Legal Ethics

Emerenciana Reyes vs Felipe Wong

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A.C. No. 547 – 159 Phil. 171 – 63 SCRA 667 – Legal Ethics – Grossly Immoral Act; Intimacy between a man and a woman 

Emerenciana Reyes and Felipe Wong were classmates in the college of law at MLQ University in 1960. Wong and Reyes became sweethearts. Later on, Wong requested Reyes to fill out an application for a marriage license which the latter did. Later on still, Wong requested Reyes to sign a marriage contract, and the marriage contract made it also appear that their solemnizing officer was a Supreme Court justice. Apparently, Reyes believed that she’s already married to Wong by virtue of those papers she was made to sign. So she gave in to  Wong’s request  to have sexual intercourse in hotels. Reyes became pregnant twice and she gave births to two daughters.

Eventually, Wong became a lawyer while Reyes was still in the college of law. Wong’s engagements as a lawyer kept the couple apart. But later on, Reyes found out that Wong got married somewhere. This also led to her discovery that her marriage with Wong was not registered. She now comes before the Supreme Court asking for Wong’s disbarment on the ground of grave immorality.

ISSUE: Whether or not Wong should be disbarred.

HELD: No. The acts imputed against him may constitute immorality for surely, cohabitation is immoral for lack of marriage. But the same is not sufficient to disbar him for in order for such result to take place, the act complained of must not merely be immoral; it must be “grossly immoral”- “it must be so corrupt and false as to constitute a criminal act or so unprincipled as to be reprehensible to a high degree”. And the same must be established by clear and convincing proof, disclosing a case that is free from doubt as to compel the exercise by the Court of its disciplinary power. In the case at bar, it’s highly impossible that Reyes actually believed that she’s married to Wong. She’s a law student and as early as the first year of law studies, the essential requisites of marriage is discussed. She could have not believed that there was a valid marriage considering that no celebration actually took place plus other infirmities in the alleged “marriage”. Further, the Supreme Court said:

Intimacy between a man and a woman who are not married, is neither so corrupt as to constitute a criminal act nor so unprincipled as to warrant disbarment or disciplinary action against the man as a member of the Bar.

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