SC reprimands lawyers, fines another for homophobic comments vs judge, accused
MANILA, Philippines – For their homophobic comments on social media against a judge and an accused, the Supreme Court reprimands four lawyers and fines another.
“The right to privacy of lawyers is limited, especially when it comes to their social media accounts, the SC said in a 26-page per curiam (by the court as a whole) decision. The decision was promulgated on April 11, 2023, but was made public by its Public Information Office Wednesday.
Reprimanded are lawyers Morgan Rosales Nicanor, Joseph Mario Peña Navarrete, Noel V. Antay Jr. and Israel P. Calderon while lawyer Ernesto A. Tabujara III is ordered to pay P25,000 fine. They are all warned that a repetition of the same or similar offense will be dealt with more severely.
The SC said “the lawyers violated Rule 7.03 of the Code of Professional Responsibility” which prohibits lawyers from engaging in conduct that “adversely reflects on their fitness to practice law” and from behaving in a “scandalous manner” whether in public or in private, which would discredit the legal profession.
The SC said a heavier penalty was imposed on Tabujara for not only did he violate the rule but he did so in a “reckless, wanton and malevolent manner.”
“What makes his infraction worse than that of Atty. Nicanor, Atty. Navarrete, Atty. Antay Jr. and Atty. Calderon is that Atty. Tabujara III made a sweeping statement about the mental fitness of judges and equated homosexual judges with corrupt ones,” the SC held.
The case stemmed from a Facebook thread initiated by Antay, where he said he had “just prosecuted and helped convict a member of the LGBTQIA+ community for large-scale estafa.”
SCREENSHOTS OF THE SUPREME COURT DECISION
In finding the five lawyers administratively liable for their statements, the SC said, “members of the legal profession must respect LGBTQIA+ individuals’ freedom to be themselves and express who they are, as part of their constitutionally-guaranteed right of freedom of expression.”
“The principles of non-discrimination and equality are deeply embedded in the Philippine system of laws. As such, every member of the legal profession is bound to observe and abide by them, especially when dealing with LGBTQIA+ individuals,” the SC said.
It warned that “any discriminatory act can be a source of civil liability.”
The SC said the lawyers could not invoke privacy of their posts as invoked by Antay.
“His excuse–that his social media account is locked and the contents thereof cannot be accessed by outsiders–is a mere allegation at best. Allegations are not proof. Further, the fact that the exchanges leaked means that his social media account is not locked as he claims or that there is a rat amidst them,” the SC said.
The SC pointed out that “there can be no reasonable expectation of privacy as regards social media postings, regardless if the same are ‘locked,’ precisely because the access restriction settings in social media platforms do not absolutely bar other users from obtaining access to the same.”
The ruling is the latest in a string of SC decisions disciplining lawyers for their conduct both online and offline.