Having Lost Filipino Citizenship, Can Lawyer Practice Law in the Philippines?

The practice of law is a privilege burdened with conditions. It is so delicately affected with public interest that it is both a power and a duty of the State (through this Court) to control and regulate it in order to protect and promote the public welfare.

Adherence to rigid standards of mental fitness, maintenance of the highest degree of morality, faithful observance of the rules of the legal profession, compliance with the mandatory continuing legal education requirement and payment of membership fees to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) are the conditions required for membership in good standing in the bar and for enjoying the privilege to practice law. Any breach by a lawyer of any of these conditions makes him unworthy of the trust and confidence which the courts and clients repose in him for the continued exercise of his professional privilege.
Section 1, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court provides: SECTION 1. Who may practice law. Any person heretofore duly admitted as a member of the bar, or thereafter admitted as such in accordance with the provisions of this Rule, and who is in good and regular standing, is entitled to practice law.

Pursuant thereto, any person admitted as a member of the Philippine bar in accordance with the statutory requirements and who is in good and regular standing is entitled to practice law.

Admission to the bar requires certain qualifications. The Rules of Court mandates that an applicant for admission to the bar be a citizen of the Philippines, at least twenty-one years of age, of good moral character and a resident of the Philippines. He must also produce before this Court satisfactory evidence of good moral character and that no charges against him, involving moral turpitude, have been filed or are pending in any court in the Philippines.

Moreover, admission to the bar involves various phases such as furnishing satisfactory proof of educational, moral and other qualifications; passing the bar examinations; taking the lawyers oath and signing the roll of attorneys and receiving from the clerk of court of this Court a certificate of the license to practice.

The second requisite for the practice of law ― membership in good standing ― is a continuing requirement. This means continued membership and, concomitantly, payment of annual membership dues in the IBP; payment of the annual professional tax; compliance with the mandatory continuing legal education requirement; faithful observance of the rules and ethics of the legal profession and being continually subject to judicial disciplinary control.

Given the foregoing, may a lawyer who has lost his Filipino citizenship still practice law in the Philippines? No.

The Constitution provides that the practice of all professions in the Philippines shall be limited to Filipino citizens save in cases prescribed by law. Since Filipino citizenship is a requirement for admission to the bar, loss thereof terminates membership in the Philippine bar and, consequently, the privilege to engage in the practice of law. In other words, the loss of Filipino citizenship ipso jure terminates the privilege to practice law in the Philippines. The practice of law is a privilege denied to foreigners.

The exception is when Filipino citizenship is lost by reason of naturalization as a citizen of another country but subsequently reacquired pursuant to RA 9225. This is because all Philippine citizens who become citizens of another country shall be deemed not to have lost their Philippine citizenship under the conditions of [RA 9225]. Therefore, a Filipino lawyer who becomes a citizen of another country is deemed never to have lost his Philippine citizenship if he reacquires it in accordance with RA 9225. Although he is also deemed never to have terminated his membership in the Philippine bar, no automatic right to resume law practice accrues.

Under RA 9225, if a person intends to practice the legal profession in the Philippines and he reacquires his Filipino citizenship pursuant to its provisions (he) shall apply with the proper authority for a license or permit to engage in such practice. Stated otherwise, before a lawyer who reacquires Filipino citizenship pursuant to RA 9225 can resume his law practice, he must first secure from this Court the authority to do so, conditioned on:

(a) the updating and payment in full of the annual membership dues in the IBP;
(b) the payment of professional tax;
(c) the completion of at least 36 credit hours of mandatory continuing legal education; this is specially significant to refresh the applicant/petitioners knowledge of Philippine laws and update him of legal developments and
(d) the retaking of the lawyers oath which will not only remind him of his duties and responsibilities as a lawyer and as an officer of the Court, but also renew his pledge to maintain allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines.

Compliance with these conditions will restore his good standing as a member of the Philippine bar. (B.M. No. 1678; December 17, 2007)