As party under World Trade Organization, why is it that lawyers who are foreign nationals are not allowed to practice law in the Philippines?

The following is a research paper drafted by the author for the sole purpose of class discussion.  He gives full credits to his sources which are listed below (footnotes).

AS PARTY UNDER WORLD TRADE ORGANIZATION, WHY IS IT THAT LAWYERS WHO ARE FOREIGN NATIONALS ARE NOT ALLOWED TO PRACTICE LAW IN THE PHILIPPINES?

 Globalization is already taking place and the Philippines is trying to keep itself abreast with all its functions and mechanisms.  Many foreign investors are already establishing their businesses here,  creating more benefits to the Filipinos while slowly impugning the principle of the old tradition that the country should do its best to accord all rights available to its citizens alone.

Trade relations often involve conflicting interests, and to keep everything in line, a number of entities were established to regulate all those matters related to it.  One of which is the World Trade Organization (WTO), which deals with the global rules of trade between nations. Its main function is to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible.[1]  However, the trade does not include exchange of tangible goods alone.

The Uruguay Round General Agreement on Trade in Services or GATS (from which the WTO is primarily based on) provides the legal basis for the provision on cross border legal services.[2]  Other countries such as the United States and Australia are already open to the idea of providing legal services outside the borders of their territory, subject to a few limitations.

In the Philippine setting however, the country has not made any specific commitments for the legal profession under the GATS, nor has it submitted any proposals for negotiation specifically relating to cross border legal services.[3]  Therefore, even if the country follows some of the principles of WTO, the Philippine laws will still prevail regarding the practice of law inside the country.

As the 1987 Constitution provides, “The practice of all professions in the Philippines shall be limited to Filipino citizens, save in cases provided by law.”[4]

Moreover, years of jurisprudence spelled out the same principle of barring the foreign nationals from practicing law inside the country.  The Supreme Court classified the legal profession as an exercise of a public function and held that “the Sovereignty of the people stands behind all public functions, and it is a matter of high and wise policy not to entrust that function to foreigners.[5]

Additionally under the current law, an aspiring lawyer must fulfill all the requirements of the Philippine Bar before they can practice law in the Philippines.  Not only does the country limit the practice of law to Filipino citizens, it even limits the practice of the profession to residents of the Philippines,[6] and to those who completed the legal education inside it.[7]  The court is strict as to its implementation.

In a nutshell, the Philippine Constitution and the existing Rules of Court (with the addition of jurisprudence) can be considered as barriers to cross border legal services in the Philippines.  Because of the aforementioned provisions, foreign nationals or foreign lawyers are not allowed to practice law in the country; and that the practice of law is a privilege reserved only to Filipino citizens alone.


[2] Roque Jr., H. Harry.  Globalization of Legal Services:  Challenges and Possibilities in The Philippines Setting.  http://www.aseanlawassociation.org/docs/w2_phil.pdf

[3] Schedules of commitments and list of Article II exemptions.  http://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/serv_e/serv_commitments_e.htm#commit_exempt

[4] Sec. 14, Art. 12, 1987 Constitution.

[5] 12 Lawyers J. 421 (1947) in Magallona, Chapter 12, “Transnationalization of Law Practice”, International Law Issues in Perspective (1996).  UP Law Complex.

[6] Rule 138, Section 2, Revised Rules of Court.

[7] RE:  Application of Adriano M. Hernandez, Resolution of the Philippine Supreme Court En Banc, July 27, 1993.

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