Revealing secrets with abuse of office, A291 Revised Penal Code

1. Concept

Revealing secrets with abuse of office – under the Revised Penal Code refers to the crime of revealing secrets of a principal or master by their manager, employee, or servant.

a. Legal basis

Art. 291. Revealing secrets with abuse of office. – The penalty of arresto mayor and a fine not exceeding One hundred thousand pesos (P100,000) shall be imposed upon any manager, employee or servant who, in such capacity, shall learn the secrets of his principal or master and shall reveal such secrets. (As amended by R.A. 10951)

(Revised Penal Code)

b. Purpose

[T]he Revised Penal Code endows a cloak of protection to trade secrets under [Article 291 and 292]. (Air Philippines Corporation v. Pennswell, Inc., G.R. No. 172835, December 13 2007, Per Chico-Nazario, J.)

[I]n accordance with our statutory laws, this Court has declared that intellectual and industrial property rights cases are not simple property cases. Without limiting such industrial property rights to trademarks and trade names, this Court has ruled that all agreements concerning intellectual property are intimately connected with economic development. The protection of industrial property encourages investments in new ideas and inventions and stimulates creative efforts for the satisfaction of human needs. It speeds up transfer of technology and industrialization, and thereby bring about social and economic progress. Verily, the protection of industrial secrets is inextricably linked to the advancement of our economy and fosters healthy competition in trade. (Air Philippines Corporation v. Pennswell, Inc. [2007], supra.)

c. Private character of trade secrets

Jurisprudence has consistently acknowledged the private character of trade secrets. There is a privilege not to disclose one’s trade secrets. Foremost, this Court has declared that trade secrets and banking transactions are among the recognized restrictions to the right of the people to information as embodied in the Constitution. [The Supreme Court] said that the drafters of the Constitution also unequivocally affirmed that, aside from national security matters and intelligence information, trade or industrial secrets (pursuant to the Intellectual Property Code and other related laws) as well as banking transactions (pursuant to the Secrecy of Bank Deposits Act), are also exempted from compulsory disclosure. (Air Philippines Corporation v. Pennswell, Inc. [2007], supra.)

Significantly, our cases on labor are replete with examples of a protectionist stance towards the trade secrets of employers. For instance, this Court upheld the validity of the policy of a pharmaceutical company prohibiting its employees from marrying employees of any competitor company, on the rationalization that the company has a right to guard its trade secrets, manufacturing formulas, marketing strategies and other confidential programs and information from competitors. Notably, it was in a labor-related case that this Court made a stark ruling on the proper determination of trade secrets. (Air Philippines Corporation v. Pennswell, Inc. [2007], supra.)

2. Modes of commission

The following are the modes of committing the offense:

1) Revealing secrets of the offender’s principal or master with abuse of office

a. Mode 1: Revealing secrets

Elements of the crime of revealing secrets:

1) That the offender is a manager, employee, or servant;

2) That the offender learns the secrets of his/her principal or master;

3) That the offender reveals such secrets; and

3) That the offender does so with abuse of office. (REVISED PENAL CODE, Article 291)

1) Element 1: Manager, Employee, Servant

For the 1st element, the offender is a:

1) Manager;

2) Employee; or

3) Servant.

NB: The offender is limited those specifically mentioned.

2) Element 2: Learns secrets

For the 2nd element, the offender learns the secrets of his/her principal or master.

Secrets – refer to those “kept from knowledge or view” or “something kept hidden or unexplained”. (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary)

As the word secrets is not defined in the provision, and unlike Article 292 which specifically identify trade secrets, secrets in Article 291 may include any kind of secret, whether trade secrets of otherwise.

Trade secrets – refer to “something (such as a formula) which has economic value to a business because it is not generally known or easily discoverable by observation and for which efforts have been made to maintain secrecy” (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary)

3) Element 3: Reveals secrets

For the 3rd element, the offender reveals such secrets.

To reveal means “to make (something secret or hidden) publicly or generally known”. (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary)

The means and methods of revealing the secrets are not specified. Thus, any form of revelation is covered, such as telling a third party of such information even in secrecy, disclosing such information via public channels, or communicating such information to competitors by whatever means.

4) Element 4: With abuse of office

For the 4th element, the offender does so with abuse of office.

To be able to learn and reveal the secrets of his/her principal or master, the offender must have done so with abuse of confidence. That is to say, trust was reposed on the offender when the secrets were made known and the offender abused such trust.

3. Things to note

The following are some additional things to note about this offense.

a. Zone of privacy

Zones of privacy are likewise recognized and protected in our laws. The Civil Code provides that “[e]very person shall respect the dignity, personality, privacy and peace of mind of his neighbors and other persons” and punishes as actionable torts several acts by a person of meddling and prying into the privacy of another. It also holds a public officer or employee or any private individual liable for damages for any violation of the rights and liberties of another person, 36 and recognizes the privacy of letters and other private communications. The Revised Penal Code makes a crime the violation of secrets by an officer, the revelation of trade and industrial secrets, and trespass to dwelling. Invasion of privacy is an offense in special laws like the Anti-Wiretapping Law, the Secrecy of Bank Deposits Act and the Intellectual Property Code.  The Rules of Court on privileged communication likewise recognize the privacy of certain information. (Ople v. Torres, En Banc, G.R. No. 127685, July 23, 1998, Per Puno, J.; See also Ejercito v. Sandiganbayan, G.R. No. 157294-95, November 30, 2006, Per Carpio Morales, J.)


Title IX – Crimes Against Personal Liberty and Security, Act No. 3815, Revised Penal Code, as amended

/Updated: November 22, 2023

Similar Posts