Lawyer Divina files libel complaint vs Bautista, Kapunan for disclosing disbarment case details

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Dean Nilo Divina
UST Civil Law Dean Nilo Divina at a recent Senate inquiry into the fatal hazing of law student Horacio Castillo III. PHIL. STAR FILE PHOTO BY MONG PINTOLO

MANILA – Atty. Nilo T. Divina has filed a complaint for libel and cyber libel against Patricia Bautista, estranged wife of Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista and her lawyer, Atty. Lorna Patajo-Kapunan, before the Office of the City Prosecutor of Manila.

Bautista and Kapunan are liable for 16 counts of the crime of libel, as penalized and defined under Articles 353 and 355 of the Revised Penal Code and Section 4(c)4 of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 10175, or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, Divina said in his complaint-affidavit filed on October 6, 2017.

According to Divina, on September 20, 2017 Bautista and Kapunan filed with the Supreme Court “a patently baseless disbarment complaint” not just against him “but 20 other lawyers of DivinaLaw (many of whom had barely started practicing) filled with false and highly defamatory allegations.”

“In flagrant disregard of the confidential nature of disbarment proceedings, they summoned and narrated to the media the defamatory allegations in the complaint. Therefore, even if the said patently baseless complaint is now dismissed, they have already irreversibly caused damage to the reputation of complainants. For such, there can be no sufficient monetary recompense,” Divina explained.

According to Divina, the two respondents, after filing the complaint before the Supreme Court showed and displayed copies of the document to journalists and reporters, disclosed its contents in various television networks, with a number of news articles subsequently getting published in print and in social media.

Patricia Bautista, in denouncing her husband for having allegedly stashed undeclared wealth, had claimed he received referral fees from the Divina law firm.

Divina said all the statements of Bautista and Kapunan before the public are “defamatory” and hence, elements of libel and cyberlibel are present in this particular case.

According to the complaint, libel is committed if “the words are calculated to induce the hearers to suppose and understand that the person or persons against whom they were uttered were guilty of certain offenses or are sufficient to impeach the honesty, virtue or reputation or to hold the person or persons up to public ridicule.”

Divina pointed out that “a disbarment proceeding against a lawyer is confidential in nature precisely “to protect the personal and professional reputation of attorneys from the baseless charges of disgruntled, vindictive, and irresponsible clients and litigants; it is also to deter the press from publishing administrative cases or portions thereto without authority.”

The lawyer cited a Supreme Court that malicious and unauthorized publication or verbatim reproduction of administrative complaints against lawyers in newspapers by editors and/or reporters is actionable.

Divina and his law firm are asking to be compensated in the amount of P50 million as moral damages for “the grossly unjustified and grossly malicious imputations made by respondents which have tainted complainants’ reputations for competence, honesty, and dedication to work.”

The lawyers are also demanding payment from the respondents the amount of P10 million as exemplary damages, “to deter others similarly disposed.”