Legal Ethics

People of the Philippines vs Venancio Aquino

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G.R. No. L-23908 – 124 Phil. 1179 – 18 SCRA 555 – Legal Ethics – Use of Respectful Language – Defamatory language if relevant to the case are privileged

Criminal Law – Book 2 – Crimes Against Honor – Libel – Privileged Communication

Atty. Venancio Aquino, on behalf of Demetrio Encarnacion, filed a civil case for damages against Atty. Thomas Gonzales for alleged malicious statements made by Gonzales against Encarnacion.

Gonzales filed an Answer in which he claimed good faith. Aquino filed a Reply where he referred to Gonzales as ignorant, a black hand, and a mental pachyderm. (NOTE: Aquino cited a phrase from a Supreme Court ruling when he made the scathing description though the term used by the Justice of the SC was blockhead and not black hand.)

Gonzales was offended by the Reply hence he filed a libel case against Aquino.

ISSUE: Whether or not the libel case will prosper.

HELD: No. The Reply is a privilege communication. Statements made in a judicial proceeding are privileged. The description made by Aquino against Gonzales is closely related to the subject of inquiry in the civil case Aquino filed against Gonzales, i.e. whether Gonzales’ claim of good faith in mentioning things defamatory to Encarnacion is an imposture or a truth. They are relevant to the issue raised in the civil case. As such, the scathing words used by Aquino cannot give rise to criminal or civil liability.

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