SC admonishes lawyer due to Facebook post


This resolves the complaint[1] filed by Ma. Christina Pobre-Holgado against Atty. Carmina Agnes P. Pader-Villanueva before the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP).

Acting on the complaint, Investigating Commissioner Atty. Erwin A. Aguilera submitted the following Report and Recommendation: [2]

As borne by the records of this case, Ma. Christina Pobre-Holgado filed an administrative complaint on August 23, 2013, before the IBP Commission on Bar Discipline at Pasig City. Herein respondent Atty. Carmina Agnes P. Pader-Villanueva stands charge [d] allegedly on the basis of a malicious and defamatory message which was admitted by the herein respondent during the preliminary conference of this case. Respondent practically assumed authorship of the messages and that, indeed, it originated from her Facebook account, a social networking site. Unfazed, complainant believes that through such act respondent violated the Lawyer's Oath and the Code of Professional Responsibility.

On September 3, 2013, herein respondent was ordered to file her Answer within a period of fifteen (15) days upon receipt of the same. Pursuant to the said Order, respondent filed her Answer dated October 1, 2013.

On December 19, 2013, the undersigned Commissioner conducted a mandatory preliminary conference on which both parties appeared on the said proceedings. Thereafter, the parties were directed to submit their respective Position paper on or before January 17, 2014.


Whether or not Atty. Carmina Agnes P. Pader-Villanueva committed grave misconduct by posting messages in complainant's Facebook account amounting to violation of the Lawyer's Oath and the Code of Professional Responsibility particularly Canon 1 and Canon[] 7, [Rules] 7.01 and 7.03?Commissioner's Findings

Our prevailing jurisprudence in the field of Legal Ethics will undeniably support the fact that when lawyers speak their minds, they must ever be mindful of their sworn oath to observe ethical standards of their profession.

The advent of the social networking site created a new dimension of communication. It minimizes the distance of one another propelled by an unimaginable speed and a cheap mode of response. Apparently, this offspring of ingenuity undeniably provided dual effects in the framework of human relations. It serves as a bridge that connects the whereabouts of members among family, friends and even awarded the commercial sector of a fast and reliable mode of keeping abreast with updated situations, to name a few.

On the other side, it seemingly became a source of controversy nurturing animosity, worse, deeper conflicts among individuals. Of various viewpoints, the dilemma encountered by the parties in this case painted a[] scenario and portrait into existence due to the popular networking site, Facebook.

Complainant narrated in her Sworn Statement that on August 14, 2013 a message or status was posted by the respondent on her Facebook account which is hereunder reproduce[d]:
"To you TintinHolgado: Please leave me alone. I do not have any interest in you and I hope you will start [losing] interest in me. Do not waste your time and energy on me. I do not know why you do [the] things you do but maybe that is just how [lonely] and miserable people are. Truth be told, you should be nice to me because [I] pity you. I may not know any rich, influential people and beauty queens like you, but [I] have a family [I] go home [to] at the end of []each tiring day. [I] may not have millions of inheritance (at least that's what you claim) but at least [I] do not have to watch movies alone and force invitations out of people[.U]nlike you, people do not duck or hide or run the opposite direction when they see me coming. Maybe if you just learned the art of acceptance, you would be [a] happier human being. We all wish you find happiness soon. Because only then will we be free of your lengthy nonsense text messages. In case you haven't noticed[,] no one really like you and everybody's laughing at you. [A]nd really, you are not that interesting so do not text us with blow-by-blow accounts of your day. We have better things to do with our time. You make me wish telecommunications companies will soon end their unlimited text promos. And [lest] you forget, [I] am not ignorant where the law is concerned, so please do not even dare threaten me with filing suits against [me] the way you did to someone else. I do hope [I] make myself clear to you. I will not be as nice [the] next time. I "unfriended" you on [F]acebook a long time ago that's why [I can't] post this directly on your page but [I] am hoping yournosy[] skills will be put to good use and you will get to read this."
Simply raised in her Answer, respondent argued that [] she posted the aforementioned status in order to protect and make the complainant stop from spreading lies, concocted stories that in effect, damage her reputation as a lawyer.

The bone of contention raised by the complainant is not novel. It could be a plot of a movie depicting conflicts among teens nurtured by misunderstanding and failure to grasp the history of the present [setup]. Or, it could be a scenario showing old sentiments posted with mastery hurled to an unknowingly human creature. And then, crying for justice due to the humiliation[] and embarrassment conceived.

The complaint as it appears promptly narrated a series of messages attributed to the work of the respondent. The allegations by the way it was presented clearly presented each and every message thrown into cyberspace by the herein respondent. Unfortunately, in a stark contrast with the Answer filed by the respondent, it was not incorporated with any details that would show any ill-motive hatched by the respondent. The history of the parties' acquaintanceship was properly addressed by the respondent. Thus, it leaves an impression that the completeness of her narration would equally establish^ her sincerity to divulge nothing but the truth which is very essential in arriving at a fair and well-penned conclusion, to say the least.

The salient provisions allegedly transgress[ed] by the respondent is reproduced hereunder:

Rule 1.01. - A lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct.

[x x x]


[x xx]

Rule 7.03 - A lawyer shall not engage in conduct that adversely reflects on his fitness to practice law, nor shall he, whether in public or private life, behave in a scandalous manner to the discredit of the legal profession.
Based on the facts of the case, the aura of the complainant fell short as she [tried] to portray herself here as a victim inflicted [with] social humiliation and wounded feelings brought about by the messages is wanting of sufficient basis. Complainant, as what is appearing from the narrations she presented in her sworn statement, [tried] to persuade the lady justice that it was through ill-will that the messages were sent to the cyberspace.

Complainant further alleged that such acts by the respondent [were] attended by bad faith or fraud, or constituted an act oppressive to her, done in a manner contrary to morals, good customs or public policy. The complaint failed to allege ultimate facts on which complainant [relied on for] her claim. Notably, such allegations made by the complainant, taking all circumstances into account, cannot be justified solely upon the premise that by the context of the messages dealt her a more serious effect. Additional facts must be pleaded and proven to warrant that the respondent without aggression on her part initiated the "messages war" on the social networking site [witnessed] by other people.

x x x

The fact that fifty-eight (58) persons "liked" the contested message is of no moment. The reason [for] doing so by the said plurality does readily imbibe their opinion on the matter. The "liked" made by the said common friend is susceptible [to] different interpretations. As it is a portal where the intent of the participants were kept in secrecy, it would be difficult to state with all prudency that each of them sided on the posting of the said message. Or, it could go the other way. One may "like" just for the purpose of a "bandwagon sentiment" without knowing what it [is] all about. This, can only infer the interest, supposedly in complainant's favor, from her bare allegation that the act done by the respondent entails liability.

The undersigned deemed it proper to apply the context of Human Relations. The doctrine was basically developed in order to guide and promote the civilized yet humane manner of dealing with men. The Supreme Court, [i]n Globe Mackay Cable and Radio Corporation v. Court of Appeals,251 Phil. 783 (1989), it was elucidated that while Article 19 "lays down a rule of conduct for the government of human relations and for the maintenance of social order, it does not provide a remedy for its violation. Generally, an action for damages under either Article 20 or Article 21 would be proper." The Court said:
One of the more notable innovations of the New Civil Code is the codification of "some basic principles that are to be observed for the rightful relationship between human beings and for the stability of the social order." [REPORT ON THE CODE COMMISSION ON THE PROPOSED CIVIL CODE OF THE PHILIPPINES, p. 39]. The framers of the Code, seeking to remedy the defect of the old Code which merely stated the effects of the law, but failed to draw out its spirit, incorporated certain fundamental precepts which were "designed to indicate certain norms that spring from the fountain of good conscience" and which were also meant to serve as "guides for human conduct [that] should run as golden threads through society, to the end that law may approach its supreme ideal, which is the sway and dominance of justice." (Id.) Foremost among these principles is that pronounced in Article 19 which provides:
Art. 19. Every person must, in the exercise of his rights and in the performance of his duties, act with justice, give everyone his due, and observe honesty and good faith.
This article, known to contain what is commonly referred to as the principle of abuse of rights, sets certain standards which must be observed not only in the exercise of one's rights but also in the performance of one's duties. These standards are the following: to act with justice; to give everyone his due; and to observe honesty and good faith. The law, therefore, recognizes a primordial limitation on all rights; that in their exercise, the norms of human conduct set forth in Article 19 must be observed. A right, though by itself legal because recognized or granted by law as such, may nevertheless become the source of some illegality. When a right is exercised in a manner which does not conform with the norms enshrined in Article 19 and results in damage to another, a legal wrong is thereby committed for which the wrongdoer must be held responsible. But while Article 19 lays down a rule of conduct for the government of human relations and for the maintenance of social order, it does not provide a remedy for its violation. Generally, an action for damages under either Article 20 or Article 21 would be proper.
In the perception[] of the viewers of the said messages, anyone could easily be amused and convey sympathy to the complainant. The sentiments of everyone would immediately arouse amid indifferently towards the author. As being a hostage of their emotions, they would never dare to know what was really in the mind of the writer. Further, the emotion of the author at the time of the making of the message until such time it was posted (sic). Without anyone would further seek first the prior situation, the stimulus of the alleged misconduct tends to be hidden (sic). While the messages were meant to reflect the respondent's view as the basis of the allegations of grave misconduct against Arty. Pader-Villanueva, the respondent treated such allegation not only as an established truth, but a truth.

In particular, the undersigned [was] able to extract the availing details that herein respondent utilized such social networking site in order to [express] dissatisfaction over the complainant's tirade on her. After all the previous dealings with the respondent, she appeared [to have] blown her top and through Facebook she cited the latter's obvious animosity and ill-feelings as borne out by the primary sources of the quoted portions which were presented in the long conversations as appearing on each party['s] respective annexes.

Article 19, also known as the "principle of abuse of right," prescribed that a person should not use his right unjustly or contrary to honesty and good faith, otherwise he opens himself to liability. It seeks to preclude the use of, or the tendency to use[] a legal right (or duty) as a means to unjust ends. The elements of an abuse of rights under Article 19 are: (1) there is a legal right or duty; (2) which is exercised in bad faith; (3) for the sole intent of prejudicing or injuring another.

The undersigned deemed it proper to pore[over] the existence of an abuse of right. What needs to be prove [d] is whether respondent exercised the alleged acts solely to prejudice or injure the herein complainant. As a basic rule, exercise of a right must be in accordance with the purpose for which it was established and must not be excessive or unduly harsh; there must be no intention to harm another. Otherwise, as provided by jurisprudence, the liability for damages to the injured party will attach.

At the onset, the manner by which the messages were addressed to complainant's instance was apparently attended without bad faith. Why? The status posted by the respondent was discovered at the behest of the complainant since there is no way that the complainant could have directly known the messages at first hand considering that the link between them on networking site was already severed when the respondent "unfriended" the complainant. In the system of Facebook, the moment the message was "liked" by a common Facebook friend it would [already be] seen by another. This explains the manner on how the Said messages posted by the respondent reached the knowledge of the complainant.

The question of whether or not the principle of abuse of rights has been violated resulting in damages under Article 20 or other applicable provision^] of law, depends on the circumstances of each case. In the present case, the undersigned found that complainant earlier induced an array of lengthy text messages driven to malign the reputation of the herein respondent on one of the witnesses of the complainant. Relevant to the facts gathered, complainant fondly makes phone calls during unholy hour on the person of Atty. [Reinier] Paul Yebra. On several occasions, complainant without hesitation would dare discuss her feelings to people close to Atty. Paul Yebra. By doing this, she was nonetheless [] hoping that her sentiments would reach Atty. Yebra.

There were few instances that complainant would [make] researches among people close to Atty. Yebra and intend to know the status of Atty. Yebra and her wife Atty. Anson Lapuz-Yebra. Further, Atty. [Reinier] Paul Yebra was also made to experience the vexations made by the complainant. He [oftentimes] received unusual and strange messages in his Facebook account. The foregoing were all contained in his affidavit. (Annex "1" for the respondent).

In the clear display of such attitude[], it would be prudent to state that the complainant, who practiced dealings of such nature would certainly be [dragged] into this kind of situation.

On that account, complainant yet arrived at a contrary conclusion that the respondent being a [l]awyer should be aptly disciplined by those acts alone. The articles supposedly addressed only to each of them protracted the conflicts since it [h]as already been subjected to social leisure as part of daily dose of Filipino custom of frolicking with gossip.

The right of free expression stands as a hallmark of the modern democratic and humane state. Not only does it assure a person's right to say freely what is thought freely, it likewise reveal [s] the presence of the subordinate freedom from psychological insecurity. Corollary to the spirit of such fundamentals it demands from each individual [] sheer exercise with good faith in pelting undesirable utterances to fellow individuals. While it is not difficult to understand the plight of the respondent in her right to protect herself from further vexations and gradual dwindling of her reputation through unimaginable affront on her person, she being a lawyer, should be reminded of the clear demarcation of all her actions, and which must fall within the ambit of decent legal profession.

As earlier indicated, respondent's real intention was to prevent complainant from further mongering rumors and disseminating shrink lines to her prejudice. In fact, with a series of concocted lies perpetrated by the complainant the respondent [found] it feasible to avail the usage of the Facebook. In the course of the thrust of the respondent to air her grievances to the complainant that the latter would absolutely abstain from doing such strange and menacing (sic) fell on deaf ears of the complainant. Herein respondent "with good motives and for justifiable ends" has , done nothing but exercised the proper mode by which she believes will rescue [] her from the consistent attempts of the complainant to stir up or spread something that is usually petty or discreditable on her part.

It [is], thus, recommended that the respondent be admonished and advised to be more forthright in the handling of her personal interactions in the future. Considering that there was no evidence to show that the respondent had acted with grave misconduct in not observing the proper and decent manner in line with practice of law (sic).
In its Resolution No.XXI-2014-867[3] dated December 13, 2014, the IBP Board of Governors adopted and approved the above Report and Recommendation.

Complainant moved for reconsideration of the Resolution. She argued that posting the allegedly libelous statement on Facebook comprises grave misconduct. She prayed that respondent be found administratively liable therefor.[4]

Respondent opposed the motion reasoning that her Facebook statement was not posted in bad faith. Hence, she claimed that there was no grave misconduct on her part. She prayed that the findings of the IBP Board of Governors be affirmed and that complainant's motion for reconsideration be dismissed.[5]

On May 28, 2016, the IBP Board of Governors denied complainant's motion for reconsideration.[6] The IBP Commission on Bar Discipline subsequently forwarded the records of the case to us for our consideration.[7]

After a review of the case, we affirm the IBP Board of Governors' findings of fact and conclusions of law.

It is settled that in disbarment cases, complainant bears the burden of proving her charge with substantial evidence.[8] Absent such evidence, the presumption of innocence on the part of respondent lawyer prevails.

In the present case, complainant failed to discharge her burden of proof. Apart from her bare allegations, she was not able to prove malice or bad faith on the part of respondent. On the contrary, we find that respondent's statement on her social networking account was motivated by a desire to clear her name and reputation. To our mind, there is no misconduct, simple or grave, that warrants any disciplinary action.

WHEREFORE, Resolution Nos. XXI-2014-867 and XXII-2016-346 of the IBP Board of Governors are hereby AFFIRMED and the complaint against Atty. Carmina Agnes P. Pader-Villanueva is hereby DISMISSED for lack of merit. Respondent is hereby ADMONISHED and advised to be more circumspect in the handling of her personal interactions in the future."


[1] Rollo, pp. 2-3.
[2] Id. at 181-189.
[3] Id. at 180.
[4] Id. at 191-198.
[5] Id at 203-226.
[6] Id. at 229-230.
[7] Id. at 229.
[8] Reyes v. Nieva, A.C. No. 8560, September 6, 2016.

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