IBP head: Sub judice rule not automatic
MANILA, Philippines — Correcting some senators’ comments regarding public discussion of cases already in the courts, the president of the main organization of lawyers in the country on Wednesday said the sub judice rule did not automatically apply once a case is filed in court.
Domingo Cayosa Jr., president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), said the rule evolved from the general contempt power of courts to protect themselves and the judicial processes by punishing any “unlawful interference” or “improper conduct to impede, obstruct or degrade the administration of justice.”
Solicitor General Jose Calida invoked the sub judice rule when he asked the Supreme Court on Tuesday for a gag order to stop ABS-CBN and “persons acting on their behalf” from commenting on his quo warranto petition to nullify the broadcast giant’s franchise.
Calida said the sub judice rule restricted not only those directly involved in the case but also the general public from making comments and disclosures on pending cases before the court, or else they would be cited in contempt under the Rules of Court.
Some senators oppose holding a public hearing on the ABS-CBN franchise, saying even if they may not be sanctioned by the Supreme Court, their resource persons could be cited for contempt of court.
“There is no specific rule at sub judice,” Cayosa told reporters. “It is not correct what some senators are saying that there is a sub judice rule.”
The rule is intended to protect the courts from “unlawful interference” in the proceedings or from any action or statement that will “obstruct or degrade the administration of justice,” he said, adding that it was “only a defense” for the courts.
He said not all kinds of discussions or reporting about an issue is prohibited under the rule, but only those “that would tend to impede, obstruct, or influence the decision of the court.”
“Fair and factual presentation of the facts of the case” is constitutionally allowed and guaranteed, he said.
He added that if a gag order is issued by the Supreme Court, this will only cover the parties to the case.
Any gag order will not prohibit members of Congress from looking into ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal.
“The others who are not concerned, [who] have no interest in influencing either way, they may make comments,” Cayosa said.
Cayosa said the Supreme Court has to balance the constitutional rights of freedom of expression and of the press and the constitutionally guaranteed right to information on matters of public concern, with the court’s contempt power.
“Maybe in this case, the solicitor general saw or learned (about comments) tending to influence the court or impede the administering of justice. But that is for him to prove. That is also for ABS-CBN or any person who may be cited to say that it was not so, that this is part of freedom of speech, that we do not interfere with whatever the decision,” he said.
Calida asked the Supreme Court to issue a gag order barely a week after he filed a quo warranto petition to annul ABS-CBN’s franchise for allegedly violating its terms when it opened a pay-per-view cable channel and for violating the prohibition against foreign ownership when it issued Philippine Depositary Receipts to foreigners.
The chief government lawyer asked the Supreme Court to stop ABS-CBN and people who may speak on its behalf from making public statements because these would supposedly sway public sympathy and the justices.
The Supreme Court gave ABS-CBN five days to comment on the gag order. It earlier gave the network 10 days to rebut Calida’s quo warranto petition.
ABS-CBN’s franchise will expire on March 30.
President Duterte last December vowed that ABS-CBN’s franchise will not be renewed. He has repeatedly expressed his contempt for the network for not airing a campaign ad that he had paid for.
Cayosa said the sub judice rule originated from the United States judicial system where verdicts were decided by a jury composed of ordinary citizens.
The rule is not applicable in the Philippine judicial system, he said, where decisions are handed down by judges who are expected to be knowledgeable about the rules of evidence.
Cayosa said he was giving his personal opinion on the sub judice rule “based on the law,” but the IBP will not file any intervention in the Supreme Court.
“On my part, I would like to trust that the Supreme Court will first determine whether or not there is basis for them to issue a gag order,” he said.
“I also believe that the Supreme Court will uphold the constitutional provisions of freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and right of the public to be informed on matters of public interest,” he added.
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