RTC junks indirect contempt case filed by DOJ vs De Lima, her lawyer

Published May 27, 2022, 1:45 PM

by Jeffrey Damicog

Sen. Leila M. De Lima

The Muntinlupa City regional trial court (RTC) has dismissed for “lack of merit” the motion filed by Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutors to cite for indirect contempt detained Sen. Leila M. de Lima and her lawyer Filibon F. Tacardon for alleged violation of the sub judice rule that imposes gag order on court cases they are involved in.

Judge Gener M. Gito of RTC Branch 206 said the Supreme Court (SC) in 2014 ruled that “there must be a clear and present danger that the utterance will harm the administration of justice.”

“In this case, passing through judicial prism are the statements and comments of the respondent Atty. Tacardon to the media, regarding the testimonies of some of the prosecution witnesses,” Gito said.

“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,” he said in an order dated last May 2.

De Lima, who is currently detained in the Custodial Center of the Philippine National Police (PNP) headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City, is facing drug charges before the Muntinlupa City trial courts for her alleged involvement in the reported proliferation of the narcotics trade in the New Bilibid Prison (NBP).

In its motion, DOJ prosecutors told the court that De Lima and her lawyer should be cited in contempt for statements made by Tacardon that was published by a number of media entities in the later part of 2020.

The October 2020 articles quoted Tacardon as saying that the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) have testified in court that they found no evidence linking De Lima to the Bilibid drug trading.

While, in the November 2020 articles, Tacardon said drug lord and Bilibid inmate Vicente Sy has also testified in court and said he did not give money to De Lima.

The DOJ prosecutors alleged that the statements issued by Tacardon influenced Judge Liezl Aquiatan to dismiss one of three drug charges against De Lima.

Judge Gito did not agree. He said the sub judice rule “restricts comments and disclosures pertaining to judicial proceedings to avoid prejudging the issue, influencing the court, or obstructing the administration of justice.”

“Analyzing those statements, the Court is of the view that they cannot even be considered sub judice in real sense of the term. Respondent Atty. Tacardon merely restated the admission made by the witnesses for the prosecution,” Gito said.

“The statements made by respondent Atty. Tacardon were substantially consistent with the testimony of those witnesses. The supposed admissions reported by respondent Atty. Tacardon to the media were not fabricated, edited, slanted, or couched in such a manner that it may influence the judge. What respondent Atty. Tacardon did was plain reporting of what transpired during the hearing of respondent Senator De Lima’s cases,” he explained.