On the exclusive authority to prepare, sign, and seal architectural documents | Inquirer Business
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On the exclusive authority to prepare, sign, and seal architectural documents

“ARCHITECTS have to dream,” said Renzo Piano, an Italian architect. “We have to search for our Atlantises, to be explorers, adventurers, and yet to build responsibly and well.”

Responsible building for architects can mean steadfastly preparing, signing, and sealing the necessary documents, which authority the Supreme Court short of describes as exclusive in Department of Public Works and Highways v. Philippine Institute of Civil Engineers, Inc. and Leo Cleto Gamolo.

Pursuant to the Architecture Act of 2004 (the “Act”), the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) issued the 2004 Revised Implementing Rules (the “Rules”), which, among others, limit to architects the authority of preparing, signing, and sealing documents listed under Section 302 (4) thereof, in relation to building permit applications.


This constrained Leo Cleto Gamolo and the Philippine Institute of Civil Engineers, Inc. (collectively, “respondents”) to file before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) a petition for declaratory relief and injunction. In their petition, they alleged that the Rules violated the Civil Engineering Law (CEL) and the National Building Code (NBC) such that they would restrict civil engineers from practicing their profession, which purportedly included preparing, signing, and sealing the documents referred to in Section 302 (4).


The RTC dismissed respondents’ petition and upheld the validity of the assailed provisions of the Rules. In so doing, it declared that, among others, the CEL did not state that civil engineers were permitted to prepare, sign, and seal said documents in the Rules. Moreover, the Act effectively repealed Section 302 of the NBC, CEL, and Ministry Order No. 57, which respondents had relied on in their petition.

Upon appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed and set aside the RTC’s decision. It found the relevant sections of the Rules to be void for preventing civil engineers from preparing, signing, and sealing plans and designs of buildings, even when they can be categorized as architectural in nature. Meanwhile, it rejected petitioner United Architects of the Philippines’ (UAP) interpretation of the CEL to mean that civil engineers can only prepare and sign documents for buildings and structures connected with waterworks and those intended for public. On the contrary, the relevant provision in the CEL may allow the use of a civil engineer for plans and specifications for constructing any building, including a residential house, unless exempted from doing so.

These developments constrained the DPWH and UAP to appeal before the Supreme Court, which reversed and set aside the Court of Appeals’ decision and reinstated the RTC’s ruling.

In its decision, the Supreme Court held at the outset that respondents erroneously relied on the copy of the NBC as printed in Atty. Vicente Foz’ annotation thereon. As published in the Official Gazette, which the Supreme Court previously held in relation to other laws as the controlling and official version, the NBC did not specifically authorize “a duly licensed architect or civil engineer in case of architectural and structural plans” to perform the assailed acts in relation to building permit applications. Thus, this phrase, as otherwise included in the annotation, cannot be considered to have any legal effect on the NBC.

Meanwhile, the Act effectively modified the civil engineers’ authority to prepare, sign, and seal plans under relevant provisions of the CEL and NBC. While the Supreme Court held that the Court of Appeals had correctly interpreted this authority to refer to all buildings, including those to be used for residential purposes and those not intended for public gathering, it presumed Congress to have enacted the Act, bearing in mind the enumeration of what may be considered “architectural documents” under Section 3.2.1 of Ministry Order No. 57, which even respondents had relied on. Moreover, this term, as defined in the Professional Regulatory Board of Architecture’s Implementing Rules and Regulations to the Act, is similar to that as identified under the DPWH’s Rules.

Moreover, the language used in the Act, such that all architectural plans and documents concerning the construction of a building shall only bear a registered and licensed architect’s seal and signature, reveals Congress’ intent to limit the civil engineers’ authority to prepare, sign, and seal similar documents under the CEL. Thus, the Act impliedly repealed the CEL in this regard.

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