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Urbano vs Chavez

FACTS
there are 2 cases involved here: a criminal action for violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices
Act (RA 3019) and an civil action for damages arising from a felony (defamation through a published
interview whereby Chavez imputed that Nemesio Co was a close associate (crony?) of Marcos), both
against Solicitor General Francisco Chavez (among others)
in the criminal case (filed in the Office of the Ombudsman), the Office of the SolGen (OSG) entered its
appearance for Chavez and the other accused (DILG Sec and 2 sectoral reps) as far as the Prelim
Investigation is concerned. Urbano et. al. filed a special civil action for prohibition in the SC to enjoin
the SolGen and his associates from acting as counsel for Chavez in the PI. The contention is in the
event that an information is filed against the accused, the appearance of the OSG in the PI would be
in conflict with its role as the appellate counsel for the People of the Phils (counsel at the first
instance is the provincial/ state prosecutor).
in the action for damages, the OSG likewise acted as counsel for Chavez, who was then the SolGen
and counsel for PCGG, the agency responsible for the investigation of graft and corrupt practices of
the Marcoses. The OSG filed for extension of time to file required pleading, and afterwards filed a
motion to dismiss on behalf of Chavez. Petitioner Co objected to appearance of OSG as counsel,
contending that he is suing Chavez in his personal capacity.
OSG manifested that it is authorized to represent Chavez or any public official even if the said official
is sued in his personal capacity pursuant to the unconditional provisions of PD478 which defines the
functions of OSG, as well as EO300 which made OSG an independent agency under the Office of the
President
RTC denied the petition, thus allowing the appearance of OSG as counsel. It also denied the MFR.
Thus, this petition for review

ISSUE/S
1. WON the OSG has authority to appear for (a) a certain govt official in the PI of their case before the
Ombudsman and (b) the SolGen in a suit for damages arising from a crime

HELD
1. NO
The OSG is not authorized to represent a public official at ANY stage of a criminal case or in a civil suit for
damages arising from a felony (applies to all public officials and employees in the executive, legislative
and judicial branches).
PD47811 defines the duties and functions of OSG:
SEC1. The OSG shall represent the Govt of the Phils, its agencies and instrumentalities and its officials and
agents in any litigation, proceeding, investigation or matter requiring the services of a lawyer. x x x
the OSG submits that since there is no qualification, it can represent any public official without any
qualification or distinction in any litigation.
Same argument seems to apply to a similar provision in the Rev Admin Code (Sec. 1661: As principal law
officer of the Govt, the SolGen shall have the authority to act for and represent the Govt , its officers and
agents in any official investigation, proceeding or matter requiring the services of a lawyer). In Anti-Graft
League v Ortega, SC interpreted Sec. 1661 to embrace PI. However, should an info be filed after, then OSG
can no longer act as counsel. The rationale given was that public officials are subjected to numerous suits,
and threats of criminal prosecution could stay the hand of the public official. OSG provides assurance
against timidity in that they will be duly represented by counsel in the PI.
However, the court declared this ruling abandoned in this case. The anomaly in this ruling becomes
obvious when, in the event of a judgment of conviction, the case is brought on appeal to the appellate
courts. The OSG, as the appellate counsel of the People, is expected to take a stand against the accused.
More often than not, it does. Accordingly, there is a clear conflict of interest here, and one which smacks
of ethical considerations, where the OSG, as counsel for the public official, defends the latter in the PI,
and where the same office, as appellate counsel of the People, represents the prosecution when the case
is brought on appeal. This anomalous situation could not have been contemplated and allowed by the
law. It is a situation which cannot be countenanced by the Court.
- another reason why the OSG cant represent an accused in a crim case: the State can speak and
act only by law, whatever it says or does is lawful, and that which is unlawful is not the word or
deed of the state. As such, a public official who is sued criminally is actually sued in his personal
capacity inasmuch as his principal (the State) can never the author of a wrongful act. The same
applies to a suit for damages arising from a felony, where the public official is held accountable
for his act; the state is not liable.
** Re: Question of Law
-both issues raise pure questions of law inasmuch as there are no evidentiary matters to be evaluated by
this Court. Moreover, if the only issue is whether or not the conclusions of the trial court are in
consonance with law and jurisprudence, then the issue is a pure question of law (Torres v Yu). Thus, the
Court resolved to consolidate both Petitions and to treat them as Petitions for certiorari on pure
questions of law in accordance with the provisions of the Rules of Court.