Lawyers in government

Whether it is an in-person meeting or a teleconference, undivided attention must be given, especially when discussing a matter of national interest
Lawyers in government

Last week, a senior government official in an executive department, who also served as chief-of-staff of the agency’s head, drew widespread criticism following a Facebook post where she allegedly prioritized helping a friend in Japan over an official meeting of national concern.

In the now-deleted post, the official shared a screenshot of her supposed conversation with her best friend, who happened to be another public official serving as treasurer of a local government unit.

The official allegedly shared that her treasurer-friend “needed help on Google Translate,” which prompted her to stop an official meeting. Both government officials are lawyers.

The official issued a statement acknowledging that she should be more mindful of her social media activity following her viral Facebook post that drew criticism.

Without commenting any further, it may be good and timely to take this opportunity to remind our readers of the norms and standards expected of our government officials, especially lawyers.

Republic Act No. 6713, also known as the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, contains general norms and standards for government officials.

RA 6713 states: “It is the policy of the State to promote a high standard of ethics in public service. Public officials and employees shall always be accountable to the people and discharge their duties with utmost responsibility, integrity, competence, and loyalty, act with patriotism and justice, lead modest lives, and uphold public interest over personal interest.”

One stands out among the norms and conduct of public officials and employees enumerated in RA 6713 and may apply to our discussion.

Section 4 (a) states, “Public officials and employees shall always uphold the public interest over and above personal interest. All government resources and powers of their respective offices must be employed and used efficiently, effectively, honestly and economically, particularly to avoid wastage in public funds and revenues.”

This means that the utmost focus should be given to the task at hand during work hours and official trips or functions. Whether it is an in-person meeting or a teleconference, undivided attention must be given, especially when discussing a matter of national interest.

Distractions must be avoided and certainly should not be posted at all. Utmost devotion must be shown at all times. Public officials should set good examples for the citizens not only to protect the government's image but, more importantly, because it is their duty.

Since both officials involved are lawyers, it is worth noting that on 11 April 2023, the Supreme Court approved A.M. No. 22-09-01-SC amending the Code of Professional Responsibility and Accountability to reflect “recent developments and technological trends that impact the experience and behavior of members of the Philippine Bar mostly through social media and the internet.”

It has been more than three decades since the Code of Professional Responsibility, which establishes the norms of conduct and ethical standards in the legal profession, was promulgated on 21 June 1988. Its continued updating is certainly necessary.

Canon II, Section 37 of the updated code states: “A lawyer shall ensure that his or her online posts, whether made in a public or restricted privacy setting that still holds an audience, uphold the dignity of the legal profession and shield it from disrepute, as well as maintain respect for the law.”

Lawyers in government service, in particular, must be keenly aware of this and avoid the pitfalls associated with the imprudent use of social media and the Internet.

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