• Discovering secrets through seizure of correspondence

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    Persida Acosta

    Dear PAO,
    I was caught by my live-in partner having an affair with another man. We have been together for more than a decade and while we have children, we were never married. All this time, I admit that I fell in love with another man who now works abroad even as my love for my current partner is fading. Unfortunately, he discovered my affair when he went through my personal belongings one time, and read my written exchanges and letters to my new man abroad. We fought because of this, as I felt that he intruded on my privacy. I wonder now if I can file a case against him for invading the privacy of my letters, because he told me that since we’re already living together as husband and wife, I have no right to claim privacy. Can I still file a case against him for what he did? Please advise me. God bless.
    Sharon

    Dear Sharon,
    Our country has a law that criminalizes the reading of private correspondence or letters. This law is under Article 290 of the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines. According to this law:

    “Art. 290. Discovering secrets through seizure of correspondence. — The penalty of prision correccional in its minimum and medium periods and a fine not exceeding 500 pesos shall be imposed upon any private individual who in order to discover the secrets of another, shall seize his papers or letters and reveal the contents thereof.

    If the offender shall not reveal such secrets, the penalty shall be arresto mayor and a fine not exceeding 500 pesos.

    The provision shall not be applicable to parents, guardians, or persons entrusted with the custody of minors with respect to the papers or letters of the children or minors placed under their care or study, nor to spouses with respect to the papers or letters of either of them.” (Emphasis supplied)

    Based on this law, a crime is committed when a private letter is read in order to discover a secret. This implies that the content of the letter read must be confidential in nature. Therefore, it is important to establish the confidential nature of the discovered correspondence since reading of open letters such as postcards is not punishable because of expected lack of confidentiality or secrecy of such letters. (Leonor D. Boado, Notes and Cases on the Revised PenalCode, 2008 Edition)

    It is also important to note that the aforementioned law exempts certain individuals from criminal liability based on their relationship with the owner of the letter. As provided by law, parents, guardians and spouses can seize and discover the secrets in the papers and letters of their children, ward and spouses, respectively, without criminal liability.

    In your situation, while your current partner claims that you are living as husband and wife, you are still not spouses from a legal standpoint since you mentioned that you were never married to your partner. Because of this, your partner is not exempt from criminal liability. Thus, you may file a criminal case against him under the aforementioned law for reading your private letters. In addition to this, it may also be possible to file a complaint for violation of Republic Act 9262 should his prying into your private letters causes you mental and emotional anguish. (Sec. 5 (i), RA 9262)

    Again, we find it necessary to mention that this opinion is solely based on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. The opinion may vary when the facts are changed or elaborated.

    We hope that we were able to enlighten you on the matter.

    Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to dearpao@manilatimes.net

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