Monday, February 6, 2012

The Unprofessional and Unethical “Justice”

By Raison John J. Bassig


THE COURT OF APPEALS (CA) on 05 January 2012 favored the petition of the Philippine Institute of Civil Engineers (PICE) and reversed the decision of the RTC Branch 22 of Manila, thus, allowing the Civil Engineers to prepare and sign Architectural Documents. In its decision, CA cited that R.A.544 (Civil Engineering Law of 1950) and P.D.1096 (National Building Code of the Philippines of 1977) fail to specify the difference between “Architectural Documents” and “Civil/Structural Documents.”


However, Architectural Documents such as Perspectives, Floor Plans, Elevations, Sections, among others, have been described as exclusive to Architects in the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of R.A.9266 (Architecture Act of 2004) and the 2005 Revised IRR of P.D.1096. These IRR’s have already defined the distinctions between Architectural and Engineering works which were vague and confusing prior to their enactments. Consultations were even conducted between the United Architects of the Philippines (UAP) and PICE before the passing of R.A.9266, the law governing the practice of Architecture in the Philippines.


Still, PICE argues that the nature of Architectural Documents is within the Civil Engineers’ domain. CA surprisingly approved PICE’s petition explaining, “…that while said documents are being labelled as “architectural” documents, there is no indication that these documents are exclusive to architects and can be prepared only by them except the fact that they are being labelled as such.”


Seemingly, CA failed to realize that by giving said authorization to Civil Engineers, it meant removing the very foundation of the architectural profession. As per R.A.9266, Engineers cannot sign Architectural Plans and Architects cannot sign Engineering Plans. Thus, Architecture is for Architects and Engineering is for Engineers.


The Architect-Engineer relationship is a symbiotic one, a partnership created by distinct qualifications. Both professionals may seem to have overlapping functions to non-technical people but they have completely different tasks and specializations. The difference lies in the limits of tradition, education and professional license.


In typical building projects, clients coordinate with Architects from conceptualization to completion. Through the Architectural Plans, Architects ensure that the building is constructed according to how clients envisioned it. Architects deal with space planning, budget, materials, functionality, durability, and beauty of the project. Working with him are specialized allied professionals like Interior Designers, Landscape Architects and Engineers. This is the general and global practice of Architecture.


Architects hire the services of Engineers only during the later stages of the project, when clients have approved the Architectural Plans. Based on these plans, Engineers will then design their respective Engineering Plans, namely, Structural Plans by Civil Engineers, Plumbing/Sanitary Plans by Master Plumbers/Sanitary Engineers, Electrical Plans by Electrical Engineers, and Mechanical Plans by Mechanical Engineers. This tradition of collaborative design has been successful as proven by the numerous iconic structures built by Architects and Engineers around the world.


Yet, preparing and signing Architectural Plans and Documents should be the exclusive right of Architects. This is their bread and butter. The practice of Architecture entails more than drawing lines in a given space. It involves an integrated, comprehensive, and holistic approach in solving problems like social behavior, historical-cultural implications, economics, functional engineering and aesthetics. These are part of the Architectural program and the Architectural Licensure Exams.


The competencies of Civil Engineers have always been respected by Architects. Despite the latter’s knowledge in engineering systems which are taught in the B.S. Architecture curriculum, they have not claimed the Engineering profession as their own. In fact, prior to amending R.A.545 (the old Architecture Law of 1950), Architects were allowed to prepare and sign Structural Plans and Documents. But with R.A.9266, Architects have conceded this scope of work to their Civil Engineer partners.


PICE should adhere to their own Code of Ethics, which states, “Civil Engineers shall perform services only in areas of their competence.” Furthermore, they “shall build their professional reputation on the merit of their services and shall not compete unfairly with others.” Guided by this code, can one consider PICE's petition for Civil Engineers to practice Architecture as ethical?


Allowing one professional the authority to practice another profession without its corresponding license is an illogical and unethical proposition. It is like saying Nurses can also prescribe medications like Doctors, Veterinarians can operate on people like Surgeons, and Finance graduates can certify Tax Returns like CPAs.


In a 2003 Joint Resolution, UAP and PICE agreed “to attune the laws governing the practice of architecture and civil engineering” and “to define and distinguish more clearly the scopes of practice of architecture and civil engineering to minimize, if not eliminate any undesirable overlaps.”


Notwithstanding, Architects now ask: Why did PICE initiate this petition? Why did CA approve such petition? Why bring back the past when Architects and Engineers should be moving forward to a clear delineation of functions?


The aspirations of many Architectural students are now at stake and the careers of Filipino Architects are in jeopardy. Why bother to study for an Architecture degree, undergo a 2-year apprenticeship, and take the Board Exams? What PICE and CA are conveying: Just become a Civil Engineer and you can be an Architect for free. It is hoped that the puzzling motives behind PICE’s petition and CA’s decision are not to undermine the jobs of Architects and eventually kill the profession in our country.


Images of a black ribbon with the texts: “RA9266: Architecture Act of 2004”, “January 05, 2012”,“Respect begets Respect”, among others, have gone viral in the social networking site Facebook. Thousands of comments were posted by affected architects, students, and non-architectural practitioners about injustice, respect for rights, shattered dreams, and even insulting comparisons of the works of both professionals. What a sad sight!


Laws are supposed to bring peace, harmony and order. Instead, the PICE and CA initiatives are creating conflict, confusion, and chaos.

We have just witnessed the death of professionalism and morality. And some people call this “Justice?”


Raison John J. Bassig, 29, is a licensed Architect (1st place – 2006 Board Exams), Master Plumber (10th place – 2007 Board Exams), and Environmental Planner (4th place – 2008 Board Exams).

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