File photo. Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has reprimanded five lawyers, including three alumni, over homophobic and “disturbing” social media posts made in 2021.

In a 26-page unanimous decision released publicly on Aug. 17, the high court reprimanded alumni Morgan Nicanor, Joseph Navarrete, and Israel Calderon, as well as Noel Antay Jr., and imposed a P25,000 fine on Ernesto Tabujara III for violating Rule 7.03 of the Code of Professional Responsibility (CPR) for their posts involving a losing litigant and a judge.

Rule 7.03 states that “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.”

The high court said the homophobic remarks of the five lawyers undermined LGBTQ+ individuals’ constitutionally guaranteed right of freedom of expression and internationally recognized rights of non-discrimination and equality.

It also cited the “Safe Spaces Act,” Republic Act No. 11313, which calls for equality, security, and safety not only in private settings but also in digital platforms.

Antay made the initial post, telling his followers: “Just prosecuted and helped convict a member of the LGBTA (sic) community for large scale estafa. The new convict then began cussing at me accusing me of being a bigot. A first for me. The judge (who is somewhat effeminate) comes to my defense and warns the felon to behave. All in a day’s work.”

Calderon, a political science alumnus, made two comments, implying that the losing party had a liking for Antay.

Nicanor, an alumnus of the Faculty of Arts and Letters and Faculty of Civil Law, made a similar comment.

Navarrete, also an alumnus of the University, replied to Nicanor with a recollection of an incident involving the latter and a client at the Office of the Ombudsman. Navarette said, “Ang natatandaan ko lang is malagkit tingin kay papa, este Prof. Morgan” (What I remember is he was ogling Prof. Morgan).

Tabujara was given a heavier penalty as the court said he not only violated Rule 7. 03 of the CPR but did so “in a reckless, wanton, and malevolent manner.” Tabujara’s response to the incident, dated Nov. 7, 2021, did not include a sincere apology, the court said.

Noting that Tabujara was a law professor, the court cited a 2019 ruling in which educators were described as “molders of the minds of soon-to-be lawyers” and entrusted with the responsibility of directing “their students to conduct themselves in a way that aligns with the elevated principles of the legal profession.”

On June 19, 2021, the Supreme Court required the five lawyers to show cause why no administrative charges should be filed against them.

“Their fixation on the respective sexual orientations of their subjects was uncalled for and they should be more circumspect in their choice of words and be mindful of gender-fair language,” the decision read.

Nicanor and Navarrete, in explanations dated Oct. 6 and 7, 2021, respectively, apologized for “not being sensitive enough” and for the “lapse in judgment.” Calderon did not file his explanation but was considered to have been served notices.

Antay expressed remorse in his filing dated Oct. 25, 2021.

All five lawyers were told that a repetition of the same or similar offense would be dealt with more severely.

In his separate concurring opinion, Senior Associate Justice Marvic Leonen said the duty of recognition and protection of human rights was “incumbent upon all people, as members of a common human society.”

“Treating LGBTQ+ people as though they are subhuman or ‘the other’ too often becomes license for the deprivation, time and time again, of their fundamental human rights, including their right to life,” he said.


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