PAO orders its lawyers to comply with ‘Conflict of Interest’ provision after SC decision
MANILA, Philippines — The Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) has ordered its lawyers to comply with Section 22, Canon III or the “Conflict of Interest” provision after the Supreme Court denied its request to remove it from the new lawyers’ code.
Section 22, Canon III of the Code of Professional Responsibility and Accountability (CPRA) states: “In the pursuit of its mandate under its charter, the Public Attorney’s Office shall ensure ready access to its services by the marginalized sectors of society in a manner that takes into consideration the avoidance of potential conflict of interest situations which will leave these marginalized parties unassisted by counsel.”
The same provision states that: “A conflict of interest of any of the lawyers of the Public Attorney’s Office incident to services rendered for the Office shall be imputed only to the said lawyer and the lawyer’s direct supervisor. Such conflict of interest shall not disqualify the rest of the lawyers from the Public Attorney’s Office from representing the affected client upon full disclosure to the latter and written informed consent.”
PAO Chief Persida Rueda-Acosta believed that the provision would result in a conflict of interest as public defenders would be representing both sides of a case.
But the Supreme Court reminded PAO that: “To turn away indigent litigants and bar them from availing of the services of all PAO lawyers nationwide due to alleged conflict of interest would be to contravene PAO’s principal duty and leave hundreds of poor litigants unassisted by legal counsel they cannot otherwise afford.”
PAO, in Office Order No. 096, told its lawyers to follow Section 22 of the new code.
“In as much as the Supreme Court has already publicly issued a press statement/release published on its official website on July 12, 2023, we will hereby comply/adhere to the same,” the office order stated.
“We hereby give the discretion and disposition as a lawyer to the individual resident public attorneys assigned in specific courts to comply with the said rule in relation to Sections 13 and 18, Canon III thereof,” it added.
Section 13 requires the written informed consent of all concerned in cases of conflict of interest, while Section 18 requires lawyers to maintain the private confidences of a former client except upon the written informed consent, or if allowed under the new lawyers’ code or when the information becomes generally known.
PAO also reminded its lawyers of Art. 209 of the Revised Penal Code, which punishes betrayal of trust by an attorney or solicitor.
The provision imposes a penalty of between 6 months and one day to 2 years and four months and/or a fine of between P40,000 and P200,000 on a lawyer or his/her representative for a “malicious breach of professional duty or of inexcusable negligence or ignorance” that prejudices the client, or for revealing a client’s secrets which a lawyer obtained in his/her professional capacity.
The provision also requires the consent of the first client if the lawyer later defends the opposing party.
“PAO resident attorneys are likewise advised to adopt precautionary measures in handling conflict-of-interest cases to protect their life and limb as well as to avoid criminal and administrative liability,” the office order stated.
PAO also reminded its lawyers “to adopt precautionary measures in handling conflict-of-interest cases to protect their life and limb as well as to avoid criminal and administrative liability.”
A copy of the order was given to all Regional Public Attorneys, the Office of the President, and Vice President, 15 justices of the Supreme Court, the Office of the Executive Secretary, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel, Justice Secretary, and the Office of the Court Administrator.