Political Law

Nicanor Jimenez vs Bartolome Cabangbang

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G.R. No. L-15905 – 17 SCRA 876 – Political Law – Constitutional Law – The Legislative Department – Immunity from Suit; Privileged Speech – Speech made while Congress is not in session is not covered by immunity

Bartolome Cabangbang was a member of the House of Representatives and Chairman of its Committee on National Defense. In November 1958, Cabangbang caused the publication of an open letter addressed to the Philippines. Said letter alleged that there have been three operational plans under serious study by some ambitious AFP officers, with the aid of some civilian political strategists. That such strategists have had collusions with communists and that the Secretary of Defense, Jesus Vargas, was planning a coup d’etat to place him as the president. The “planners” allegedly have Nicanor Jimenez, among others, under their guise and that Jimenez et al. may or may not be aware that they are being used as a tool to meet such an end. The letter was said to have been published in newspapers of general circulation. Jimenez then filed a case against Cabangbang for damages against Cabangbang alleging that Cabangbang’s statement is libelous. Cabangbang petitioned for the case to be dismissed because he said that as a member of the lower house, he is immune from suit and that he is covered by the privileged communication rule and that the said letter is not even libelous.

ISSUE: Whether or not the open letter is covered by privilege communication endowed to members of Congress.

HELD: No. Article VI, Section 15 of the Constitution provides “The Senators and Members of the House of Representatives shall in all cases except treason, felony, and breach of the peace. Be privileged from arrest during their attendance at the sessions of the Congress, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any speech or debate therein, they shall not be questioned in any other place.”

The publication of the said letter is not covered by said expression which refers to utterances made by Congressmen in the performance of their official functions, such as speeches delivered, statements made, or votes cast in the halls of Congress, while the same is in session as well as bills introduced in Congress, whether the same is in session or not, and other acts performed by Congressmen, either in Congress or outside the premises housing its offices, in the official discharge of their duties as members of Congress and of Congressional Committees duly authorized to perform its functions as such at the time of the performance of the acts in question. Congress was not in session when the letter was published and at the same time he, himself, caused the publication of the said letter. It is obvious that, in thus causing the communication to be so published, he was not performing his official duty, either as a member of Congress or as officer of any Committee thereof. Hence, contrary to the finding made by the lower court the said communication is not absolutely privileged.

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