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Court grants Ginette’s motion, disqualifies famous lawyer Philip Fortun from testifying for Y4 clients

BACOLOD CITY, Negros Occidental, Philippines – A Bacolod City court has ordered the disqualification of Atty. Philip Sigfrid A. Fortun from testifying on behalf of his clients—the four Yanson siblings in the intestate proceedings of the estate of the late Ricardo B. Yanson Sr.

In an Order dated October 2, 2023, Bacolod City Regional Trial Court Branch 45 Presiding Judge Pheobe A. Gargantiel-Balbin granted the motion filed by Ginnette Yanson Dumancas to disqualify Atty. Fortun as a witness in the case.

“The motion to disqualify filed by the petitioner is granted. Atty. Philip Sigfrid A. Fortun is hereby disqualified from testifying on behalf of the oppositors,” the court said.

The court also reset the next hearing on the case to December 12, 2023 to provide oppositors (Yanson 4) time to prepare the judicial affidavit and presentation of other witnesses.

Earlier in another case, Bacolod RTC Branch 44, in a resolution dated August 31, 2023, approved the petition of Yanson Group of Bus Companies matriarch Olivia Villaflores Yanson for probate of her last will and testament disinheriting the Yanson 4 and naming Leo Rey and Ginnette as her universal heirs.

Olivia, together with her husband, the late Ricardo Yanson Sr. established Vallacar Transit Inc. in 1968 that eventually became the largest bus company in the Philippines.

Probate is the formal legal process that recognizes a will.  Olivia filed the petition for probate of her will on April 15, 2019. Olivia’s four other children—Roy, Emily, Ma. Lourdes Celina and Ricardo Jr.—who are collectively known as the Yanson 4, opposed the probate of her will.

In the latest case, Ginnette Dumancas filed a petition seeking the disqualification of Atty. Fortun on the ground that the Code of Professional Responsibility prohibits a counsel from testifying on behalf of his client.

She said Atty. Fortun could not be allowed to testify as a witness in the support of their motion to remove Olivia V. Yanson as special administratix.

In her decision, Judge Gargantiel-Balbin said that after a careful study of the motion to disqualify filed by petitioner, the court finds the motion well-taken. The court agreed with the averment of the petitioner that the testimony of Atty. Fortun does not fall within the first exception under Rule 12.08 of the Code of Professional Responsibility which states that a lawyer shall avoid testifying in behalf of his client except on formal matters such as the mailing, authentication or custody of an instrument or the like.

The court also noted that Section 22, Rule 130 of the Amended Rules of Court provides that a witness can testify only to those facts which he or she knows of his or her personal knowledge, that is which are derived from his or her own perception.

“A reading of the judicial affidavit of Atty. Fortun would show that he has no personal knowledge of the facts he intends to testify,” the court said.

The Supreme Court in an October 2004 decision explained the reason behind the rule on the disqualification of lawyers from testifying on behalf of their client.

“The reason behind such rule is the difficulty posed upon lawyers by the task of dissociating their relation to their clients as witnesses from that as advocates,” the SC said.

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