De Lima hails Muntinlupa court’s junking of contempt charge against her, lawyer

Published May 27, 2022, 4:40 PM

by Jonathan Hicap

Detained Senator Leila de Lima welcomed the Muntinlupa court’s decision junking the indirect contempt charge filed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) panel of prosecutors against her and her lawyer over media interviews related to drug cases she is facing.

In a decision dated May 2 but released on May 27, the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 206 dismissed the complaint for “lack of merit.”

Government prosecutors asked the court to cite De Lima’s lawyer, Filibon Tacardon, for indirect contempt over statements he gave “to different media outlets where they were interviewed or have given their statements.”

Detained Senator Leila de Lima (left) and her lawyer, Filibon Tacardon, at the Muntinlupa Hall of Justice in 2019 (Jonathan Hicap)

De Lima was “indicted for contempt on account of her complicity with respondent Atty. Tacardon by authorizing the latter to make those statements.”

Tacardon’s media statements were about the three drug cases that were filed by the DOJ against De Lima in February 2017, originally for illegal drug trading but were later changed to conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading.

To date, one drug case was dismissed by a Muntinlupa court in February 2021 while two are pending.

“It was a baseless and frivolous petition from the very start, designed to further silence me and my lawyers and to prevent us from relaying to the public how the prosecution cases are crumbling before the court,” said De Lima.

She added, “As the decision of Judge [Gener] Gito states, my lawyer, Atty. Tacardon was just reiterating, upon my imprimatur, what some prosecution witnesses stated during their cross examination. One of them was, Vicente Sy, who categorically said that he does not know me and never delivered any money to me.”

According to the outgoing senator, “Indeed, as the court declared, Atty. Tacardon ‘merely reported the admissions made by those witnesses,’ hence, not violative of the sub judice rule. Together with the recent retractions of Rafael Ragos, Kerwin Espinosa, and Ronnie Dayan saying that they were all just coerced by Duterte officials into testifying against me, the dismissal of this contempt charge should now convince the DOJ to review my cases once and for all and decide if there is any merit or honor at all in prosecuting an innocent person.”

She said, “The court’s dismissal of the indirect contempt case filed against me and my lawyer is a triumph of the kindred bedrock principles of free expression, transparency and public’s right to know. It is beyond cavil that my cases and developments therein are matters of public concern. If only to obviate further travesty of justice, our people and the world need to know what’s happening in my cases.”

“Wherefore, in view of the foregoing, the petition to cite respondents Sen. Leila M. de Lima and Atty. Filibon F. Tacardon for indirect contempt is dismissed for lack of merit. Consequently, all other pending incidents are rendered moot and academic,” Judge Gito wrote in his decision.

The judge cited a Supreme Court decision about the “clear and present danger” rule on the “evil consequence of the comment must be extremely serious and the degree of imminence extremely high’ before an utterance can be punished.”

“Thus, to be considered contemptuous, there must exists a ‘clear and present danger’ to the administration of justice,” he said.

He ruled that “the court is of the view that the statements made by respondent Atty. Tacardon did not create a ‘clear and present danger’ to the administration of justice.”

“The court deciphered the comments and the utterances of respondent Atty. Tacardon to the various media outlets and find nothing therein that would create a ‘clear and present danger’ to the administration of justice,” the judge added.

He said, “What respondent Atty. Tacardon reported are the answers of the prosecution witnesses during their cross-examination. Respondent Atty. Tacardon merely reported the admission made by those witnesses.”

“Analyzing those statements, the court is of the view that they cannot even considered sub judice in real sense of the term. Respondent Atty. Tacardon merely stated the admission made by the witnesses for the prosecution. The statements made by respondent Atty. Tacardon were substantially consistent with the testimony of those witnesses,” he said.

The judge also dismissed the indirect contempt complaint against De Lima, saying “If respondent Atty. Tacardon cannot be punished for those statements, the same can be said true likewise for Senator De Lima. Here indictment to the case was on the basis of complicity of she having authorized respondent Atty. Tacardon to make those statements complained of.”

“The power to punish for contempt is not limitless; it must be used sparingly with caution, restraint, judiciousness, deliberation, and due regard to the provisions of the law and the constitutional rights of the individual. This is the principle that this Court will apply in this case,” Gito added.

“Wherefore, in view of the foregoing, the petition to cite respondents Sen. Leila M. de Lima and Atty. Filibon F. Tacardon for indirect contempt is dismissed for lack of merit. Consequently, all other pending incidents are rendered moot and academic,” ruled Gito.

 
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