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I commend my former teacher Atty. Isagani Calderon for delivering an animated and interesting lecture during our Mandatory Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) seminar. He has been my teacher at the University of the Philippines Baguio and at the University of the Cordilleras College of Law and has not lost his usual energy to the point that the sound system of the venue almost broke down because of the volume of his voice. During the lecture, he mentioned the case of a fellow lawyer who was suspended from the practice for his behavior.
The practice of law is regulated by the Supreme Court and many lawyers have been suspended, disbarred, and/or fined for violating the Code of Professional Responsibility. The grounds range from the almost trivial ones to the highly scandalous which could only be the subject of television late night drama. In the Philippines, law is the only profession regulated by a branch of the government and not by the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC). The practice of law is held in such high regard that the highest court of the land imposes disciplinary penalties to erring lawyers to maintain respect to the profession or salvage whatever is left.
Ricafort vs. Medina
Sometime in 1999, Ricafort, a tricycle driver sideswiped the car owned and driven by Atty. Medina who was also a board member. Atty. Medina immediately alighted from his car and shouted at Ricafort saying: “Hindi mo ba ako kilala?”, then slapped the latter. Ricafort filed a case for disbarment against Medina and in his answer to the complaint, the latter denied the allegation that he slapped Ricafort. Medina said that the filing of the case was instigated by the governor of the province since he is associated with the political opponents of the governor. Medina added that there was an amicable settlement in the barangay and he no longer claimed any indemnity for the damage caused on his car. During the hearings, only Medina appeared but the Commissioner assigned on the case still recommended that the former be held administratively liable and be suspended for 30 days.
The IBP Board of Governors adopted the recommendation of the commissioner. The motion of reconsideration was denied. It was found that Medina indeed slapped Ricafort according to the statement of a witness. The defense of Medina that the case was politically motivated was not believed. Besides, 19 mayors signed a letter stating that Atty. Medina should be administratively punished for his actions for it “reflects the public’s reaction to respondent’s display of arrogance” (A.C. No. 5179, May 31, 2016). The Commissioner also gave weight on the letter since it also indicated that “the people’s faith in the legal profession eroded”. Atty. Medina violated the Code of Professional Responsibility, Rule 7.03 – A lawyer shall not engage in conduct that adversely reflects on his fitness to practice law, nor shall he whether in public or private life, behave in a scandalous manner to the discredit of the legal profession. “By itself, the act of humiliating another in public by slapping him or her on the face hints of a character that disregards the human dignity of another. Respondent’s question to complainant, “Wa ka makaila sa ako?” (“Do you not know me?”) confirms such character and his potential to abuse the profession as a tool for bullying, harassment, and discrimination.” This behavior indeed erodes the respect of the public upon the law profession. Lawyers are expected to exhibit good character and Atty. Medina’s behavior is far from good. The Court added that: “This arrogance is intolerable. It discredits the legal profession by perpetuating a stereotype that is unreflective of the nobility of the profession. As officers of the court and of the law, lawyers are granted the privilege to serve the public, not to bully them to submission.” Indeed, many perceive that the lawyers are arrogant but this is a hasty generalization. Many lawyers deserve much respect for their work and good behavior in their private capacity and it is understandable that the Supreme Court being the regulating body of the profession, aims to restore the respect and dignity reposed upon it.