SC fines publisher for contemptBy Jerome Aning
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The Supreme Court has found a newspaper publisher guilty of indirect contempt and fined him P20,000 for writing that a justice was bribed P20 million to issue a temporary restraining order favoring Bataan Gov. Enrique Garcia Jr. in 2008.
The high court’s First Division chaired by newly-appointed Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno said Leo Ruben Manrique, publisher and editor of the Luzon Tribune, was guilty of contempt for claiming in his commentary that the Court could be bought.
The controversial commentary published on Jan. 20, 2009 was titled “TRO ng Korte Suprema binayaran ng P20M (Was the TRO issued by Supreme Court the result of a P20 million payoff)?”
According to the justices: “To suggest that the processes of this Court can be obtained through underhand means or that their issuance is subject to negotiation and that members of this Court are easily swayed by money is a serious affront to the integrity of the highest court of the land. Such imputation smacks of utter disrespect to this Court and such temerity is deserving of contempt.”
“Manrique’s article, lacking in social value and aimed solely at besmirching the reputation of the Court, is undeserving of the protection of the guaranties of free speech and press,” the Court said in a 12-page decision penned by Justice Bienvenido Reyes.
Sereno, the division chair, and members Justices Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Lucas Bersamin and Martin Villarama Jr, concurred.
The petition to cite Manrique for contempt was filed by Garcia and other Bataan provincial government officials whose suspension by the Office of the Ombudsman was stopped by the Supreme Court. The officials were earlier sued by employees of a paper firm in Orani, Bataan whose properties Garcia ordered auctioned for tax delinquency.
The justices junked Manrique’s claim that he was only being critical of the actions of the petitioners as public officers and that no disrespect was meant to the Court.
While Manrique claims good faith, the justices said “a person’s intent, however good it maybe, cannot prevail over the plain import of his speech or writing.”
“[T]he making of contemptuous statements directed against the Court is not an exercise of free speech; rather, it is an abuse of such right. Unwarranted attacks on the dignity of the courts cannot be disguised as free speech, for the exercise of said right cannot be used to impair the independence and efficiency of courts or public respect therefore and confidence therein,” the Court said.