Lawyer gets 1-year suspension for maligning Vicki Belo on Facebook

MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court has suspended lawyer Argee Guevarra for a year for posting malicious statements against Vicki Belo on social media site Facebook.

In a 13-page decision, the Court said it has suspended Guevarra for violating the Code of Professional Responsibility. 

"By posting the subject remarks on Facebook directed at complainant and BMGI, respondent disregarded the fact that, as a lawyer, he is bound to observe proper decorum at all times, be it in his public or private life," the decision read.

The Court ruled that Guevarra "overlooked the fact that he must behave in a manner befitting of an officer of the court, that is, respectful, firm, and decent."

"Instead, he acted inappropriately and rudely; he used words unbecoming of an officer of the law, and conducted himself in an aggressive way by hurling insults and maligning complainant's and BMGI' s reputation," it said.

"He (Guevarra) is hereby suspended from the practice of law for a period of one year, effective upon his receipt of this decision, and is sternly warned that a repetition of the same or similar acts will be dealt with more severely," the Court added.

The High Tribunal also said that while freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed in the Constitution, "every person exercising them, as the Civil Code stresses, is obliged to act with justice, give everyone his due, and observe  honesty and good faith."

"As such, the constitutional right of freedom of expression may not be availed of to broadcast lies or half-truths, insult others, destroy their name or reputation or bring them into disrepute," it said.

In 2009, Guevarra posted statements about Belo on his Facebook page, which the doctor believed to insulting and inappropriate.

In the excerpts mentioned in the decision, Guevarra referred to Belo as a "quack doctor," "Reyna ng Kaplastikan," "Reyna ng Kapalpakan," and "Reyna ng Payola." 

Guevarra for his part, said that the posts were private and were only supposed to be seen by a select group of friends. He also mentioned that he was exercising his right to free speech and that Belo is a public figure. The Court, however, said that Guevarra failed to show that he tried to protect his posts to keep them from being read by others outside the group.

"However, the latter has failed to offer evidence that he utilized any of the privacy tools or features of Facebook available to him to protect his posts, or that he restricted its privacy to a select few," the Court said.

"Therefore, without any positive evidence to corroborate his statement that the subject posts, as well as the comments thereto, were visible only to him and his  circle of friends, respondent's statement is, at best, self-serving," it added.

Guevarra represented Josefina Norcio, who sued Belo for alleged botched surgical procedures in her buttocks in 2002 and 2005.

According to a report from the Inquirer, Guevarra said he has yet to read the decision. Belo has not issued any statement. –