A short comprehensive digest of a case on ethics...
FACTS OF THE CASE The Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), raised a complaint before the Sandiganbayan (SB) against Eduardo M. Cojuangco, Jr. and Teodoro Regala and his partners in the ACCRA law firm, for the recovery of alleged ill-gotten wealth, which includes shares of stocks in the named corporations in PCGG Case No. 33 (Civil Case No. 0033), entitled "Republic of the Philippines versus Eduardo Cojuangco, et al." During the course of the proceedings, PCGG filed a "Motion to Admit Third Amended Complaint" which excluded private respondent Raul S. Roco from the complaint on his undertaking that he will reveal the identity of the principal/s for whom he acted as nominee/stockholder. In their answer to the Expanded Amended Complaint, ACCRA lawyers requested that PCGG similarly grant the same treatment to them as accorded Roco. The PCGG has offered to the ACCRA lawyers the same conditions availed of by Roco but the ACCRA lawyers have refused to disclose the identities of their clients. ACCRA lawyers filed the petition for certiorari, invoking that the Honorable Sandiganbayan gravely abused its discretion:
In subjecting petitioners ACCRA lawyers who acted to the strict application of the law of agency
In not considering petitioners ACCRA lawyers and Mr. Roco as similarly situated and, therefore, deserving of equal treatment.
In not holding that, under the facts of this case, the attorney-client privilege prohibits petitioners ACCRA lawyers from revealing the identity of their client(s) and other information requested by PCGG.
In not requiring that the dropping of party-defendants by the PCGG must be based on reasonable and just grounds and with due consideration to equal protection of the law
ISSUE Whether or not client’s identity in a case involving and acquiring companies allegedly sourced from illgotten wealth is privileged and disclosure of such is unethical. RULING The court held that the client identity in this case is privileged. As a matter of public policy, a client's identity should not be shrouded in mystery. This general rule is however qualified by some important exceptions: 1)
Client identity is privileged where a strong probability exists that revealing the client's name would implicate that client in the very activity for which he sought the lawyer's advice. Where disclosure would open the client to civil liability Where the government's lawyers have no case against an attorney's client unless, by revealing the client's name, the said name would furnish the only link that would form the chain of testimony necessary to convict an individual of a crime.
The circumstances involving the engagement of lawyers in the case at bench, therefore, clearly reveal that the instant case falls under the first and third exception.
The attorney-client privilege, as currently worded in the Rules of Court provides the disqualification by reason of privileged communication. Rule 138 of the Rules of Court further emphasizes the importance of maintaining client confidence. Furthermore, this duty is explicitly mandated in Canon 17 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. Canon 15 of the Canons of Professional Ethics also demands a lawyer's fidelity to client.
The Resolutions of respondent Sandiganbayan are hereby annulled and set aside.