Muntinlupa court junks indirect contempt complaint vs De Lima, lawyer

Published May 27, 2022, 11:03 AM

by Jonathan Hicap

A Muntinlupa court has dismissed for lack of merit the indirect contempt complaint filed by government prosecutors against detained Senator Leila de Lima and her lawyer regarding statements made to the media about pending drug cases.

The Department of Justice’s panel of prosecutors asked the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 206, which is handling one of De Lima’s cases, to cite lawyer Filibon Tacardon for indirect contempt for statements he gave “to different media outlets where they were interviewed or have given their statements.”

(Left) Senator Leila de Lima being escorted by the police and Atty. Filibon Tacardon (right) at the Muntinlupa Hall of Justice in February 2019. (Jonathan Hicap)

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

Tacardon’s media statements delved on 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 by the government agency 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.

Prosecutors asked the court to punish Tacardon and De Lima for indirect contempt for alleged violation of the 2019 Amended Rules on Civil Procedure on “any improper conduct tending, directly or indirectly, to impede, obstruct, or degrade the administration of justice.”

They said “Tacardon violated the sub judice rule when he discussed and gave his opinion to the press regarding the ongoing trial of respondent Senator de Lima.”

The Muntinlupa RTC Branch 206 stated that sub judice is a rule that “restricts comments and disclosures pertaining to judicial proceedings to avoid prejudging the issue, influencing the court, or obstructing the administration of justice.”

In his decision dismissing the indirect contempt, Presiding Judge Gener Gito cited a Supreme Court decision about the “clear and present danger” rule about 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.