Laws Governing the Practice of Medicine
In the Philippines, the practice of medicine is governed by the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC), a national government agency that was created through Presidential Decree No. 223 dated 22 June 1973, as amended by subsequent legislation, including Republic Act No. 8981. The PRC regulates the practice of about 42 various professions, including the practice of medicine in the Philippines.
The specific law which governs the practice of medicine in the Philippines is Republic Act No. 2382, as amended by Republic Act No. 4224, otherwise known as the Medical Act of 1959. Section 1 of the Medical Act of 1959 states that it shall govern, among others, “the supervision, control and regulation of the practice of medicine in the Philippines.” Section 8 of the law further states:
Sec. 8. Prerequisite to the practice of medicine. No person shall engage in the practice of medicine in the Philippines unless he is at least twenty-one years of age, has satisfactorily passed the corresponding Board Examination, and is a holder of a valid Certificate of Registration duly issued to him by the Board of Medical Examiners.
What Constitutes the Practice of Medicine
Moreover, Section 10 of the Medical Act of 1959, as amended by Republic Act No. 4224, defines what constitutes the practice of medicine in the Philippines, to wit:
Sec. 10. Acts constituting practice of medicine. A person shall be considered as engaged in the practice of medicine (a) who shall, for compensation, fee, salary or reward in any form paid to him directly or through another, or even without the same, physically examine any person, and diagnose, treat, operate or prescribe any remedy for human disease, injury, deformity, physical, mental, psychical condition or any ailment, real or imaginary, regardless of the nature of the remedy or treatment administered, prescribed or recommended; or (b) who shall by means of signs, cards, advertisements, written or printed matter, or through the radio, television or any other means of communication, either offer or undertake by any means or method to diagnose, treat, operate or prescribe any remedy for any human disease, injury, deformity, physical, mental or psychical condition; or (c) who shall falsely use the title of M.D. after his name.
On the other hand, the Medical Act of 1959, as amended, allows a person to practice medicine in the Philippines on a limited basis and without securing a license from the PRC, to wit:
Sec. 12. Limited practice without any certificate of registration. Certificates of registration shall not be required of the following persons:
(a) Physicians and surgeons from other countries called in consultation only and exclusively in specific and definite case, or those attached to international bodies or organizations assigned to perform certain definite work in the Philippines, provided they shall limit their practice to the specific work assigned to them and provided further they shall secure a previous authorization from the Board of Medical Examiners.
(b) Commissioned medical officers of the United States Armed Forces stationed in the Philippines while rendering service as such only for the members of the said armed forces and within the limit of their own respective territorial jurisdiction.
(c) Foreign physicians employed as exchange professors in special branches of medicine or surgery whose service may, upon previous authorization of the Board of Medical Examiners, be necessary.
(d) Medical students who have completed the first four years of medical course, graduates of medicine and registered nurses who may be given limited and special authorization by the Secretary of Health to render services during epidemics or national emergencies whenever the services of duly registered physicians are not available. Such authorization shall automatically cease when the epidemic or national emergency is declared terminated by the Secretary of Health.
The Medical Act of 1959 is also a penal law that punishes a person who is engaged in the “illegal practice of medicine”, to wit:
Sec. 28. Penalties. Any person found guilty of “illegal practice of medicine” shall be punished by a fine of not less than one thousand pesos nor more than ten thousand pesos with subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency, or by imprisonment of not less than one year nor more than five years, or by both such fine and imprisonment, in the discretion of the court.
Foreigners Practicing Medicine in the Philippines
Finally, under Republic Act No. 5181, a permanent resident of the Philippines who is an alien may be permitted to practice his or her profession in the Philippines, including the medical profession, subject to the following proscription:
Section 1. No person shall be allowed to practice any profession in the Philippines unless he has complied with the existing laws and regulations, is a permanent resident therein for at least three years, and, if he is an alien, the country of which he is a subject or citizen permits Filipinos to practice their respective professions within its territories: Provided, That the practice of said professions is not limited by law to citizens of the Philippines: Provided, further, That Filipinos who became American nationals by reason of service in the Armed Forces of the United States during the Second World War and aliens who were admitted into the practice of their profession before July 4, 1946 shall be exempted from the restriction provided herein.
A review of the foregoing laws will reveal the requirement under Philippine law that the acts constituting the practice of medicine must be consummated or physically done in the Philippines. For example, under Section 12, the foreign physician or surgeon must be “called in consultation” or the work he or she is assigned to perform will involve “certain definite work in the Philippines”.
Moreover, under Section 10 of the Medical Act of 1959, a person is engaged in the practice of medicine if he or she physically examines any person, and diagnose, treat, operate or prescribe any remedy for human disease, injury, deformity, physical, mental, psychical condition or any ailment, real or imaginary, regardless of the nature of the remedy or treatment administered, prescribed or recommended.
More importantly, Section 1 of the law specifically provides that the regulatory scope of the law is limited only to the practice of medicine in the Philippines, to wit:
Section 1. Objectives. This Act provides for and shall govern (a) the standardization and regulation of medical education; (b) the examination for registration of physicians; and (c) the supervision, control and regulation of the practice of medicine in the Philippines. [Emphasis and underscoring supplied.]
Illegal Practice of Medicine and Penal Laws
On another note, a person who is engaged in the “illegal practice of medicine” will be punished under the penal provisions of the Medical Act of 1959 as stated above. For the penal provisions of the Medical Act of 1959 to apply, the act which constitutes “practice of medicine” must have been consummated or performed in the Philippines.
Philippine penal laws, which includes the Medical Act of 1959, are territorial in nature. When considered under the auspices of Philippine criminal law, the principle of territoriality must be applied to determine whether or not the penal provisions of the Medical Act of 1959 have been violated. The principle of territoriality means that the penal laws of the Philippines have force and effect only within its territory. It cannot penalize acts committed outside the same. It has been held consistently by the Supreme Court that Philippine penal laws follow the English Rule. Based on this rule, crimes are generally triable in the courts of the country within the territory where the acts were committed.
Finally, Article 14 of the Civil Code of the Philippines also imposes the same principle of territoriality in relation to penal laws, to wit:
Penal laws and those of public security and safety shall be obligatory upon all who live or sojourn in the Philippine territory, subject to the principles of public international law and to treaty stipulations.
In most of the cited provisions of law, emphasis is laid on the place of commission of pertinent acts, which gives rise to either the applicability of the Medical Act of 1959, or its concomitant violation. Being in the nature of a penal law, the Medical Act of 1959 is deemed to be applicable only to acts performed within the territorial boundary of the Philippines.
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 People vs. Wong Cheng, G.R. No. L-18924, 19 October 1922.