I once served as a notary public. There’s more than meets the eye when it comes to notarial services. All notaries in the Philippines are lawyers although not all lawyers can be notaries public. There’s an application process regulated by the judiciary to insure that the administrative challenges of keeping tabs of all documents notarized and the solemnities behind each oath are properly addressed according to the purpose of notarization. Some of us may have seen “elderly” lawyers affix their dry seals to certain documents in the most inconspicuous places. This unadorned landscape of a notarial act sealed with a stamp unceremoniously ends with the authenticating signature of the notary public. As to why some documents entail a notarization and how this judicial function ought to be conducted deserve a mental exploration.
I am privy to one interesting circumstance involving a notarized Last Will and Testament executed by a Filipino-Chinese in the late 1990s. The heirs were required to bring the Last Will to Xiamen, China for authentication purposes. Logically, said Will had to be “red ribboned” or authenticated first by our foreign affairs office before it can be duly acknowledged in China. But before such consular “red ribbon” (now called the Apostille with an abbreviated system), the regional trial court with jurisdiction over the relevant notary public had to issue a certificate authorizing a notarial act. Unfortunately, the CANA could not be issued due to a slight discrepancy in the name of the notary public since his full family name was apparently abbreviated in the inked stamp. All efforts locating both the notary and his office proved futile. The settlement of the estate remains pending due to a confluence of several moving parts in the authentication process, none of which the heirs had control of!
Such incident is but one among a plethora of glitches an ordinary citizen can encounter with notarized documents. Some irregularities can be attributed to the notary public himself for notarizing documents without personally seeing the concerned parties to a document. Some defects can be done by certain persons who can imitate or forge the notary’s signature. More often, the abuse to these notarial functions is when the lawyer is nowhere to be seen at all or a mere secretary masquerades as the signing notary. To some clients who place a premium on procedural convenience, said pretense can be satisfactory, by justifying that however which way the document is notarized, for as long as it is authenticated, then it will be sufficient. Sadly, this perception erodes public confidence in the integrity for which the notary is appointed as an officer of the court. After all, a notary is supposed to be an “official of integrity” according to Rule III, Section 1 of the 2004 Rules on Notarial Practice. Aside from citizenship, age, and residency, the Rules provide that lawyers petitioning to be a notary public, must maintain a regular place of work of business where the commission is to be issued and must not be convicted in the first instance of any crime involving moral turpitude. By affixing his imprimatur on the document, by way of an Acknowledgment or Jurat, the notary attests to the fact that the signatories appeared before him in person and showed competent proof of one’s identity (Before Me, x x x, personally appeared x x x, or Subscribed and Sworn To Before Me, x x x).
Contrary to public perception, only a handful of contracts (such as notarial wills) require notarization for their validity. This notwithstanding, there is an interminable demand for notarization services for the primary reason that a duly notarized document carries with it the presumption of regularity, authenticity, and due execution. The evidentiary weight conferred upon such public document with respect to its execution, as well as the authenticity of the signatures thereon, should withstand public scrutiny. In simple terms, a private document is transformed into a public document that commands reliance from other people especially the government. However, some have complained about the cost of having a document notarized since the fees are usually computed as a percentage of the amount involved in the deed. Some went as far as insinuating that the notarial process should be done away out of obsolescence, especially when another lawyer have rendered drafting services on the document to be notarized. To those who are advocating the abolition of notarial services, redundancy if not impracticality ensues if another lawyer (notary) should be required to perform a function that was already done by another person in the same profession. A large part of this debate boils down to the credibility of the author(s) of the document. Whether the person executing a deed is to be believed should not be affected by the aid of a legal professional. Why should there be a need for further authentication when the parties’ concurrence to the agreement is reflected in their respective signatures. Those burdened by the expenses and inaccessibility of notarization in some areas echo similar questions. Those who have witnessed lawyers or people acting like lawyers performing notarial services in make-shift “offices,” or worse, along the sidewalk raises the same issue—“notary public, quo vadis?”
A judicial revamp of the notarial practice is timely and necessary without offending my colleagues in the profession who diligently and faithfully perform their notarization functions. While I leave to the Supreme Court whatever reforms this practice needs, I still insist that every word contained in any document signed by the author ought to be kept, with or without the notarial act. Whether the deed produces a mere expectation of a task/event or an obligation to pay/do, the signature of the parties serves a “stamp” of approval if not validity akin to a notarial stamp.
Humans are prone to be insincere with their word, in stark contrast with our Heavenly Father who always keeps His word for His promises are never broken. The same God who made His covenant not to flood the earth again during Noah’s time (Genesis 9:12-15) is the same God who “made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) He keeps His word by seeing us as righteous because of the sacrifice that Jesus died for us. Believers are therefore commanded to keep their word just as our Almighty God keeps His, regardless of any notarization requirement. By way of a reminder, Ecclesiastes 5:5 tells us, “It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it.” 1 John 2:5 further prompts us: “But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him.” All signatures, whether in a notarial stamp or by a party to an instrument, tell us one thing—I own whatever I said in that document. It is far from being as cast in stone, but it need not be re-authenticated unless the signature itself is put into question. For signatories to documents, for lawyers who assist clients in signing documents, and for the notaries public, who serve to “add” authenticity to these deeds, where to, indeed? Quo vadis, brethren?
(To be continued)
A former infantry and intelligence officer in the Army, Siegfred Mison showcased his servant leadership philosophy in organizations such as the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Malcolm Law Offices, Infogix Inc., University of the East, Bureau of Immigration, and Philippine Airlines. He is a graduate of West Point in New York, Ateneo Law School, and University of Southern California. A corporate lawyer by profession, he is an inspirational teacher and a Spirit-filled writer with a mission.
For questions and comments, please e-mail me at email@example.com.