Saturday, March 05, 2005

Judicial notice

Judicial notice

Posted 11:28pm (Mla time) Mar 04, 2005
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A14 of the March 5, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

ON JAN. 27, 2004, former Vice President Salvador H. Laurel died in the United States. This was widely reported in this country in newspapers, on radio and television, and by word-of-mouth among the people at large. He was the subject of editorials and opinion columns and many necrological services, including the one held officially in the Senate, where he had served as a member. In Proclamation No. 544 dated Jan. 29, 2004, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, through Executive Secretary Alberto G. Romulo, extended fitting recognition to Laurel, designated a period of national mourning for him, and authorized his interment at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

At the time of his death, Laurel was facing a criminal case in the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court, where he had moved for a reinvestigation, which was granted by the Fifth Division of the Sandiganbayan. On Aug. 20, 2004, it issued the following Order:

"Considering that this case is still under reinvestigation in the Office of the Special Prosecutor, and notwithstanding the fact, of which the Court takes judicial notice, that Vice-President Salvador H. Laurel is already dead, the Court hereby directs the Office of the Special Prosecutor to terminate reinvestigation and to submit its resolution thereon at the soonest possible time." (Stress supplied.)

(According to the Rules of Court, among the subjects of judicial notice without the introduction of proof are "the official acts of the legislative, executive and judicial departments" and "all similar matters which are of public knowledge.")

On Oct. 29, 2004, the same Division ordered as follows:

"Considering that the Court has not yet been furnished with a copy of the death certificate of accused Salvador H. Laurel, the pre-trial set for today is hereby cancelled and reset to January 28, 2995 at 2:00 o'clock in the afternoon," (Stress supplied.)

The latest Order from the Division dated Jan. 28, 2005, is couched in sterner language and says:

"When this case was called this afternoon, neither Atty. Jose A. Oliveros nor Atty. Leon L. Asa, counsels for the accused, appeared. Hence, Atty. Oliveros and/or Asa are hereby directed to explain within ten (10) days from receipt hereof why they should not be cited in contempt of Court for their failure to appear for today's pre-trial despite due notice. They are also ordered to submit to this Court a certified copy of the death of accused Salvador H. Laurel." (Italics mine.)

The Order was signed by Justices Ma. Cristina G. Cortez-Estrada, as chair, Roland B. Jurado and Teresita V. Diaz-Balgos as members.

Although perplexed, Oliveros and Asa dutifully filed their Explanation, where they respectfully submitted that their representation as lawyers of the late Salvador H. Laurel was lawfully terminated upon their former client's death.

They invoked jurisprudence that "a dead client has no personality and cannot be represented by an attorney." (Lavina c. Court of Appeals, 171 SCRA 691, citing Barrameda v. Barbara, 90 Phil. 718, and Caisip v. Cabangon, 109 Phil. 150.)

They added that "the attorney for a party ceases to be the attorney of such party upon the death of the latter." (Lawas v. Court of Appeals, 146 SCRA 173, citing People v. Florendo, 77 Phil. 16.)

May I add that even under the ordinary rules on agency in general, among the causes for the extinguishment of the contract is the death of the principal or the agent. (Civil Code, Art. 1919.)

As required, they furnished the Division a copy of the Death Certificate of Salvador H. Laurel issued by the County of San Mateo, California, USA. They also sent a Transit Permit from its Health Services Agency for his cremated remains plus a Report of Death and an Affidavit regarding the shipment of such remains executed by our own Consul General Delia MeƱez Rosal.

As an added precaution, they also attached a copy of Proclamation No. 544 just in case the Division had not read or at least heard about it.

As the Division had already taken judicial notice of Laurel's death in its Order dated Aug. 20, 2004, one can only wonder why it still subsequently ordered his former lawyers to submit copies of his death certificate.

The justices, as superior members of the judiciary, could not have been unaware of the jurisprudence cited by Messrs. Asa and Oliveros. That is why I cannot understand the threat in that Order toward the lawyers who had correctly assumed that their services for the late Laurel had already terminated with his death.

I would agree that the death of an ordinary client, of which judicial notice cannot be taken, must be reported by the former lawyer for the information of the court. But former Vice-President Salvador H. Laurel was no ordinary client; no less than the President of the Philippines, the Senate, and most of the rest of the nation, knew of his death.

Submission of the required Explanation with all the annexes must have involved not inconsiderable time and expense that could have been avoided if the members of the Fifth Division had not uselessly preoccupied themselves with the trivial issues in this case. May I say, with all due respect, that the more serious questions before their Division should have claimed their preferential attention.


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