A signature is a writing or other mark that is placed upon an instrument for the purpose of authenticating it and giving it legal effect (Barron’s Law Dictionary).
Developing a certain signature or mark is a necessary consequence of human civilization, akin to learning to write.
Without written records history becomes a set of memories, inevitably fragmented and inaccurate, and learning is restricted to the amount of knowledge that can be passed on orally from one generation to the next (Reader’s Digest Library of Modern Knowledge [RDLMK], The written word p. 880).
The earliest example of writing is a form of picture writing, found in a stone tablet in Mesopotamia, dating from around 3500 BC. It was made by the Sumerians, and may have been part of a tax account (RDLMK).
“The central role of the religious and legal issues in early cultures meant that the ability to write and read was the province of priests and scribes; this early link between writing and religion is still reflected in connection with the words ‘script’ and ‘scripture’” (RDLMK).
“Writing has also been considered by many people to be [the] authoritative form of expression over speech…” (RDLMK). However, as civilization progressed, the need for competent evidence to establish the existence of contracts and deeds of conveyance had to be addressed.
In common law, “the Statute of Wills, 1540, merely required that a will of land should be in ‘writing,’ the Statute of Frauds, 1677, required as an essential form [that] a devise of lands be in writing, signed, and witnessed… but the requirement of signing and witnessing of wills generally dates from 1837” (A Concise History of the Common Law).
In the Civil Code of the Philippines, “an agreement… shall be unenforceable by action unless the same… be in writing and subscribed; evidence… of the agreement cannot be received without the writing, or secondary evidence of its contents” (Article 1403).
Wills or testament “must be in writing and executed in a language or dialect known to the testator.” Notarial wills “must be subscribed… by the testator himself… and attested and subscribed by three or more credible witnesses in the presence of the testator and of one another” (Articles 804 and 805).
The requirements of writing have over time extended to police evidence.
Under the Philippine Constitution, “[A]ny person under investigation for the commission of an offense shall…be informed of his right to remain silent and to have competent and independent counsel… of his own choice… [T]hese rights cannot be waived except in writing and in the presence of counsel” (Article III, Section 12).
Pleadings and other written submissions “must be signed by the party or counsel representing him or her” (Section 3, Rule 7, 2019 Rules of Civil Procedure), the reason being that the courts must be protected from misleading and baseless allegations of the party or counsel.
The signature of a lawyer constitutes a certificate that he or she has read the pleading and document filed in court and served upon the other parties.
The certificate attests that to the best of the lawyer’s knowledge, information and belief, formed after reasonable inquiry that the pleading is not for an improper purpose (Section 3, Rule 7).
It also means that the lawyer does not intend to “harass, cause unnecessary delay, or needlessly increase the cost of litigation;” and that the claims or defenses made in the pleadings are supported by law or jurisprudence and not frivolous arguments (Section 3, Rule 7).
By signing the pleading or written submission, the lawyer certifies that the “factual contentions [therein] have evidentiary support or, if specifically so identified will likely have evidentiary support after availment of the modes of discovery…” (Section 3, Rule 7).
The importance of accurate and truthful contentions in court is made even more evident by the requirement of a verification of a party for certain pleadings.
A pleading is verified by an affidavit of a party or by an affiant duly authorized to sign the said verification (Section 4, Rule 7).
The party attests that “the allegations [therein] are true and correct based on his or her personal knowledge, or based on authentic documents.”
The party also attests that the pleading is not filed for an improper purpose, is supported by evidence, and is likely to have evidentiary support after reasonable opportunity for discovery (Section 4, Rule 7).
In the case of Intestate Estate of Jose Uy v. Atty. Pacifico Maghari, the latter had just recently passed the bar examination.
However, Wilson Uy discovered that Maghari had been affixing different professional details in the pleadings he had signed, using the professional details of Atty. Natu-El (A.C. NO. 10525, September 01, 2015).
“The errors are manifest and respondent [Maghari] admit their existence. This court would perhaps be well counseled to absolve respondent of liability or let him get away with a proverbial slap on the wrist if all that was involved were a typographical error, or otherwise, an error or a handful of errors made in an isolated instance or a few isolated instances” (A.C. NO. 10525, September 01, 2015).
“None of these can be said of this case. Respondent [Maghari] did not merely commit errors in good faith. The truth is far from it. First, respondent violated clear legal requirements, and indicated patently false information. Second, the way he did so demonstrates that he did so knowingly. Third, he did so repeatedly…” (A.C. NO. 10525, September 01, 2015).
“[H]is act not only of usurping another lawyer’s details but also of his repeatedly changing information from one pleading to another demonstrates the intent to mock and ridicule courts and legal processes. Respondent toyed with the standards of legal practice” (A.C. NO. 10525, September 01, 2015).
“A counsel’s signature on a pleading is neither an empty formality nor even a mere means for identification. Through his or her signature, a party’s counsel makes a positive declaration. In certifying… that he or she has read the pleading, that there is ground to support it, and that it is not interposed for delay, a lawyer asserts his or her competence, credibility, and ethics” (A.C. NO. 10525, September 01, 2015).
In another case, a certain Atty. Bayaua’s act of signing the Petition and other pleadings is essentially a certification coming from him that he has read it, that he knew it to be meritorious, and it was not for the purpose of delaying the case.
More importantly, it was his signature that gave legal effect and elevated its status to that of a court document (Spouses Mariano, et al. v. Abrajano and Bayaua, A.C. No. 12690, April 26, 2021).
“In this case, Atty. Bayaua himself insists that somebody else, i.e., Atty. Abrajano, prepared the pleadings in connection with Civil Case No. 4595-MN and that he did not anymore verify its contents before signing them… [B]y his own admission, Atty. Bayaua violated Section 3, Rule 7 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure…” (A.C. No. 12690, April 26, 2021).
The Supreme Court has “demonstrated that what can otherwise be dismissed as empty formalities are, in fact, necessary solemnities. They are not ends… but crucial means to enhance the integrity, competence and credibility of the legal profession. They are vital to the dispensation of justice” (A.C. NO. 10525, September 01, 2015).