MANILA, September 12, 2003 (STAR) A law each day (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) By Jose C. Sison  - Is Jose Pidal entitled to privacy?

After Sen. Panfilo Lacson exposed him in the halls of the Senate, Jose Pidal can no longer avoid publicity even if he wants to. It would have been all right because Jose Pidal then was but a mere alias, an assumed name without a real personality of his own. So "Jose Pidal" would have enjoyed his privacy even in the midst of all the publicity. The very purpose of using an alias.

But the problem is that the Senate allowed itself to be used as the propaganda arm of this Presidential aspirant wearing the skirt of parliamentary immunity. With the use of bank documents of dubious origin, Lacson pointed to the First Gentleman as Jose Pidal in an apparent attempt to link the President to the anomaly and cause further turmoil in the country. Thus the Senate’s call for an investigation in aid of legislation forced Jose Pidal to come out of his shell. Jose Pidal is no longer an alias but a living, breathing, and thinking human being with feelings and emotions in the person of Ignacio Arroyo.

The emergence of Iggy Arroyo as Jose Pidal makes the right to privacy a relevant issue mainly because he himself invoked this right no less than twenty times during the Senate probe. The question now is no longer whether Jose Pidal but whether Ignacio Arroyo is entitled to privacy.

The right of privacy is the right of an individual to keep himself and his property away from public scrutiny if he so chooses. It is the right to be left alone, to be free from unwarranted publicity (Holloman v. Life Ins. Co. of Virginia 192.454; Federal Trade Commission v. American Tobacco 264 U.S. 298). Individual here means a private person, not an incumbent government official (Black’s Law Dictionary). There is indeed no specific provision of law in our jurisdiction granting this right. Our Constitition only mentions of the right of the people to be "secure in their persons". Article 26 of the Civil Code, on the other hand, enjoins every person "to respect the dignity, personality, privacy and peace of mind of his neighbors and other persons". Meddling with or disturbing the private life or family relations of another is one of the actionable wrongs under this article. Admittedly, both provisions do not expressly and categorically grant all individuals the right to deny public scrutiny of his person and property imbued with public interest. But even if there no law squarely in point, equity may prevent an injury threatened by the invasion , or infringement of this right arising from motives of curiosity, gain or malice.

There is no dispute that when Iggy Arroyo said he is Jose Pidal, his private acts became a matter of public interest and he got himself entangled in a public interest issue. The problem however is, up to now, he has not been charged with any crime or misdemeanor or any public wrong affecting the whole community, in the only proper venue where it should be filed – in the Court, not the Senate. Iggy Arroyo himself said that he is ready to answer those questions in Court when proper charges are filed. He knows that in Court, when he is charged with any public wrongdoing, he cannot invoke this right anymore as it is no longer consistent with public policy.

But in the Senate he is entitled to this right of privacy. The kind of questions propounded to him which he refused to answer are obviously too personal or motivated by politics. To say that this probe is not tainted with politics and is purely a crusade against corruption taxes one’s credulity to the extreme and is an insult to the intelligence of the Filipino people. The Senate is a political body and all its members are politicians. The Senator who denounced this alleged anomaly and then left his fellow Senators in the middle of the probe, is a known presidential aspirant, himself facing some serious charges. His ploy is to air his charges in the Senate and shift the burden of proof on the accused. It is unfortunate that our Senators fell for this strategem that may even be part of a destabilization plot.

It is not utterly baseless to conclude that the Senate probe is just one big media event in which the private lives of individuals are scrutinized and exposed for all their sensationalism because this is where media thrive best. Any private individual, even alias Jose Pidal who finds himself entangled in a public interest issue based on proofs that cannot stand in court, would surely want to be free from this unwarranted publicity. His refusal to answer questions in the Senate investigation is not an obstruction of justice as Senator Pimentel said. Justice is rendered by the Courts, not the Senate.

* * *


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved