Political Law

Eugenio Puyat vs Sixto De Guzman, Jr.

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G.R. No. L-51122 – 113 SCRA 31 – Political Law – The Legislative Department – Appearance in Court

Legal Ethics – A member of Congress may not appear as counsel in quasi-judicial bodies

In May 1979, Eugenio Puyat and his group were elected as directors of the International Pipe Industries (IPI). The election was subsequently questioned by Eustaquio Acero (Puyat’s rival) claiming that the votes were not properly counted. Thereafter, Acero filed a quo warranto case before the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on May 25, 1979. Prior to Acero’s filing of the case, Estanislao Fernandez, then a member of the Interim Batasang Pambansa purchased ten shares of stock of IPI from a member of Acero’s group. And during a conference held by SEC Commissioner Sixto de Guzman, Jr. (from May 25-31, 1979) to have the parties confer with each other, Estanislao Fernandez entered his appearance as counsel for Acero. Puyat objected as he argued that it is unconstitutional for an assemblyman to appear as counsel (to anyone) before any administrative body (such as the SEC). This being cleared, Fernandez inhibited himself from appearing as counsel for Acero. He instead filed an Urgent Motion for Intervention in the said SEC case for him to intervene, not as a counsel, but as a legal owner of IPI shares and as a person who has a legal interest in the matter in litigation. The SEC Commissioner (Sixto De Guzman, Jr.) granted the motion and in effect granting Fernandez leave to intervene.

ISSUE: Whether or not Fernandez, acting as a stockholder of IPI, can appear and intervene in the SEC case without violating the constitutional provision that an assemblyman must not appear as counsel in such courts or bodies?

HELD: No, Fernandez cannot appear before the SEC body under the guise that he is not appearing as a counsel. Even though he is a stockholder and that he has a legal interest in the matter in litigation he is still barred from appearing. He bought the stocks before the litigation took place. During the conference he presented himself as counsel but because it is clearly stated that he cannot do so under the constitution he instead presented himself as a party of interest which is clearly a workaround and is clearly an act after the fact. A mere workaround to get himself involved in the litigation. What could not be done directly could not likewise be done indirectly.

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NOTE: Under Section 14, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution:

No Senator or member of the House of Representatives may personally appear as counsel before any court of justice or before the Electoral Tribunals, or quasi-judicial and other administrative bodies. Neither shall he, directly or indirectly, be interested financially in any contract with, or in any franchise or special privilege granted by the Government, or any subdivision, agency, or instrumentality thereof, including any government-owned or controlled corporation, or its subsidiary, during his term of office. He shall not intervene in any matter before any office of the Government for his pecuniary benefit or where he may be called upon to act on account of his office.

Appearance of the legislator is now barred before all courts of justice, regardless of rank, composition, or jurisdiction. The disqualification also applies to the revived Electoral Tribunal and to all administrative bodies, like the Securities and Exchange Commission and the National Labor Relations Commission. Courts martial and military tribunals, being administrative agencies, are included. (From https://www.senate.gov.ph/senators/terms.asp, accessed 09/17/2014)

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