Phil. 944; State v. Magee Publishing Company, 38 ALR 142, 144.

4 Lewis’ Bl. Com., Sec. 286, p. 1675; Oswald, Contempt, Canadian ed., pp. 1-3, 6 RCL 489; State v. Morrill, 16 Ark. 390; State ex rel. Rodd v. Verage, 177 Wis. 295, 23 ALR 491, 187 NW 830; and People ex rel. Brundage v. Peters, 305 Ill. 223; 26 ALR 16, 137 NE 118.

In Re: Vicente Sotto, supra note 59.

Halili v. Court of Industrial Relations, G.R. No. L-24864, April 30, 1985, 136 SCRA 112.

39 Phil. 778 (1919).

312 Phil. 977 (1995).

36 F. 2d 220.

People v. Godoy, supra note 71, at 1003.

G.R. Nos. 152072 & 152104, July 12, 2007, 527 SCRA 446.

Khanna, H.R., Freedom of Expression with Particular Reference to Freedom of the Media, 2 SCC (Jour) 1 (1982).

Rollo, pp. 344-345; Report and Recommendation (Re: In the Matter of the Allegations Contained in the Columns of Mr. A.P. Macasaet Published in Malaya Dated September 18, 19, 20, and 21, 2007), pp. 19-20.

In Re: Emil P. Jurado, A.M. No. 93-2-037 SC, April 6, 1995, 243 SCRA 299.

Constitution (1987), Art. III, Sec. 14 (2).

G.R. No. 27654, February 18, 1970, 31 SCRA 562.

In Re: Almacen, id. at 578-580.