Doctor-Patient Relationship

It provides that a doctor cannot be examined in a civil case without the consent of his patient as to communication made by the patient to the doctor or the doctor’s advice or treatment given to the patient. This privilege also applies to persons, including members of the patient’s family, who have participated in the diagnosis or treatment of the patient under the direction of the physician or psychotherapist. To illustrate:

A doctor should not reveal in public or even in private that his patient is suffering from mental disorder/nababaliw or the patient is experiencing gonorrhea, syphilis, aids or other diseases without the patient’s consent. The purposes are: to encourage the patient to trust his or her doctor, to maintain the good relationship between the doctor and the patient, and in order not to blacken the patient’s reputations. If the doctor is not prohibited, a person afflicted with the above mentioned diseases will not consult a doctor anymore and the tendency for such afflicted person is he/she may spread the disease. The people will then be everyday on a panic situation and the country will be in chaos. 

Priest-Penitent/Believer Relationship

A priest is prohibited to divulge the confession he received from a believer. To illustrate: 

Boy Pangit, the believer, confessed his unlawful and immoral act to Fr. Julius that he raped Girl Ganda. In this case, Fr. Julius should not divulge that confession without the consent of the believer/confessant. The purpose of the Rule is to respect the Church teachings and also to respect the principle of the separation of the church and the state.

Under the Code of Canon Law – After having reached the age of discretion, each member of the faithful is obliged to confess faithfully his or her grave sins at least once a year. (Can. 989)

Public officer “fiduciary duty” 

A public officer cannot be examined during or after his or her tenure as to communications made to him or her in official confidence. In other words, a public officer cannot be examined during his term of office or afterwards, as to communications made to him or her in official confidence on the ground that public interest would suffer by the disclosure. The communication shall remain privileged, even in the hands of a third person who may have obtained the information, provided that the original parties to the communication took reasonable precaution to protect its confidentiality. The purpose of the rule is to protect the public interest that may be adversely affected if such official communication is disclosed.

Illustration – Romulo Neri case:

Facts: On September 26, 2007, petitioner, a NEDA Secretary, appeared before the Senate (respondent Committees) and testified for about eleven (11) hours on matters concerning the National Broadband Project (NBN Project). This project was awarded by the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) to Xhong Xing Telecommunications Equipment (ZTE). Petitioner disclosed that then Commission on Elections (COMELEC) Chairman Benjamin Abalos offered him P200 Million in exchange for his approval of the NBN Project. He further narrated that he informed President Gloria Macapagal-Arrovo of the bribery attempt and that she instructed him not to accept the bribe. However, when probed further on President Arroyo and petitioner’s discussions relating to the NBN Project, petitioner refused to answer and he was invoking “executive privilege”. Petitioner Romulo Neri refused to answer the following specific questions:

  1. Whether President Arroyo followed up the NBN Project;
  2. Whether she directed petitioner Romulo Neri to prioritize it;
  3.  Whether she directed him to approve it.

Ruling: The Court granted petitioner-Neri’s petition for certiorari on two grounds:

First, the communications being elicited by the three (3) questions above are covered by the executive privilege; and

Second, the respondent Committees committed grave abuse of discretion in issuing the contempt order against petitioner Neri.

Anent the first ground, the Court considered the subject communications as falling under the presidential communications privilege because:

  1. They related to a quintessential and non-delegable power of the President;
  1. They were received by a close advisor of the President; and
  1. Respondent Committees failed to adequately show a compelling need that would justify the limitation of the privilege and the unavailability of the information elsewhere by an appropriate investigating authority.

As to the second ground, the Court found that respondent Committees committed grave abuse of discretion in issuing the contempt order because:

  1. There was a valid claim of the executive privilege;
  1. Their invitations to petitioner did not contain the questions relevant to the inquiry;
  1. There was a cloud of doubt as to the regularity of the proceeding that led to their issuance of the contempt order,
  1. They violated Section 21, Article VI of the Constitution because their inquiry was not in accordance with the duly published rules of procedure; and
  1. They issued the contempt order arbitrarily and precipitately.   

The general thrust and the tenor of the three (3) questions is to trace the alleged bribery to the Office of the President. While it may be a worthy endeavor to investigate the potential culpability of high government officials, including the President, in a given government transaction, it is simply not a task for the Senate to perform. The role of the Legislature is to make laws, not to determine anyone’s guilt of a crime or wrongdoing. Our Constitution has not bestowed upon the Legislature the latter role. Just as the Judiciary cannot legislate, neither can the Legislature adjudicate or prosecute.
While the Court finds laudable the respondent Committees’ well-intentioned efforts to ferret out corruption, even in the highest echelons of government, such lofty intentions do not validate or accord to Congress powers denied to it by the Constitution and granted instead to the other branches of government. (Romulo L. Neri v. Senate Committee on Accountability of Public Officers and Investigations Senate Committee on National Defense and Security, G.R. No. 180643, September 4, 2008, En Banc).

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