G.R. No. L-53869 – 113 SCRA 39 – Political Law – Constitutional Law – The Legislative Department – Appearance in Court by a Congressman
Legal Ethics – A Congressman may not appear as counsel in court
This case is a consolidation of two cases, the other being Eugenio Puyat et al vs Sixto De Guzman (G.R. No. L-51928) involving the issue of whether or not a member of Congress may appear before the regular courts as counsel for ordinary litigants.
In September 1979, Raul Villegas filed a civil case against spouses Vera Cruz et al before the Court of First Instance (CFI) Cebu. The Vera Cruz spouses filed their answer to the complaint and they were represented by Valentino Legaspi, then a member of the Batasang Pambansa. Villegas then challenged the representation made by Legaspi as counsel for the spouses on the ground that it is unconstitutional; as pointed out by Villegas no member of the Batasang Pambansa shall appear as counsel before any court without appellate jurisdiction. The presiding judge however overruled Villegas’ challenge and proceeded with the trial. The judge said that CFIs have appellate jurisdiction.
In July 1979, Edgardo Reyes filed a civil case against N. V. Verenigde Buinzenfabrieken Excelsior-De Maas, a corporation, before CFI Rizal. Estanisalo Fernandez appeared as counsel for the corporation. Reyes questions the appearance of Fernandez as counsel for the corporation on the same ground invoked in Case 1 because Fernandez is also a member of the Batasang Pambansa.
ISSUE: Whether or not the said members, Estanislao Fernandez and Valentino Legaspi, of the Batasang Pambansa may appear as counsels before the said CFIs.
HELD: No. Members of Congress are prohibited to appear as counsel before CFIs acting in their original jurisdiction. CFIs have dual personalities. They can be courts of general original jurisdiction (courts of origin) or appellate courts depending on the case that they took cognizance of. In the cases at bar, CFI Cebu and CFI Rizal acted as a courts of general original jurisdiction. Both cases were not elevated to the said CFIs from any lower courts. Thus, the CFIs in the case at bar are “courts without appellate jurisdiction”.
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)