Before Ferdinand Marcos, law firms of legendary proportions attended to the myriad legal or otherwise mundane needs of their clients. There was a difference then however. Law firms of yore worked within the parameters of morality first, and legality second. The bottom line then was not the fat bill attendant to the problem, but on how to champion the quest for truth and justice.
Jose Bambino Luis Reyes, before he became justice of the Supreme Court, was one of those heavenly bodies in the legal firmament too close for comfort to stare at. Jose W. Diokno, Lorenzo Martinez Tanada, Claro M. Recto, Claudio Teehankee, Quintin Paredes, Emmanuel Pelaez, Camilo Osias, Vicente Francisco, Sr., Jose P. Laurel, and many others practiced law before embarking into politics and public service, the judiciary, for example. Law practice then was the jumping board of outstanding politicians who went on to become statesmen. Their pleadings were works of art. Artists have an advantage over lawyers. Their works are the object of commerce long after they’re gone, whereas the lawyers’ pleas are worth only what their clients paid them for.Then they’re consigned to the dustbin of oblivion. Once in a while they write on some magnum opus with incisive political or social significance and became rich source for our national insight. The legal briefs of Jose W. Diokno are a lawyer’s gem worth a bestseller.
Before Marcos declared martial law, he was on the side organizing a law firm composed of the best and the brightest, or so he claimed, to attend to his various personal concerns. After all, Marcos was telling us he spent the best years of his life serving the Filipino people, why can’t he then assure the future of his impoverished family deprived of the comforts derived from a lucrative law practice that he shunned in favor of the rough and tumble of dirty politics? Marcos, was after all a super lawyer himself, an honor student of the University of the Philippines and the 1939 bar topnotcher.
Thus, the law office with Marcos as the sub rosa partner was finally launched. While it looked like an unruly orchestra, there was somebody flailing the baton, the super lawyer himself, of course. While the ostensible partners were outstanding students themselves, they were undoubtedly mesmerized by the unequaled legal mind of the Great Ilocano. Their secret sessions with their “client” were a defining learning experience. The fat legal fees and the ensuing retainer agreements were simply too good to be true. Not only that. As a freebie, they have the enviable access to the dictator. They charged mind-boggling acceptance fees from their clients, and they invented the billing terms access fees (charged prior to a meeting with the hotshot), sweat fees, pencil-pushing or paper-pushing fees, mobilization fees or deposit for expenses, signing bonus, and success or termination fees. No sooner, they were all multi-millionaires. Since their connect was legendary, established law firms at that time closed shop because their clients abandoned them and made a beeline to the new certified congregation.
The legal agenda was fixed, the lawyers established interlocking corporations owned entirely by Marcos using their initials to assist their faulty memories. The person who held the Offices of the Solicitor General and the Secretary of Justice was their friend. Some of them drafted presidential decrees, letters of instructions, and rules and regulations. That law office was for some time the legislature of the Philippines. And because the dictator was their client, and being the sole appointing authority, they recommended their gofers to the judiciary. Talk about cornering the market! Their recruitment of new lawyers was meticulous; they only accept the top of the heap. One late Supreme Court justice commented that lawyers from this law office overwhelm the courts with over-researched and voluminous pleadings that don’t mean anything by making Mt. Everest out of Chocolate Hill churned out only as an excuse for their mammoth bill.
The Presidential Commission on Good Government tried, but to no avail, to crack the nut of those front corporations under the lawyers’ names but the Supreme Court thru the unlamented Justice Santiago Kapunan declared that they enjoy the shield of privilege communication! Regardless of the manifest immorality and criminal conduct coupled with the confession of Raul Roco that some companies were organized by Marcos no less, to hide his ownership, the Supreme Court foiled the objective of a revolution. That law office fought PCGG tooth and nail from piercing the veil of the coconut levy holding corporations blocking criminal prosecutions. Under the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, even a private person can be made a principal if he acted in tandem with a government official. But all these came to naught. In the case of
G. R. No. 105938
September 20, 1996
HON. SANDIGANBAYAN, FIRST DIVISION,
REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, acting through the
PRESIDENTIAL COMMISSION ON GOOD GOVERNMENT
and RAUL S. ROCO,
the Supreme Court absolved Marcos lawyers and ruled in this wise:
The matters raised herein are an offshoot of the institution of the complaint on July 31, 1987 before the Sandiganbayan by the Republic of the Philippines, through the Presidential Commission on Good Government against Eduardo M. Cojuangco, Jr., as one of the principal defendants, 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.”
Among the defendants named in the case are herein petitioners Teodoro Regala, Edgardo J. Angara, Avelino V. Cruz, Jose C. Concepcion, Rogelio A. Vinluan, Victor P. Lazatin, Eduardo U. Escueta and Paraja G. Hayudini, and herein private respondent Raul S. Roco, who all were then partners of the Law Firm of Angara, Abello, Concepcion, Regala and Cruz Law Offices [hereinafter referred to as the ACCRA Law Firm]. ACCRA Law Firm performed legal services for its clients, which included, among others, the organization and acquisition of business associations and/or organizations, with the correlative and incidental services where its members acted as incorporators, or simply, as stockholders. More specifically, in the performance of these services, the members of the law firm delivered to its client documents which substantiate the client’s equity holdings, i.e., stock certificates endorsed in blank representing the shares registered in the client’s name and a blank deed of trust or assignment covering said shares. In the course of their dealings with their clients, the members of the law firm acquire information relative to the assets of clients as well as their personal and business circumstances. As members of the ACCRA Law Firm, petitioners and private respondent Raul Roco admit that they assisted in the organization and acquisition of the companies included in Civil Case No. 0033, and in keeping with the office practice, ACCRA lawyers acted as nominees-stockholders of the said corporations involved in sequestration proceedings.
Petitioners were included in the Third Amended Complaint on the strength of the following allegations:
Defendants Eduardo Cojuangco, Jr., Edgardo J. Angara, Jose C. Concepcion, Teodoro Regala, Avelino V. Cruz, Rogelio A. Vinluan, Eduardo U. Escueta, Paraja G. Hayudini and Raul Roco of the Angara Concepcion Cruz Regala and Abello law offices [ACCRA] plotted, devised, schemed conspired and confederated with each other in setting up, through the use of the coconut levy funds, the financial and corporate framework and structures that led to the establishment of UCPB, UNICOM, COCOLIFE, COCOMARK, CIC and more than twenty other coconut levy funded corporations, including the acquisition of San Miguel Corporation shares and its institutionalization through presidential directives of the coconut monopoly. Through insidious means and machinations, ACCRA, being the wholly-owned investment arm, ACCRA Investments Corporation, became the holder of approximately fifteen million shares representing roughly 3.3% of the total outstanding capital stock of UCPB as of 31 March 1987. This ranks ACCRA Investments Corporation number 44 among the top 100 biggest stockholders of UCPB which has approximately 1,400,000 shareholders. On the other hand, corporate books show the name Edgardo J. Angara as holding approximately 3,744 shares as of February, 1984.
The Supreme Court, thru Justice Santiago Kapunan, exonerated the petitioning lawyers and further ruled in this wise:
Summarizing these exceptions, information relating to the identity of a client may fall within the ambit of the privilege when the client’s name itself has an independent significance, such that disclosure would then reveal client confidences. The circumstances involving the engagement of lawyers in the case at bench, therefore, clearly reveal that the instant case falls under at least two exceptions to the general rule. First, disclosure of the alleged client’s name would lead to establish said client’s connection with the very fact in issue of the case, which is privileged information, because the privilege, as stated earlier, protects the subject matter or the substance [without which there would be not attorney-client relationship].
The link between the alleged criminal offense and the legal advice or legal service sought was duly established in the case at bar, by no less than the PCGG itself. The key lies in the three specific conditions laid down by the PCGG which constitutes petitioners’ ticket to non-prosecution should they accede thereto:
[a] the disclosure of the identity of its clients;
[b] submission of documents substantiating the lawyer-client relationship; and
[c] the submission of the deeds of assignment petitioners executed in favor of their clients covering their respective shareholdings.
From these conditions, particularly the third, We can readily deduce that the clients indeed consulted the petitioners, in their capacity as lawyers, regarding the financial and corporate structure, framework and set-up of the corporations in question. In turn, petitioners gave their professional advice in the form of, among others, the aforementioned deeds of assignment covering their client’s shareholdings.
There is no question that the preparation of the aforestated documents was part and parcel of petitioners’ legal service to their clients. More important, it constituted an integral part of their duties as lawyers. Petitioners, therefore, have a legitimate fear that identifying their clients would implicate them in the very activity for which legal advice had been sought, i.e., the alleged accumulation of ill-gotten wealth in the aforementioned corporations.
Furthermore, under the third main exception, revelation of the client’s name would obviously provide the necessary link for the prosecution to build its case, where none otherwise exists. It is the link, in the words of Baird, “that would inevitably form the chain of testimony necessary to convict the [client] of a crime.” An important distinction must be made between a case where a client takes on the services of an attorney for illicit purposes, seeking advice about how to go around the law for the purpose of committing illegal activities and a case where a client thinks he might have previously committed something illegal and consults his attorney about it. The first case clearly does not fall within the privilege because the same cannot be invoked for purposes illegal. The second case falls within the exception because whether or not the act for which the client sought advice turns out to be illegal, his name cannot be used or disclosed if the disclosure leads to evidence, not yet in the hands of the prosecution, which might lead to possible action against him.
These cases may be readily distinguished because the privilege cannot be invoked or used as a shield for an illegal act as in the first example; while the prosecution may not have a case against the client in the second example and cannot use the attorney-client relationship to build up a case against the latter. The reason for the first rule is that it is not within the professional character of a lawyer to give advice on the commission of a crime. The reason for the second has been stated in the cases above discussed and are founded on the same policy grounds for which the attorney-client privilege, in general, exists.
Justice, later Chief Justice Hilario Davide, wrote a powerful dissent.
It came to pass therefore that the now famous Danding (or shall we say, Marcos) lawyers, were all off the hook. Emerging lawyers with pretensions to being the new consiglieries strut that they are the legal mind behind the loot of the mega crooks.
After 1986, new law firms were instantly organized. There was one law firm that ruled the roost during Cory Aquino’s time retained by the Kamag-anak Incorporated. During the dying days of the Cory tenure, a law firm closely identified with General Fabian Ver and an electonics distributor gravitated towards then General Fidel Ramos, the perceived favourite of the sitting President. These lawyers in tandem with a math genius engineered what was touted as the most ingenious plus-minus election doctrine that was replicated from 1992 to 2004. In fact, the system became so ingrained in the electoral process that some unscrupulous Comelec officials offer their services to politicians where the centrepiece of their services is the use of this famous hocus pocus. Since the certificates of canvass for national candidates are separate from the local candidates, losing local leaders abandon the local canvass leaving the job to the bribed city or provincial canvassers. With no watcher to contend with, the Board of Canvassers in cities and provinces have total control of the entries in the certificates of canvass.
FVR was finally elected. A partner of the new legal enterprise was appointed a presidential legal counsel. Thus began the legendary rise of what is now known as the Firm. It recognized that putting a bet on one presidential candidate is a cheap investment on future connections. In fact, when GMA announced in Baguio in December 2002 that she will not seek reelection, one of its top legal honchos placed his bet on the late Raul Roco in the event GMA makes good her bluff. Of course, the larger part of the Firm’s wager ostentatiously is on GMA otherwise they get the goat of Joe Pidal!
But the partner had a falling out with Mr. Tabako. He returned sulking and retrieved his position as the senior partner of the Firm housed in what do you know? – the now renowned LTA Building. Thus began the trek again to Malacanang thru their new Trojan horse, Jose Miguel Arroyo. Eventually the famous partner was soon appointed to the highest tribunal in GMA’s time.
Erap was unstoppable. The Firm has to give way to the Masa avalanche and thought it best to wait for another day. They got wind of the complaints of a furious FVR who was made the chopping board of Erap when it came to the bottomline of the treasury. Erap in no uncertain terms blamed FVR on the state of the economy. FVR unleashed what turned out as the seeds of EDSA 2, duplicating what the Ecuadorians did to their President, El Loco Abadala Bucaram who was ousted from office when he turned out to be what he was in the first place, a second rate thieving clown!
There will be no new Freedom Constitution; the Firm made it a point that Erap was technically incapacitated, such that the process of succession under the 1987 Constitution was put in place.
Not only was Erap driven out, his minions and moneybags haunted and characterized as the dim-wit gang. “Tell me who the friends of Erap are, and I’ll tell you who they are!” Anyone associated with Erap belongs to the category of the dense. Look at his lawyer, Edward Serapio, isn’t he in detention? Marcos’, Cory’s, FVR’s lawyers never tasted an inch of the dungeons. So how does one make out of them? Magagaling talaga, ika.
If Erap’s lawyers are idiots, then so was everybody associated with him? Now you figure out why the guns of the Firm are trained towards Ping Lacson. Ping must have committed some slip-up in the execution of the Kuratong Baleleng gang, like misplaced handcuffs worn by the corpses. Erap’s gang is dumb, and this must be known to the whole world. To the cage Ping is meant, like some catharsis to Gen. Reynaldo Berroya who spent a couple of years in Bilibid. Lintik lang ang walang ganti! Berroya refuses to bow out, he was pulled out from oblivion to commandeer the LTO.
But the best plans of mice and men sometimes go zilched. Joe Pidal coming from the heels of Joe Velarde is dumberer. The Firm is in no position to deny that it is its idea. The latest caper of Joe Pidal is his being billeted for 48 hours in the most expensive suite in Las Vegas during the Paquiao slam-bang. His patron, it was reported, spent US$40,000.00 for the brief jig.
Joe Pidal is even backstopped by a sibling of the presidential spokesman. The Stupid Label is the last thing the Firm abhors; hence, the real Joe Pidal is represented in the Senate hearing by the lawyer of Fred Lim.
Joe Pidal did a Jalosjos. Against better prudence, and the lessons past, the Firm orchestrated the surfacing of Ignacio Arroyo as the real Jose Pidal, reminiscent of the trick employed by an Erap lawyer when he asked the witness to identify the maid of Atong Ang from the spectators present at the impeachment hearing. The younger Arroyo’s smile betrayed his intention. He merely loved the attention which he apparently missed in his youth. Remember the brother of Romy Jalosjos who shocked us when he went on air and claimed that he was the spoiler of the child-victim? The Court ignored the admission and went on the convict Romy Jalosjos. Some lawyer pulled out a legal gag: right to privacy . The lawyers in the Senate scampered.
Another lawyer prodded the presidential bayaw to run for a House seat. It’s for sale anyway. Feigning surprise and mouthing triumph of the democratic processes, Cong. Iggy Arroyo was sworn in. These are extra-legal potions more effective than those dished out by the commercial courts. Why spend millions with corrupt magistrates just to confirm the legal footing of “right to privacy”, when the sovereign itself can pronounce it on shoestring.
Gradually the noose is crowding the neck of GMA’s lawyers. There is no difference shown by this group from that of Erap’s. Too much money and influence have made this bunch simply reckless. Like an octopus, the Firm has clutched practically the entire bureaucracy. Its clout is unparalleled in the history of this country. But to everything there is a season.
Here’s a quote from Cocktales (PDI, November 29, 2006) chronicling what is felt as the moribund days (?) of the Firm:
More popish than Pope
TAKE your pick of conspiracy theory to explain the abrupt
departure of Ronald “Pope” Solis from the National Telecommunications Commission
(NTC). One, Malacañang and its congressional allies have struck back and cut off
the major tentacles of the Carpio Villaraza Cruz law office in the government in
retaliation against The Firm’s anti-Charter-change stance. Two, the telecom
players that have been left out in the 3G band allocation crafted by Solis have
finally gotten back at him. Three, a confluence of the two factors.Lending
credence to the second theory was an admission from one industry player that the
Ombudsman complaint filed against Solis had been a pooled effort among the
industry players. Even the travel records of Solis were cited in the Ombudsman
complaint, which said that the NTC chief had traveled overseas 20 times — 17
times with his wife — in the past two years.
Also yesterday, Malacañang confirmed the plan of six protégés of former Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz Jr. to follow their patron out of the agency, but downplayed their courtesy resignations as nothing out of the ordinary.
In a telephone interview, Ermita said the resignation of the seven was to be expected as they were protégées of Cruz who joined the office because of him and their appointments were co-terminus with that of the former defense secretary.
Those who resigned a few days after Cruz handed his resignation letter to the President on Nov. 5 were defense undersecretaries Rafael Antonio Santos (operations), Cecilio Lorenzo (finance), Jose Tito Santos (defense acquisitions), and assistant secretaries Ricardo San Andres (audit), Aida Araceli Roxas-Rivera (legal and priority concerns), and Catherine Gonzalez (chief of staff).
“They resigned to show respect to their principal. You may also want to use the word sympathy,” said Ermita. The President has accepted the resignations, he said.
Cruz resigned supposedly after a dispute with the Lakas faction of the Cabinet which actively pushed for the people’s initiative to change the Constitution which the lawyer described as a harebrained idea. (With a report from Norman Bordadora)
‘The Firm’ not so firm: It’s breaking up