Neighbor’s public rants not considered by private communication

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Persida Acosta

Persida Acosta

Dear PAO,
Last week, my neighbor went on a rampage outside my house. He cursed and mocked me out loud, and banged on our gate. I tried to pacify him, but he still went on. I plan to press charges against him, and I intend to present a video recording of the incident which we captured using my daughter’s mobile phone. I am a bit apprehensive though to present the video recording out of fear of a possible countersuit, because my neighbor does not know that we captured his rudeness on video. Can you please advise me on the prospect of using the video recording as evidence?
Neil

Dear Neil,
Your fear is not completely unfounded. We have Republic Act (R.A.) No. 4200, commonly known as the Anti–Wiretapping Act which prohibits, among others, the recording of certain types of communications without the consent of all the involved parties. Section 1 of the law states that “it shall be unlawful for any person, not being authorized by all the parties to any private communication or spoken word, to tap any wire or cable, or by using any other device or arrangement, to secretly overhear, intercept, or record such communication or spoken word by using a device commonly known as a dictaphone or dictagraph or dictaphone or walkie-talkie or tape recorder, or however otherwise described.”

One would be wise to observe this provision of law as its violation could subject the perpetrator to possible criminal responsibility. If proven in court, the perpetrator could be punished with imprisonment for not less than six (6) months or more than six (6) years. There is also an accessory penalty of perpetual absolute disqualification from public office if the offender is a public official, and, deportation, if the offender is an alien (Sec. 2, R.A. No. 4200). It is also worth mentioning that recordings gathered in violation of this law would serve no legal purpose for the violator and/or possessor as the law declares that any information obtained or secured by any person in violation of the law shall not be admissible in evidence in any judicial, quasi-judicial, legislative or administrative hearing or investigation (Sec. 4, Ibid.). Hence, the recording may not be presented as evidence in a case.

Be that as it may, and as mentioned at the outset, there are only certain types of communication covered by the prohibition. To be precise, only private communications are covered by the prohibition. Communications, as used in the law, should be taken in its ordinary sense. It signifies the “process by which meanings or thoughts are shared between individuals through a common system of symbols (as language signs or gestures)”, including verbal or non-verbal, written or expressive communications of “meanings or thoughts” (Ramirez vs. Court of Appeals,G.R. No. 93833 September 28, 1995). On the other hand, private means that the words uttered were made between one person and another as distinguished from words between a speaker and a public (Gaanan vs. Intermediate Appellate Court,G.R. No. L-69809 October 16, 1986). In short, only those communications not intended to be heard by others are covered by the prohibition of the Anti-Wiretapping Act.


Applying the foregoing to your case, it would appear that the tussle between you and your neighbor cannot be considered a private communication as it happened in a public place, that is, outside of your house, and within the hearing of bystanders. In one case, the Supreme Court declared that a tape recording of the heated exchange between a policeman and a reporter inside the police station is not a private conversation (Navarro vs. Court of Appeals,G.R. No. 121087, August 26, 1999). If a heated exchange inside a police station was not considered private, the tussle between you and your neighbor outside your house in full view of the public should likewise not be considered private.

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.

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