SC Justice rejects retroactivity of Code of Professional Responsibility

The principle of prospectivity of statutes, original or amendatory, has been applied in many cases. These include: Buyco v. PNB, 961) 2 SCRA 682 (June 30, 1961), holding that Republic Act No. 1576 which divested the Philippine National Bank of authority to accept back pay certificates in payment of loans, does not apply to an offer of payment made before effectivity of the act; Largado v. Masaganda, et al., 5 SCRA 522 (June 30, 1962), ruling that RA 2613, as amended by RA 3090 on June, 1961, granting to inferior courts jurisdiction over guardianship cases, could not be given retroactive effect, in the absence of a saving clause; Larga v. Ranada, Jr., 64 SCRA 18, to the effect that Sections 9 and 10 of Executive Order No. 90, amending Section 4 of PD 1752, could have no retroactive application; People v. Que Po Lay, 94 Phil. 640, holding that a person cannot be convicted of violating Circular No. 20 of the Central Bank, when the alleged violation occurred before publication of the Circular in the Official Gazette; Baltazar v. C.A., 104 SCRA 619, denying retroactive application to P.D. No. 27 decreeing the emancipation of tenants from the bondage of the soil, and P.D. No. 316 prohibiting ejectment of tenants from rice and corn farmholdings, pending the promulgation of rules and regulations implementing P.D. No. 27; Nilo v. Court of Appeals, 128 SCRA 519, adjudging that RA 6389 which removed "personal cultivation" as a ground for the ejectment of a tenant cannot be given retroactive effect in the absence of a statutory statement for retroactivity; Tac-An v. CA, 129 SCRA 319, ruling that the repeal of the old Administrative Code by RA 4252 could not be accorded retroactive effect; Ballardo v. Borromeo, 161 SCRA 500, holding that RA 6389 should have only prospective application; (See also Bonifacio v. Dizon, 177 SCRA 294 and Balatbat v. CA, 205 SCRA 419).
The prospectivity principle has also been made to apply to administrative rulings and circulars, to wit: ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation v. CTA, Oct. 12, 1981, 108 SCRA 142, holding that a circular or ruling of the Commissioner of Internal Revenue may not be given retroactive effect adversely to a taxpayer; Sanchez v. COMELEC, 193 SCRA 317, ruling that Resolution No. 90-0590 of the Commission on Elections, which directed the holding of recall proceedings, had no retroactive application; Romualdez v. CSC, 197 SCRA 168, where it was ruled that CSC Memorandum Circular No. 29, s. 1989 cannot be given retrospective effect so as to entitle to permanent appointment an employee whose temporary appointment had expired before the Circular was issued. The principle of prospectivity has also been applied to judicial decisions which, "although in themselves not laws, are nevertheless evidence of what the laws mean, . . . (this being) the reason why under Article 8 of the New Civil Code, 'Judicial decisions applying or interpreting the laws or the Constitution shall form a part of the legal system . . .’"

I believe that there is a greater demand to ward off the retroactive application of the Code of Professional Responsibility for the Code is the source of penal liabilities against its infringers. It is well entrenched that generally, penal laws or those laws which define offenses and prescribe penalties for their violation operate prospectively. The Constitution itself bars the enactment of ex-post facto laws. I do not think it necessary to flirt with the constitutional issue whether the Code of Professional Responsibility operates as a penal statute within the definition of an ex-post facto law, but I am satisfied with the general rules, affirmed by jurisprudence, that abhor the retroactivity of statutes and regulations such as the Code of Professional Responsibility. (Justice Tinga; G.R. Nos. 151809-12; April 12, 2005)