PCGG V SANDIGANBAYAN
In 1976 the General Bank and Trust Company (GENBANK) encountered financial difficulties. GENBANK had extended considerable financial support to Filcapital Development Corporation causing it to incur daily overdrawings on its current account with Central Bank. Despite the mega loans GENBANK failed to recover from its financial woes. The Central Bank issued a resolution declaring GENBANK insolvent and unable to resume business with safety to its depositors, creditors and the general public, and ordering its liquidation. A public bidding of GENBANK’s assets was held where Lucio Tan group submitted the winning bid. Solicitor General Estelito Mendoza filed a petition with the CFI praying for the assistance and supervision of the court in GENBANK’s liquidation as mandated by RA 265. After EDSA Revolution I Pres Aquino established the PCGG to recover the alleged ill-gotten wealth of former Pres Marcos, his family and cronies. Pursuant to this mandate, the PCGG filed with the Sandiganbayan a complaint for reversion, reconveyance, restitution against respondents Lucio Tan, at.al. PCGG issued several writs of sequestration on properties allegedly acquired by them by taking advantage of their close relationship and influence with former Pres. Marcos. The abovementioned respondents Tan, et. al are represented as their counsel, former Solicitor General Mendoza. PCGG filed motions to disqualify respondent Mendoza as counsel for respondents Tan et. al. with Sandiganbayan. It was alleged that Mendoza as then Sol Gen and counsel to Central Bank actively intervened in the liquidation of GENBANK which was subsequently acquired by respondents Tan et. al., which subsequently became Allied Banking Corporation. The motions to disqualify invoked Rule 6.03 of the Code of Professional Responsibility which prohibits former government lawyers from accepting “engagement” or employment in connection with any matter in which he had intervened while in the said service. The Sandiganbayan issued a resolution denyting PCGG’s motion to disqualify respondent Mendoza. It failed to prove the existence of an inconsistency between respondent Mendoza’s former function as SolGen and his present employment as counsel of the Lucio Tan group. PCGGs recourse to this court assailing the Resolutions of the Sandiganbayan.
Whether Rule 6.03 of the Code of Professional Responsibility applies to respondent Mendoza. The prohibition states: “A lawyer shall not, after leaving government service, accept engagement or employment in connection with any matter in which he had intervened while in the said service.”
The case at bar does not involve the “adverse interest” aspect of Rule 6.03. Respondent Mendoza, it is conceded, has no adverse interest problem when he acted as SOlGen and later as counsel of respondents et.al. before the Sandiganbayan. However there is still the issue of whether there exists a “congruent-interest conflict” sufficient to disqualify respondent Mendoza from representing respondents et. al. The key is unlocking the meaning of “matter” and the metes and bounds of “intervention” that he made on the matter. Beyond doubt that the “matter” or the act of respondent Mendoza as SolGen involved in the case at bar is “advising the Central Bank, on how to proceed with the said bank’s liquidation and even filing the petition for its liquidation in CFI of Manila. The Court held that the advice given by respondent Mendoza on the procedure to liquidate GENBANK is not the “matter” contemplated by Rule 6.03 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. ABA Formal Opinion No. 342 is clear in stressing that “drafting, enforcing or interpreting government or agency procedures, regulations and laws, or briefing abstract principles of law are acts which do not fall within the scope of the term “matter” and cannot disqualify. Respondent Mendoza had nothing to do with the decision of the Central Bank to liquidate GENBANK. He also did not participate in the sale of GENBANK to Allied Bank. The legality of the liquidation of GENBANK is not an issue in the sequestration cases. Indeed, the jurisdiction of the PCGG does not include the dissolution and liquidation of banks. Thus, the Code 6.03 of the Code of Professional Responsibility cannot apply to respondent Mendoza because his alleged intervention while SolGen is an intervention on a matter different from the matter involved in the Civil case of sequestration. In the metes and bounds of the “intervention”. The applicable meaning as the term is used in the Code of Professional Ethics is that it is an act of a person who has the power to influence the subject proceedings. The evil sought to be remedied by the Code do not exist where the government lawyer does not act which can be considered as innocuous such as “ drafting, enforcing, or interpreting government or agency procedures, regulations or laws or briefing abstract principles of law.” The court rules that the intervention of Mendoza is not significant and substantial. He merely petitions that the court gives assistance in the liquidation of GENBANK. The role of court is not strictly as a court of justice but as an agent to assist the Central Bank in determining the claims of creditors. In such a proceeding the role of the SolGen is not that of the usual court litigator protecting the interest of government.
Petition assailing the Resolution of the Sandiganbayan is denied.
Relevant Dissenting Opinion of Justice Callejo:
Rule 6.03 is a restatement of Canon 36 of the Canons of Professional Ethics: “ A lawyer, having once held public office or having been in the public employ, should not after his retirement accept employment in connection with any matter which he has investigated or passed upon while in such office or employ.”
Indeed, the restriction against a public official from using his public position as a vehicle to promote or advance his private interests extends beyond his tenure on certain matters in which he intervened as a public official. Rule 6.03 makes this restriction specifically applicable to lawyers who once held public office.” A plain reading shows that the interdiction 1. applies to a lawyer who once served in the government and 2. relates to his accepting “engagement or employment” in connection with any matter in which he had intervened while in the service.