SC affirms award of damages to former envoy

Posted at 12/08/12 2:29 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The Supreme Court has affirmed the award of P700,000 in damages by the Court of Appeals (CA) to the former Philippine Ambassador to Kenya Nelson Laviña against former Consul General to Kenya, Nestor Padalhin and his wife, Annie.

Except for reducing the award of attorney's fees by P75,000, the CA affirmed the decision of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Pasig City, Branch 165, ordering Nestor to pay Laviña moral, nominal and exemplary damages as well as attorney's fees and litigation expenses for a raid that occurred in Laviña's home in Kenya while the latter was still the Philippine Ambassador to Kenya.

Nestor caused the taking of pictures of raw elephant tusks in Laviña's home without his consent.

In a 15-page decision penned by Justice Bienvenido L. Reyes, the Supreme Court through its First Division unanimously held that the award of damages and attorney's fees granted in Laviña's favor is proper because Nestor himself admitted that he caused the taking of the pictures of Laviña's residence without the latter's knowledge and consent.

"Nestor's affidavit constitutes an admission against his interest… Thus it is fair to presume the declaration corresponds with the truth. On the witness stand, he testified that he was the one who voluntarily and freely prepared his affidavit. He further stated that the contents thereof are true. His affidavit likewise contained an apology for his lack of judgment and discretion," ruled the Court.

Despite Nestor's insistence that this was all done without any malice, the court ruled that his surreptitious acts negate his allegation of good faith.

It stated that "Nestor's participation in the invasion of Laviña's diplomatic residence and his act of ordering an employee to take photographs of what was inside the diplomatic residence without the consent of Laviña were clearly done to prejudice the latter."

The court cited Article 19 of the New Civil Code providing that "every person must in the exercise of his rights and the performance of his duties, act with justice, give everyone his due, and observe honesty and good faith."

The Court also held that the Spouses Padalhin's petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Civil Procedure against Laviña was procedurally flawed because it was Spouses Padalhin's son, Norman, and not the spouses themselves who personally signed the verification and certification of non-forum shopping attached to it; also, the petition was filed before it (the Supreme Court) when it is not a trier of facts but a trier of law.

The court reiterated the ruling in Vda. De Formoso v. Philippine National Bank that the substantive issue of questioning an award for damages and attorney's fees is a factual issue and beyond the jurisdiction of a petition for review on certiorari.

Laviña and Nestor were both Filipino diplomats formerly assigned to Kenya.

Laviña filed a case against Nestor, among others, for damages for violating his right to privacy, inviolability of his diplomatic residence, infringement of his right against illegal searches and seizures, and bad faith, malice and deceit for conspiring to conduct raids on his (Laviña's) residence.