The Office of the Bar Confidant and its Creation
Many law students and even practitioners once faced what constitutes the practice of law. Common people foresee it as an exhausting job because of the notion that lawyers deal with highfalutin words of statutes. Further, lawyering installs horrors and anxiety because lawyers need to establish a good rapport and composure required during court trials.
Truly, lawyering is not a walk in the park. Nonetheless, the Court clarified that practice of law means any activity, in or out of court, which requires the application of law, legal procedure, knowledge, training and experience.
To engage in the practice of law is to perform acts which are usually performed by members of the legal profession. Generally, to practice law is to render any kind of service which requires the use of legal knowledge or skill.1
Given that the practice of law covers the ambit of the application of the laws itself in various activities, the law provides measures in ensuring that persons practicing the law will not take a brush and just engage in the practice based on their senseless whims.
The Rules of Court clearly mandates that any person heretofore duly admitted as a member of the bar, or hereafter admitted as such in accordance with the provisions of this rule, and who is in good and regular standing, is entitled to practice law.2
From the foregoing, duly admission as a member of the bar is vital. Amongst other ways to do it, passing the bar examination is the engine key to engaging in the practice of law.
Philippine Bar Examination is the test of the rigor of all qualified applicants that wish to be a member of the bar. In a bulletin, the Office of the Bar Chairperson for years 2020 and 2021 considered the Bar Examination as a qualifying licensure examination that tests for minimum skills of lawyers.3
From the four-year study of law, if lucky enough, the Bar Examination requires the peak of critical thinking, analysis, logic, and compassion in applying the laws to a given problem. Thus, overnight preparation is not an option if an examinee desires to pass, if not ace, the examination.
Aside from the preparation of the examinees themselves, the Judiciary is likewise preparing the said measures above to test the minimum capability of the future practitioners. And the office that prominently covers the activities in this examination is the Office of the Bar Confidant under the Supreme Court of the Philippines.
The Philippine Supreme Court was officially established in 1901.4 The judicial organization established by the Act was conceived by the American lawyers in the Philippine Commission and was patterned in its basic structures after similar organizations in the United States.5
The Constitution vests various powers over the Court, particularly the power to promulgate rules concerning the protection and enforcement of constitutional rights, pleading, practice, and procedure in all courts, the admission to the practice of law, the Integrated Bar, and legal assistance to the underprivileged.6
One of the facets covered by this power pertains to all activities before, during, and after the Bar Examinations, including the process of filing the petition and necessary documents, publication of all qualified examinees, and the release of exam scores.
In 1901 when the Supreme Court held the first bar examination with 4 passers out of 13 examinees,7 the Office of the Bar Confidant (OBC) faces a bunch of bar examinees who wish to become members of the bar.
Aside from the usual perspective of its role, the Office of the Bar Confidant (OBC) is the office of the Supreme Court that has custody of the Bar records and personal records of lawyers. It assists the Supreme Court in disciplining the Bar by investigating complaints against lawyers and Bar candidates.
For purposes of this Rule, it shall be the Office that accredits legal aid service providers, as defined herein, and certifies compliance or noncompliance by covered lawyers.8
In this article, the authors will discuss the purpose, powers and functions, and jurisdiction of the OBC. Further, the paper will present important jurisprudence and other topics related to the OBC, including timetable involving IBP or any other fact-finding committee.
Powers and Functions of the Office of the Bar Confidant
The following are the general functions of the OBC:
- It keeps custody of the Bar records and personal records of lawyers.9
- It assists the Supreme Court in Discipling the Bar by investigating complaints against lawyers and bar candidates;10 and
- It accredits legal aid service providers and certifies compliance or noncompliance by covered lawyers under the Rules on Community Legal Aid Service (CLAS).11
Since the OBC keeps Bar records, may it evaluate the answer of the examinees?
In Re: Victorio D. Lanuevo,12 the Supreme Court (SC) ruled that:
“The Bar Confidant has no business evaluating the answers of the examinees and cannot assume the functions of passing upon the appraisal made by the Examiners concerned. He is not the overall Examiner. He cannot presume to know better than the examiner. Any request for re-evaluation should be done by the examinee and the same should be addressed to the Court, which alone can validly act thereon.”13
Thus, although the OBC generally keeps the Bar records of bar takers, it cannot reconsider the answer and grades of the examinees.14 After the Examiners has submitted the corrected notebooks to the Office, it must tally the individual grades of every examinee in all subjects taken and thereafter compute the general average.15
That done, he will then prepare a comparative data showing the percentage of passing and failing in relation to a certain average to be submitted to the Committee and to the Court and on the basis of which the Court will determine the passing average, whether 75 or 74 or 73, etc.16
Complaints against lawyers and bar candidates
A person may be aggrieved with the conduct of a lawyer or its future member. Feeling that said person is not fit to be a member of the bar, complaints are filed before the OBC against lawyers and bar candidates. Moreover, the OBC helps the SC to discipline them by investigating complaints and submitting reports and recommendations to the same.
OBC in relation to Community Legal Aid Service
Lawyers are charged to guarantee access to adequate legal assistance under Sec. 11, Art. III of the 1987 Constitution. As such, the OBC certifies legal aid service providers and verifies the compliance of lawyers under the Rule on Community Legal Aid Service (CLAS).17 To expound, the duties of the OBC in relation to the said Rule are the following:
(a) Verify the contents of the notarized Certificate of Compliance submitted by covered lawyers with the issuing IBP Chapter, NCLA or the Accredited Legal Aid Service Provider;18
(b) Keep a record of all the Certificates of Compliance/Exemption and submit it to the Court en banc at the end of each quarter;19
(c) Accredit Clinical Legal Aid Offices of Law Schools in accordance with the requirements of the Legal Education Board and under such Rules as the Supreme Court may promulgate;20
(d) Accredit Public Interest Groups, Developmental Legal Aid Groups, Alternative Legal Aid Groups, or Law Firms which intend to participate in this legal aid program under this CLAS Rules. The Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), and previously accredited Clinical Legal Aid Offices shall be automatically accredited by the OBC. Law firms/offices shall comply with the provisions under Section 4(m) of this CLAS Rules. The NCLA and the IBP Chapter Legal Aid Committees need not be accredited by the OBC;21
(e) Monitor the compliance of covered lawyers and the Accredited Legal Aid Service Providers with the requirements and procedures as provided in this CLAS Rules. The OBC shall furnish the IBP the list of accredited legal aid service providers;22
(f) In relation to Section 8 of this CLAS Rules, provide a CLAS Exemption Number in the Certificates of Exemption to be issued to those covered lawyers whose applications for exemption are approved. It shall also indicate the year of admission to the Bar and control number. Example: CLAS-OBC-EXMPT-PPLM (Home Chapter)-2018(Year of Admission to the Bar)-0001(Control Number)23
The OBC shall furnish the IBP with the list of covered lawyers who were given certificates of exemption. Covered lawyers who were issued certificates of exemption should indicate in all pleadings filed before the courts or quasi-judicial bodies the number and date of issue of the certificate of exemption for a period of five (5) years from issuance thereof. Covered lawyers who are commissioned as Notaries Public shall likewise indicate said CLAS Exemption Number in their notarial details within the same five-year period;24
(g) File, motu proprio or upon recommendation of the IBP, administrative charges against non-compliant covered lawyers and any group/person who may be involved in any violation of this CLAS Rules; and25
(h) Provide the standard forms for the timelog, timesheets, and notarized Certificate of Compliance. The IBP may, however, recommend the said standard forms to the OBC.26
However, on September 3, 2019, the Supreme Court issued a Resolution suspending the implementation of the CLAS Rule in view of the implementation of the the Revised Law Student Law Practice.27
Purpose of the Office of the Bar Confidant
It is through the Office of the Bar Confidant that the Supreme conducts Bar Examinations, unlike before, Shari’a Bar Examination was not under the supervision of this office, but now it is also the OBC that administers the Shari’a Bar.
The Office of the Bar Confidant assesses whether an applicant for admission to the practice of law has the qualifications, required ability, and legal knowledge as well as intellectual credentials or capability.
The Bar Confidant’s assurance as to the qualifications of bar applicants was apparently regular and so appeared to be in the regular course of express prohibition in the rules and guidelines given to an examiner.28 It shall also be the Office that authorizes legal aid service providers, and attests compliance or non-compliance by covered lawyers.
In connection with disciplining lawyers, it is also the OBC that receives the administrative complaint, processes and submits those complaints to the Court for proper action. It supports the Supreme Court in disciplining the Bar by investigating complaints against lawyers as well as Bar candidates.
Filing of complaints and subsequent pleadings in relation to administrative matters and bar matters and other related concerns are also addressed by the Office of the Bar Confidant. The main purpose of the OBC is to settle issues concerning lawyers, especially when it comes to disbarment cases. The OBC evaluates, reports, and recommends actions that are deemed proper for particular conduct made by a lawyer.29
Accreditation of Legal Aid Service Providers (in relation to OBC)
The Office of the Bar Confidant as defined in the Rule on Community Legal Aid Service is the office of the Supreme Court that has custody of the Bar records and personal records of lawyers. It assists the Supreme Court in disciplining the Bar by investigating complaints against lawyers and Bar candidates.30
Other than that, the Office of the Bar Confidant also has the duty to accredit legal aid service providers. It also certifies the compliance and non-compliance of lawyers in order to ensure that the goal and purpose of Legal Aid Service is fulfilled.
The main goal of legal aid clinics is to make legal aid easily accessible to the underprivileged and illiterate members of our society. It resembles primary health care facilities, where a doctor and other auxiliary medical professionals give basic medical care to residents of rural areas impacted by social destitution and poverty.
A lawyer working at the legal aid clinic offers legal assistance to the community’s residents, much like doctors do for the locals in the primary health center. The focus is on providing fundamental legal services, such as providing legal counsel and helping to draft notices, answers, applications, petitions, etc.
The lawyers overseeing the legal aid clinic will also make an effort to settle local residents’ conflicts in order to prevent them from developing into formal legal proceedings.
This gives the legal aid clinic’s attorney a chance to comprehend the barriers to justice that residents in far-off towns must overcome.
Paralegal volunteers chosen by the Legal Services Authorities and attorneys with a sense of commitment, sensibility, and sensitivity to the issues of ordinary people must staff legal aid clinics.
Accreditation of Public Interest Groups or Developmental Aid Groups
While those legal aid services that were already accredited Clinical Legal Aid Offices, the NCLA and IBP Chapter Legal Aid Committees no longer require the accreditation of the OBC, under the Implementing Rules and Regulation of A.M. no. 17-03-09-SC, otherwise known as the “Rule on Community Legal Aid Service (CLAS)”.
It is enumerated as one of the duties of the OBC to accredit Public Interest Groups, Developmental Legal Aid Groups, Alternative Legal Aid Groups, or Law Firms which intend to participate in the legal aid program.31
As for the Public Interest Groups, Developmental Legal Aid Groups, Alternative Legal Aid Groups, or Law Firms, they must conform to the process indicated under Section 4 (m) of the subject IRR to be able to acquire accreditation.
An endorsement from the IBP Chapter that is vested with the jurisdiction over the place where the office of the requesting office/firm is located, is required for the application for accreditation of a law firm with the OBC. The said endorsement will be sent to the Office of the Bar Confidant.
In turn of the accreditation of the OBC, the IBP Chapter Legal Aid Committee shall have the duty to submit to the OBC and Annual Report that contains the information in connection with the certificates that had been issued to the lawyers, the number of hours spent rendering free legal services, the legal aid cases involved, and the qualified parties and/or litigants for whom the services were duly rendered.32
Timeline on Deciding a Case: From the IBP to the SC
In a summit attended by the investigating commissioners of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines-Commission on Bar Discipline (IBC-CBD) just this August 5, 2022, Supreme Court Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo has called for an expeditious resolution of administrative complaints concerning erring members of the bar.33 According to CJ Gesmundo, there are at least 902 pending cases against lawyers as of July 2022.
Indisputably, one of the most essential functions of the IBP is working side by side with the Supreme Court in administering discipline among the members of the bar.
Below is a timeline of how a case involving a lawyer originating from the IBP or any fact-finding body reaches the Supreme Court, as provided for by Rule 139-B of the Rules of Court or the Disbarment and Discipline of Attorneys as amended by Bar Matter No. 1645.
|Institution of a complaint||To institute a disbarment, suspension, or discipline case against attorneys, any person may file a verified complaint before the Supreme Court or the Integrated Bar of the Philippines.
If a complaint is directly filed before the SC, the Court may refer it to the IBP. Further, the IBP on its own, may initiate a proceeding against erring members of the bar.
|Transmittal of the Complaint to the IBP Board of Governors or to the SC||The Secretary shall transmit the complaint to the IBP Board of Governors who will assign the complaint to an investigator.
In case the complaint pertains to incumbent Justices of the Court of Appeals, Sandiganbayan, Court of Tax Appeals and judges of lower courts, or against lawyers in government service, the IBP shall forward the same to the Supreme Court.
|Service of copy of the complaint or Dismissal of the Complaint||The Board of Governors shall appoint an Investigator who shall investigate the complaint.
If the complaint appears to be meritorious, the Investigator shall direct that a copy be served upon the respondent, requiring him to answer within fifteen (15) days from the date of service.
If the complaint does not merit action, or if the Investigator finds the complaint to be unmeritorious, he will recommend to the Board of Governors the dismissal of the complaint. This dismissal can be appealed to the SC.
|Investigation of the complaint||The investigator shall proceed with the investigation and terminate the same within three (3) months from its commencement. He has the power to issue subpoenas, administer oaths, and conduct hearings.
The investigator shall submit a report containing his findings and recommendations to the IBP Board of Governors.
|The Decision of the Board of Governors||The Governors shall review every case heard by the investigator. The decision of the Board shall specify the facts and reasons on which it is based.
If the Board, by a majority vote, determines that the respondent should be suspended from the practice of law or disbarred, it shall issue a resolution specifying such recommendations, with the whole record of the case, shall be transmitted to the SC for final action within 10 days after the issuance of the resolution.
|The Decision of the SC||After the IBP transmits before the SC the records of the case for final disposition, the Court may adopt the Board of Governors’ findings and recommendations, or it may promulgate its own decision.|
Relevant Jurisprudence involving the OBC
In this part of the article, for us to fully grasp the roles, function, powers and duties of the Office of the Bar Confidant we will cite relevant jurisprudence in relation to their main duties.
One of the main duties of the Office of Bar Confidant is that they assist the Supreme Court in disciplining the Bar by investigating complaints against lawyers and Bar candidates.
In the case of Velez vs. De Vera,34 the Supreme Court tasked the Office of the Bar Confidant to make an investigation, report and recommendation on the subject case.
In this case, a Complaint dated 11 April 2005, complainant Zoilo Antonio Velez moved for the suspension and/or disbarment of respondent Atty. Leonard de Vera based on the following grounds:35
1] respondent’s alleged misrepresentation in concealing the suspension order rendered against him by the State Bar of California; and36
2] respondent’s alleged violation of the so-called “rotation rule” enunciated in Administrative Matter No. 491 dated 06 October 1989.37
Thus, the Office of the Bar Confidant was assigned to investigate the said Complaint.
In relation to cases involving disbarment of lawyers, parties could also present evidence before the OBC. In the above mentioned case,38 both parties appeared on June 20, 2005 before the Office of the Bar Confidant for the presentation of evidence in support of their respective allegations. For the resolution of this case, the plea for disbarment was not granted.
However, the Supreme Court decided to suspend Atty. Leonard de Vera in A.C. No. 6697 from the practice of law for two (2) years on the grounds of deceit, malpractice, gross misconduct and unethical behavior. In the instant case, the act of Atty. de Vera in holding on to his client’s money without the latter’s acquiescence is conduct indicative of lack of integrity and propriety.39
Another duty of the Office is to recommend punishments in relation to their duty in assisting the Supreme Court in disciplining lawyers and the Bar candidates. The recommendation made by OBC is highly regarded by the Supreme Court.
In the case of Pitcher vs. Gagate,40 the Supreme Court followed the recommendation made by the Office of the Bar Confidant and subject the Respondent to a higher penalty of suspension wherein usually several cases show that lawyers who have been held liable for gross negligence for infractions similar to those committed by respondent were suspended from the practice of law for a period of two years only.41
However, the Court observes that, in the present case, complainant was subjected to a graver injury as she was prosecuted for the crime of grave coercion largely due to the improper and erroneous advice of respondent.42
Were it not for the respondent’s imprudent counseling, not to mention his act of abandoning his client during the proceedings, the complainant would not have unduly suffered the harbors of a criminal prosecution.43
Thus, considering the superior degree of the prejudice caused to the complainant, the Court finds it apt to impose against the respondent a higher penalty of suspension from the practice of law for a period of three years as recommended by the OBC.44
Another function of the OBC is to assist the Supreme Court in the admission of Bar Candidates and conduct of Bar examination and ensure its integrity.
However, in the case of In Re: Victorio D. Lanuevo, former Bar Confidant and Deputy Clerk of Court,45 it was stressed that the Office of the Bar Confidant has absolutely nothing to do in the re-evaluation or reconsideration of the grades of examinees who fail to make the passing mark before or after their notebooks are submitted to it by the Examiners.
After the corrected notebooks are submitted to him by the Examiners, his only function is to tally the individual grades of every examinee in all subjects taken and thereafter compute the general average.46
That done, he will then prepare a comparative data showing the percentage of passing and failing in relation to a certain average to be submitted to the Committee and to the Court and on the basis of which the Court will determine the passing average, whether 75 or 74 or 73, etc.47
The Bar Confidant has no business evaluating the answers of the examinees and cannot assume the functions of passing upon the appraisal made by the Examiners concerned. He is not the overall Examiner. He cannot presume to know better than the examiner.48
Any request for re-evaluation should be done by the examinee and the same should be addressed to the Court, which alone can validly act thereon. A Bar Confidant who takes such initiative, exposes himself to suspicion and thereby compromises his position as well as the image of the Court.49
In the case at bar, the Court reminded that in case of re-evaluation of examination, it should be addressed directly with the Supreme Court because the Bar Confidant does not possess any discretion with respect to the matter of admission of examinees to the Bar.
He is not clothed with authority to determine whether or not an examinee’s answers merit re-evaluation or reevaluation or whether the Examiner’s appraisal of such answers is correct. And whether or not the examinee benefited was in connivance or a privy thereto is immaterial.
What is decisive is whether the proceedings or incidents that led to the candidate’s admission to the Bar were in accordance with the rules. With that, the office function is only limited in assisting the Supreme Court in providing rules and memorandum in connection with the conduct of Bar examination but not on the re-evaluation of the bar candidates as this is the duty solely given to Bar Examiners.
Bar Admission: In Relation to the OBC
Through the OBC, the court conducts Bar Examinations (which presently incorporates Shari’a Bar Examinations) to test whether a candidate for confirmation to the practice of law has the essential capacity and legitimate learning or mental capabilities or wellness.
In association with disciplining attorneys, the OBC gets authoritative complaints, forms and submits the same to the Court for appropriate action.
The Office of the Bar Confidant releases various Bar related matters in terms of admission to the bar, release of guidelines in requesting of certification, schedule of signing on the Roll of Attorneys and other Bar Examination related matters.
After passing the Bar Examinations, the OBC released guidelines in relation to Section 17, Section 18 and Section 19, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court. Section 17, Section 18 and Section 19, Rule 138 Rules of Court states that,
Section 17. Admission and oath of successful applicants. — An applicant who has passed the required examination, or has been otherwise found to be entitled to admission to the bar, shall take and subscribe before the Supreme Court the corresponding oath of office.50
Section 18. Certificate. — The supreme Court shall thereupon admit the applicant as a member of the bar for all the courts of the Philippines, and shall direct an order to be entered to that effect upon its records, and that a certificate of such record be given to him by the clerk of court, which certificate shall be his authority to practice.51
Section 19. Attorney’s roll. — The clerk of the Supreme Court shall kept a roll of all attorneys admitted to practice, which roll shall be signed by the person admitted when he receives his certificate.52
It is very important that the necessary guidelines of the Office of the Bar Confidant (OBC) be followed after the passing of the Bar Examination, failure to do so may lead to non-compliance and worse may lead to the bar passing cannot practice law as a licensed lawyer of the country.
Office of the Bar Confidant (OBC) and its Relation to Shari’ah Courts
Islamic law or Shari’ah is recognized in the Philippine legal system. Pursuant to Presidential Decree No. 1083 also known as “Code of Muslim Personal Laws of the Philippines”, Shari’ah Courts were established in certain parts of Mindanao to settle and resolve disputes relating to the customary and personal laws of the Muslims.
As a prerequisite for the admission to practice in Shari’ah Courts, one must take and pass the Shari’ah Bar Examinations. The Special Rules of Procedure governing Shari’ah Courts, unanimously approved by the Supreme Court (SC) in a resolution dated September 20, 1983, provide limited information on the conduct of Shari’ah Bar Examinations.
Said rules only include qualifications of those who are allowed to take the Shari’ah Bar, the required documents to be submitted and the subjects to be covered in the exam.
During the conduct of 2014 Shari’ah Bar Examinations, the integrity of the examination was put into test as there was an alleged leakage of exam questions. The Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) and the Office of the Bar Confidant (OBC) were tasked to conduct further investigation on the alleged leakage.
Judge Samanodden L. Ampaso of the Shari’a Circuit Court, Tamparal, Lanao del Sur was designated as the translator from English to Arabic of the 2014 Shari’a Bar questions notwithstanding that his three children will take the special bar examinations.
The Court noted that whether Judge Ampaso relayed the questions to his children or not, he had full access to the questionnaires. He stayed in a hotel near the place of his children where communication is highly probable.
After the conduct of thorough investigation, the SC concurred with the finding of the Court Administrator that there is no concrete proof of leakage of questions but appearance of impropriety caused by Judge Ampaso’s designation as translator.
“Although no harm was actually inflicted in the Shari’a Bar examinations by such designation, it is the impression of impropriety that it created that casts a rather bleak picture of undue preference on the image of the Judiciary. No matter how miniscule such an appearance of impropriety is, the Court is duty-bound to forever maintain an untarnished image as the last bastion of democratic society where pure justice is expected and dispensed.”53
The Court pointed out that the “silver lining” on the incident and the prevention of the same occurrences was the drafting of the revised rules/guidelines in relation to the conduct of Shari’ah Bar Exams.
In a resolution dated 22 March 2014, the Court tasked the Office of the Bar Confidant (OBC) to submit proposed guidelines/rules to the 13th Shari’ah Bar Examinations Investigating Committee.
Afterwards, Bar Matter No. 271654 has been adopted and approved by the SC which provide extensive rules in the conduct of Shari’ah Bar Examinations and assured that only the most qualified and competent will be allowed to join the pool of Shari’ah Counselors, practice and be appointed in Shari’ah Courts.55
In the adopted rules, it was stated that the SC shall authorize the conduct of the bar examinations for admission to practice to Shari’ah Courts upon the request of the Secretary/Chief Executive Officer of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) and Office of the President (OP).
Administration as to the conduct of the special bar examinations were specifically designated to the OBC under the supervision of SC.
In relation to their official function in the administration of said exams, the OBC issues the date and venue of the special bar examinations. Forms of the petition to take the Shari’ah Bar Examinations and testimonials can be obtained from their Office.
Safekeeping, translation and printing of exam questionnaires are taken care of by the OBC. The SC through the OBC, announces and discloses the examination passers and the cream of the crop.
Schedules for the signing of the Shari’ah Roll of Counselors at Law of successful examinees are likewise issued by the said Office. Through the OBC, the SC also conducts the oath taking of Shari’ah Bar passers.
The Role of OBC: New Judicial Clemency Guidelines for Reinstatement to the Bar
Being a lawyer, attorney or a member of the bar is a special privilege. Consequently, jurisprudence provides that membership in the Bar is a privilege burdened with conditions. It is not a natural, absolute or constitutional right granted to everyone who demands it, but rather, a special privilege granted and continued only to those who demonstrate special fitness in intellectual attainment and in moral character.56
Though, this does not mean that a lawyer being disbarred can no longer be granted the special privilege again. A disbarred lawyer may seek to be reinstated by filing a petition for judicial clemency. Clemency is defined as an act of mercy removing any disqualification, should be balanced with the preservation of public confidence in the courts.57
In the resolution penned by Senior Justice Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe in the case of Soledad Nunez, represented by Anamias B. Co, Attorney-In-Fact for Complainant, vs. Atty. Romulo L. Ricafort, (A.C. No. 5054, March 02, 2021) and Adelita B. Llunar, vs. Atty. Romulo L. Ricafort (A.C. No. 6484, March 2, 2021),58 the Court En Banc laid down the new clemency guidelines for reinstatement to the Bar.
The Court set forth that a lawyer who has been disbarred cannot file a petition for judicial clemency within a period of five years from the effective date of his or her disbarment, unless for the most compelling reasons based on extraordinary circumstances.59
Consequently, upon the filing of the verified petition for clemency, together with its attachments, the Court shall first conduct a preliminary evaluation and determine if the same has prima facie merit based on the criteria provided for by the Court.60
The petition for judicial clemency should meet the following criteria ―
(a) petitioner has fully complied with the terms and conditions of all prior disciplinary orders, including orders for restitution, as well as the five-year period to file;61
(b) petitioner recognizes the wrongfulness and seriousness of the misconduct for which he or she was disbarred; and62
(c) notwithstanding the conduct for which the disbarred lawyer was disciplined, the disbarred lawyer has the requite integrity and competence to practice law.63
After determining if the petition for judicial clemency has prima facie merit based on the criteria, the Office of the Bar Confidant (OBC) comes in.
The Court shall refer the petition to the Office of the Bar Confidant (OBC) or any fact-finding body the Court so designates in order to verify the details and the authenticity of the statements and the evidence attached to the clemency petition. However, if the petition fails to show any prima facie merit, it should be denied.64
After its investigation, the OBC shall submit its fact-finding report to the Court, which shall ultimately resolve the clemency petition based on the facts established in the said report. The threshold of evidence to be applied is clear and convincing evidence.65
The OBC was tasked with determining the genuineness of facts and evidence presented, then providing a report to be submitted to the Court. This illustrates that judicial clemency is discretionary.
Thus, in the case of In Re: Petition for Judicial Clemency of Romulo L. Ricafort laid down that granting judicial clemency lies in the sound discretion of the Court pursuant to its constitutional mandate to regulate the legal profession.66
In the end, the case of Que vs. Atty. Anastacio E. Revilla, Jr. provides that though the doors to the practice of law are never permanently closed on a disbarred attorney, the Court owes a duty to the legal profession as well as to the general public to ensure that if the doors are opened, it is done so only as a matter of justice.67
Essence of Code of Professional Responsibility
A lawyer is bound by the oath he took from the day he passed the bar and became a full-fledged lawyer, it should also be made a point to consider even by those who are aspiring to become one in the near future. Becoming a lawyer is indeed a profession that involves public interest. The Supreme Court has the sole prerogative on who it will admit to practice law.
It is empowered by the Constitution to “Promulgate rules concerning the protection and enforcement of constitutional rights, pleading, practice, and procedure in all courts, the admission to the practice of law, the Integrated Bar, and legal assistance to the underprivileged.
Such rules shall provide a simplified and inexpensive procedure for the speedy disposition of cases, shall be uniform for all courts of the same grade, and shall not diminish, increase, or modify substantive rights. Rules of procedure of special courts and quasi-judicial bodies shall remain effective unless disapproved by the Supreme Court.”
The first and foremost duty of a lawyer is to maintain allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines, uphold the Constitution, and obey the laws of the land. Indeed, the aforementioned are part of the oath an individual took before he became a full-fledged lawyer.
It is not merely a chunk of words that after being uttered, the words are deep enough to put it into practice. The Code of Professional Responsibility underscores the primacy of such duty by providing as its first canon, that “a lawyer shall uphold the Constitution, obey the laws of the land, and promote respect for law and legal processes.
A lawyer is the servant of the law and belongs to a profession to which society has entrusted the administration of law and the dispensation of justice. As such, he should make himself more of an exemplar for others to emulate.
The Code of Professional Responsibility is not merely a set of rules, it is also a thing to look back on whenever a lawyer loses its way while going through the sweet and harsh ups and downs respectively of the noble profession. That is why it is not surprising that it is part of the bar examinations since it is the very fundamental of becoming a lawyer.
Office of the Bar Confidant in the Midst of Pandemic
For the longest time, the application to the Bar Examination through the office of the Bar confidant has always been physically conducted. Due to the unforeseen scenario of the Covid-19 pandemic, the bar examination was canceled for two-consecutive years.
The Supreme Court, with the help of the office of the bar confidant was able to adapt to the pandemic by making the application to the bar examination online also the 2020-2021 Bar Examination was conducted online and it was dubbed as the “BEST BAR EVER” obtaining a passing rate of 72.28%.68
This year, the Office of the Bar confidant released a notice to the 2022 Bar candidates, wherein a complete guide in the venue selection in the Bar Personal Login Unified System (Bar PLUS) is laid down.69
The application to the 2022 Bar examination was conducted online. The Bar examination will also be digitally conducted in 14 different location in the country, it will be located at:
- Northern Manila,
- Southern Manila,
- Pasay City,
- Quezon City, and
- Taguig City for NCR;
- Baguio City, Lipa City, and
- Naga City for Luzon;
- Northern and Southern Cebu and Naga City for Visayas; and
- Cagayan de Oro City, Davao City, and Zamboanga City for Mindanao.
This move highlights the innovativeness of the country’s judicial agencies despite constraints on resources to ensure the continuity of legal education and the molding of legal professionals. The streamlining of processes will help the judiciary in the long run as the time spent on administrative tasks can be trimmed down to achieve efficiency in dispensing justice.
The impact of the pandemic has largely affected almost all the sectors in the world. Even the Supreme Court and the Office of the Bar Confidant has greatly been affected by the so-called “new normal” but it was a great step to the judiciary in how greatly they adapted in still conducting the bar examination during the pandemic and breaking the traditional way of giving this examination.
The practice of law is a privilege granted only to those who possess the strict intellectual and moral qualifications required of lawyers who are instruments in the effective and efficient administration of justice.70
Hence, the authority and mandate of the Office of the Bar Confidant, as given by the Supreme Court, is indispensable and invaluable as it ensures that the candidates applying for the admission and the lawyers admitted to the practice of law are worthy of the confidence and respect.
It is important to note that good moral character is not only a condition precedent to the practice of law, but an unending requirement for all the members of the bar.71 The admission, suspension, disbarment and reinstatement of lawyers in the practice of the legal profession are indeed a judicial function.
The power to discipline attorneys, who are officers of the court, is an inherent and incidental power in courts of record, and one which is essential to an orderly discharge of judicial functions.72 The existence of this cannot be denied. Otherwise, it would tantamount to a declaration that the conduct of attorneys towards courts and clients will not be subject to restraint.
With the assistance of the Office of the Bar Confidant, the exercise of the powers of the Supreme Court in relation to the practice of law, which is imperatively mandated by the Constitution and imbued with public interest, is realized and efficiently administered in line with the goal of upholding the paramountcy of the practice of legal profession.
- Cayetano vs. Monsod, G.R. No. 100113, September 3, 1991
- Rule 138, Section 1 Rules of Court
- Bar Bulletin No. 25, Series of 2021, Supreme Court of the Philippines
- Act No. 136 or the Act Providing for the Organization of Courts in the Philippine Islands
- Supreme Court of the Philippines, History
- Section 5, par. 5 of Article VIII, 1987 Constitution
- Quodala, S. (2013). Did you know: First bar exam in PH. Inquirer
- Section 4, Par. n. of A.M. No. 17-03-09-SC, otherwise known as the Rule On Community Legal Aid Service
- Implementing Rules and Regulations of Rule on Community Legal Aid Service
- A.C. No. 1162, August 29 1975
- Supra., Note 1
- Implementing Rules of A. M. No. 17-03-09-SC 
- SC Resolution, September 3, 2019
- In Re: Victorio Lanuevo, Supra.
- In Re: Ofelia Artuz, A.C. No. 7253, February 18, 2020
- Implementing Rules of A. M. No. 17-03-09-SC 
- Supra., Section 18 (d), Rule IV – Duties of Concerned Offices
- Section 12, A.M. No. 17-03-09-SC, Rule on Community Legal Aid Service
- CJ Gesmundo to IBP: Resolve swiftly administrative complaint.
- A.C. No. 6697, July 25, 2006
- A.C. No. 9532, October 8, 2013
- A.M. No. 1162, August 29, 1975
- Section 17, Rule 138, Rules of Court
- Section 18, Rule 138, Rules of Court
- Section 19, Rule 138, Rules of Court
- Office of the Court Administrator vs. Judge Kaudri L. Jainul, Shari’a Circuit Court, Isabela City, Basilan; and Judge Samanodden Lipa Ampaso, Shari’a Circuit Court, Tamparal, Lanao del Sur, A.M. No. SCC-14-20-J, July 24, 2019
- Adopting the Rules of the Special Shari’ah Bar Examinations
- Shari’a Court Judges Fined for Improprieties in 2014 Shari’a Bar Exams, September 16, 2019
- Conrado N. Que vs. Atty. Anastacio E. Revilla, Jr., A.C. No.7054, November 11, 2014
- Re: Letter of Judge Augustus C. Diaz, Metropolitan Trial Court of Quezon City, Branch 37, Appealing for Judicial Clemency, A.M. No. 07-7-17-SC, September 19, 2007
- A.C. No. 6484, March 2, 2021
- Conrado N. Que vs. Atty. Anastacio E. Revilla, Jr., A.C. No.7054, November 11, 2014
- Record high 72.28% pass the 2020/2021 ‘Biggest Bar Ever’
- Venue Selection, User Guide
- In Re: Argosino, B.M. No. 712, March 19, 1997
- Dizon, Basic Legal Ethics (2017), page 4
- Dizon, Basic Legal Ethics (2017), page 22