The Sandiganbayan has recalled and set aside its contempt citation with a fine of P1,000 against Tuguegarao City Mayor Jefferson P. Soriano who disrupted the hearing via video conferencing on his graft case last February 15.
In a resolution, the anti-graft court said: “The Order dated February 15, 2021, insofar as it declared Mayor Soriano in Direct Contempt of Court is recalled and set aside.”
But the court warned Soriano “that a similar incident in the future will be dealt with more seriously.”
“All the other participants are dead set in keeping pace with the proceedings, hence, the deflection of one from the protocol is certainly disruptive of the proceedings for which reason the power of contempt is cited to correct it,” the anti-graft court said.
“Having nonetheless admitted that the shortcoming on his part was only because of ‘honest lapses or oversight, not at all accompanied by any thought of dishonesty, rudeness, insolence or incivility,’ and thus asks for ‘mercy and compassion,’ the Court can heed, but only this once,” it stressed.
The Supreme Court (SC) allowed last year almost all trial courts to conduct hearings via video conferencing to cope with the dangers posed by the corona virus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
But the SC warned litigants, lawyers, and other persons – who were later also allowed to view the online hearings – that improper conduct during the hearings would be sanctioned as provided by the rules of court.
Soriano is one of the co-accused, one of them former First Gentleman Jose Miguel T. Arroyo, in a graft case involving the 2009 purchase by the Philippine National Police (PNP) of helicopters which were reportedly passed off as brand new.
First, Soriano was warned by the Sandiganbayan after the court noticed that he showed divided attention during the hearing.
“At this instance, it is noted that while Mayor Soriano joined the videoconferencing hearing at the earliest opportunity, he was quick to lose his attention over the proceedings brought about, as he has alluded, to his duties as City Mayor of Tuguegarao City,” the court said.
Though the effects of its February 15 order of contempt are “not as consequential and far-reaching’ as Soriano indicated, the tribunal pointed out “the impact of the same is not lost on him,” it pointed out.