Sandigan denies bid to hold complainant for indirect contempt over FB post

Published January 23, 2021, 5:00 PM

by Czarina Nicole Ong Ki

The Sandiganbayan Sixth Division has denied the motion of former Romblon Gov. Eleandro Jesus Madrona and his co-accused to hold their complainant for indirect contempt because he is already saying they are “sure to be convicted.”

Sandiganbayan (MANILA BULLETIN)
Sandiganbayan (MANILA BULLETIN)

Madrona, provincial agriculturist Geishler Fiedcan Fadri, and senior agriculturist Oscar Placito Galos have been slapped with a graft charge in connection with the P4.8-million fertilizer fund scam back 2004.

They filed a petition for indirect contempt, saying that complainant Lyndon Molino violated the sub judice rule when he discussed the case in public and declared their conviction as if it is already certain.

The sub judice rule prohibits comments and disclosures pertaining to judicial proceedings in order to avoid prejudging the issue or influencing the court.

On Feb. 20, 2019, Molina used his personal Facebook account and posted on the group called “Romblon Community” where he shared a link to a story about the conviction of Sorsogon Gov. Raul Lee, who was earlier found guilty of graft due to the fertilizer fund scam.

He commented that the case and Madrona’s are the same. The petition stressed that it created a “public impression that since Lee was convicted by Sandiganbayan, petitioner Gov. Eleandro Madrona will also be convicted by the Sandiganbayan.”

In an 11-page resolution, the anti-graft court explained there are two types of contempt. Direct contempt is committed when a person is guilty of misbehavior in the presence of or so near a court as to obstruct the proceedings. Indirect contempt, on the other hand, is committed out of the presence of the court.

After examining Molino’s Facebook posts, the anti-graft court did not find a clear and present danger that would bring disrepute or scorn the proceedings. “Both Facebook posts do not present any evil consequence that is ‘extremely serious and the degree of imminence extremely high’ which may be prejudicial to the rights of the accused and to the disposition of the Court in the said criminal case,” the Sandiganbayan said.

Contrary to the claims of the accused, the court said the alleged similarities in the Sorsogon and Romblon cases could not influence its decision because “there was nothing in the post that undermines the ability of the court to pass judgment with impartiality.”

In the mind of the court, Molino’s Facebook posts appear to be nothing but a publication of his personal sentiments and position about the criminal case. Whether the statements or true or not, according to the court, “fall within the purview of freedom of speech.”

The resolution was written by Associate Justice Karl Miranda and concurred in by Chairperson Sarah Jane Fernandez and Associate Justice Kevin Narce Vivero.

The accused are charged with a violation of Section 3(e) of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. Madrona reportedly awarded the contract of liquid fertilizers to Feshan Philippines Inc. without undergoing the mandatory public bidding.

Madrona was accused of conspiring with Fadri and Galos, together with Feshan representative Elisa Morales and former provincial administrator Joel Angcaco Sy, treasurer Ruby Fababier, and assistant provincial government development head Anthony Rugas in awarding the amount of P4,863,823.19 to the company through direct contracting for the purchase of 3,333 bottles of Bio Nature liquid organic fertilizer, which cost P1,500 per bottle.