Supreme Court disbars lawyer over Facebook post

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 03 2023 12:59 AM

MANILA — The Supreme Court has disbarred lawyer Berteni Causing, spokesperson of the Mabasa family, for posting a draft plunder complaint against some government officials on Facebook in 2019.

via @mikenavallo

In a 10-page decision dated October 4, 2022 but released only on February 1, 11 magistrates unanimously voted to disbar Causing while 4 justices were on official business.

“WHEREFORE, the Court finds Atty. Berteni C. Causing GUILTY of violating the Lawyer's Oath and the Code of Professional Responsibility. He is hereby DISBARRED from the practice of law,” the ruling said. 

“The Office of the Bar Confidant is DIRECTED to remove the name of Berteni C. Causing from the Roll of Attorneys,” it added.

The draft plunder complaint Causing posted accused some government officials of corruption but the high court said it wrongly named a certain Jackiya Lao as chair of the bids and awards committee of the Department of Social Welfare and Development Region XII.

He accused Lao and other respondents of allegedly stealing P226 million in public funds intended for Maranao evacuees during the 2017 Marawi siege.

In her disbarment complaint against Causing, Lao claimed she was subjected to “public hate, contempt and ridicule” because of the lawyer’s Facebook post, which besmirched her “good name and reputation.” 

The high court sided with Lao.

“Atty. Causing’s posting of the complaint for Plunder on his Facebook account was motivated by the desire to damage the reputation of the respondents therein. In fact, it was posted precisely to elicit negative reactions, comments and public opinions against Lao and her fellow respondents,” it ruled.

The Supreme Court chastised Causing, reminding him that as a lawyer, he ought to know that Facebook or social media is not the proper forum to air out his grievances. 

The proper forum, it said, was to file the complaint with the Office of the Ombudsman.

The high court added, Causing failed to conduct himself as a lawyer in a way that would keep the integrity of the legal profession intact and violated Rule 8.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility and the Lawyer’s Oath.


SC rejected Causing’s defense of freedom of expression, saying freedom of expression may not be used to “broadcast lies or half-truths, insult others, destroy their name or reputation or bring them into disrepute.”

“[W]hile freedom of expression is guaranteed by the Constitution, the lawyer's oath and his duties and responsibilities ultimately serve as a limit thereto. We caution lawyers to be circumspect in their postings online. They are reminded to always practice restraint in their conduct, be it in real life or online. Otherwise, the rule of law may very well be completely circumvented and rendered nugatory by blatantly seeking public trial on social media,” it said.

An investigating commissioner of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) recommended a 6-month suspension which the IBP Board of Governors reduced to a reprimand because the complaint was ultimately filed.

But SC disbarred the former newspaper editor because his prior suspension supposedly did not serve as a deterrent.

Causing had earlier been suspended for 1 year for posting on Facebook a confidential petition filed by an opposing party in a case before a family court.

He claimed he was doing it as a “spokesman-lawyer” and a “journalist-blogger.”

But SC said a lawyer cannot divide his personality as “an attorney at one time and a mere citizen at another.”

SC concluded that based on his previous suspension and the current disbarment case, Causing “has the propensity to divulge sensitive information in online platforms, such as Facebook, to the detriment of the people involved in the said cases.”



Causing confirmed his disbarment to ABS-CBN News.

Supreme Court disbars lawyer over Facebook post 1
Supreme Court disbars lawyer over Facebook post 2
Supreme Court disbars lawyer over Facebook post 3

via @mikenavallo twitter

via @mikenavallo twitter

via @mikenavallo twitter

In a statement, he lamented his disbarment, saying this effectively acquitted the persons he accused of plunder before the Ombudsman.

“Nagsampa ng plunder noong January 2019 sa Office of the Ombudsman si Engineer Causing, na hanggang ngayon ay nakatulug pa rin. Kinakampihan ba ng ating Supreme Court ang nakawan kaysa mga mainit na salita laban sa mga katiwalian—na may ebidensya naman?,” he asked.

Causing pointed out that he managed to secure the same food intended for displaced Maranaos in Marawi at P318.00 which the DSWD bought for P515.50. 

He cited a Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism report as the basis for his complaint and insisted Lao was really part of the plunder complaint he filed.

He reiterated his right to free expression, insisting he spoke out against corruption.

“Sinasabi sa Section 4 ng Article 3 ng Konstitusyon na, walang batas na maaaring gagawin sa pagkitil ng kalayaan ng pamamahayag, kalayaan ng pagsasalita, at kalayaan sa paglilimbag,” he said.

“Ang mga karapatan na ito ay hindi pwedeng limitahan ang sinumang abogado na gamitin ang mga ito laban sa katiwalian, nakawan, patayan, pang- aapi, pang-aagaw ng lupa, at pagsasamantala – para maitanggol ang bayang ninakawan at mga walang-lakas, walang yaman, at maliliit na mga tao,” he added.

Causing also said that the high court should not have considered him a repeat offender because at the time he posted the plunder complaint on Facebook in 2019, he had not yet been warned by SC not to repeat a similar post, which came only in March 2021 during his suspension.

He added his disbarment will affect the assistance he provides to Mabasa family as they seek justice for slain broadcaster Percy Lapid.

It also means, he said, that he won't be able to support his 87-year-old mother and 83-year-old father. 

Causing said he will move for reconsideration of the ruling.


Causing’s disbarment comes as the Supreme Court is in the process of introducing social media guidelines for lawyers in revising the Code of Professional Responsibility.

A new subsection is being proposed specifically on responsible use of social media.

Among the prohibitions: posting or sharing fake news on social media, creating anonymous accounts to circumvent laws or the code and sharing confidential information of their clients online.

Explaining the need to regulate social media posts, Supreme Court Associate Justice Maria Filomena Singh, vice chair of the subcommittee for the revision of the Code of Professional Responsibility, told ANC there’s no distinction between the personal and professional lives of lawyers.

“What people don’t normally understand is that when you’re a lawyer, when you take your oath, both your personal and your professional lives are governed by the Code. That is not the same for other professions. So, this is something that we want to emphasize to our lawyers to keep on reminding them that not just because you’re posting something personal, the Code stops its application to whatever action you have taken,” she said.

“Being responsible in our posts, continuously carrying on a standard of conduct that is higher than that required of others, are expected of others, is something that should be second nature to all lawyers,” she added.

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The Supreme Court recently concluded a 5-leg Ethics Caravan to consult lawyers, judges and even non-lawyers on the proposed changes to the Code.

It is set to hold a national summit in the coming weeks to finalize the revision to the 34-year-old code governing the conduct of Philippine lawyers.