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Gov’t loses case for citing Wikipedia

By Nikko Dizon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:20:00 08/29/2010

Filed Under: Internet, Judiciary (system of justice)

FOR GOD?S SAKE, get an expert witness; don?t cite Wikipedia.

For going to court with an argument referenced from Wikipedia, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) lost an appeal to reverse a decision nullifying a couple?s 19-year marriage on the ground of psychological incapacity.

?The Republic, with all the resources and manpower at its disposal, has all the means with which to counter the expert testimony offered by [the ex-wife]. Most certainly, the Republic has access to government institutions, i.e., National Center for Mental Health, which has qualified psychiatric experts whose opinion it could have sought to evaluate [the woman] and her spouse,? the Court of Appeals special 15th division said in a 13-page decision.

Associate Justice Magdangal de Leon penned the decision promulgated last month. Associate Justices Mario Lopez and Manuel Barrios concurred.

The Inquirer is withholding the identities of the parties involved so as not to intrude on their privacy.

However, the details of the OSG?s attempts to preserve this particular marriage and family before the Court by using an online source that ?makes no guarantee of validity? of information, are public information.

Lack of sufficient evidence

The OSG represents the state in annulment cases as it is in the state?s interest to preserve and protect the sanctity of marriage and the family.

In annulment cases, the OSG enters an appearance in court to ensure there is no collusion between husband and wife when they seek to annul their union or to see to it that the nullification of a marriage is based on valid grounds.

Court records showed that, married in 1988 and with three grown children, the union of the couple was nullified by a Quezon City Regional Trial Court in August 2007 on the ground of psychological incapacity.

The OSG elevated the decision to the Court of Appeals, ?alleging absence of sufficient evidence to sustain a finding of psychological incapacity.?

Psychological incapacity

The ex-wife, as the petitioner, presented to the trial court an expert witness, Dr. Crispina Penequito, who testified that she had examined the couple and ?concluded that both parties suffered from psychological incapacity.?

According to Penequito, the petitioner was suffering from an ?anti-social reaction? under the classification of ?sociopathic personalities? which is a type of ?personality or character disorder.?

On the other hand, her ex-husband was diagnosed as suffering from an ?inadequate personality,? which falls under the ?personality pattern disorder.?

A person suffering from this, according to Penequito, ?causes [him] to flee from his responsibilities, abandoning his duties, including that of being head of the family.?

In its motion for reconsideration, the OSG sought to impeach Penequito?s testimony as an expert witness.

No cross exam

But in her brief, the ex-wife said Penequito ?may only be impeached by introducing contrary evidence or pointing out inconsistencies in her testimony.?

The court noted that Penequito was not cross-examined to determine inconsistencies in her testimony or the accuracy of her psychiatric report.

Moreover, the ex-husband-respondent and the OSG, as the oppositor-appellant, did not present any contradictory evidence, the court said.

Disclaimer

In her brief, the ex-wife said ?the authority, alluded to by oppositor-appellant, the ?Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders DSM-IV-TR,? was taken from an Internet website commonly known as Wikipedia.?

The ex-wife argued that Wikipedia itself contains a disclaimer saying that it ?makes no guarantee of validity.? As an ?online open-content collaborative encyclopedia,? Wikipedia allows persons or groups with Internet access to change its content for the purpose of developing a ?common source of human knowledge.?

The court said in its decision that it found ?incredible ... if not a haphazard attempt, on the part of the [OSG] to impeach an expert witness, with, as pointed out by [the ex-wife], unreliable information. This is certainly unacceptable evidence, nothing short of a mere allegation totally unsupported by authority.?



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