POSSIBLE DISBARMENT. The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) says if a disbarment case is filed against Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, the highest moral standards expected of lawyers shall be measured against his actions. Photo by Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – As Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez finds himself embroiled in a controversy that involves his extramarital affairs, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) issued a reminder that lawyers should always maintain the highest moral standards.

The IBP, the mandatory organization of lawyers in the country, said this in a statement released on Friday, March 31, responding to Alvarez’s challenge to critics to have him disbarred over having a girlfriend while he’s still married.

"The IBP has always and shall always maintain the highest standards of morality, behavior and professionalism among its members. As members of a noble profession and as officers of the court, lawyers are held to a higher standard than most and these standards are seriously enforced by the Supreme Court," the IBP said.

Alvarez, lawyer and leader of the lower chamber, admitted to having a mistress and even to having "many children" out of wedlock. These admissions came about when a feud between his girlfriend and the live-in partner of longtime friend Representative Antonio Floirendo Jr was pointed to as the reason of the two lawmakers’ feud, which reportedly led to a graft complaint and a House resolution, both seeking to investigate Floirendo and his company’s contract with the government.

Alvarez defended his ways and said: "Kung meron silang nakikitang ethical issues, ipapa-disbar ako for having a girlfriend? Eh ‘di go ahead, mag-file ng complaint! Baka walang matirang abogado!"

(If they see some ethical issues so as to disbar me for having a girlfriend, then go ahead, they can file a complaint! But we might run out of lawyers!)

Immorality grounds

Is an extramarital affair grounds for disbarment? There is a legal basis for it.

First is the Code of Professional Responsibility (CPR) for laywers. Rule 1.01 of Canon 1 of CPR says "a lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct." Rule 7.03 of Canon 7 states, "a lawyer shall not engage in conduct that adversely reflects on his fitness to practice law, nor shall he, whether in public or private life, behave in a scandalous manner to the discredit of the legal profession."

Section 27 of Rule 138 of the Rules of Court meanwhile, says a "member of the bar may be removed or suspended from his office as attorney by the Supreme Court (SC) for any deceit, malpractice, or other gross misconduct in such office, grossly immoral conduct." (READ: Lawyer disbarred for having simultaneous marriages)

All of these grounds were used by the SC when it disbarred former Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) commissioner Jose Emmanuel "Noli" Eala because of an illicit affair with a married woman.

In 2015, the Supreme Court disbarred former government lawyer Raymond Pangalangan of the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel for illicit affairs.

The IBP’s role

In disbarment cases, the IBP acts as an investigating body for the SC. Their board of governors will issue a resolution and submit it to the High Court for a ruling.

Other disbarment cases may also be referred to the Office of the Solicitor General or to regional trial courts.

"In the event that someone should file a complaint against Congressman Alvarez, he will, of course, be granted the full measure of his right to due process but these shall be the same standards against which his actions shall be measured," the IBP said. – Rappler.com