SC clears media from contempt suit by Ampatuan counsel
MANILA, Philippines—The Supreme Court has cleared members of the media of indirect contempt filed by Ampatuan counsel Sigfrid Fortun.
In a decision dated February 13, 2013, but made public on Wednesday, the high court’s second division through Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio cleared officials of the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ), INQUIRER.net’s Tetch Torres, Philippine Star’s Edu Punay, ABS-CBN’s Cecilia Victoria Oreña-Drilon and GMA online’s Sophia Dedace for reporting the disbarment complaint filed against Fortun.
The high court said while disbarment complaints are confidential in nature as stated under Section 18, Rule 139-B of the Rules of Court, such provision is not a restriction on the freedom of the press.
“If there is a legitimate interest, media is not prohibited from making a fair, true and accurate news report of a disbarment complaint. In the absence of a legitimate public interest in a disbarment complaint, members of the media must preserve the confidentiality of disbarment proceedings during its pendency,” the high court said.
The members of the media, in their separate comments, maintained that the complaint was published without any comment, in good faith and without malice. They maintained that Fortun is a public figure and the Maguindanao massacre is a case of public interest.
The high court said “as a general rule, disbarment proceedings are confidential in nature until their final resolution and the final decision of this Court. In this case, however, the filing of a disbarment complaint against petitioner is itself a matter of public concern considering that it arose from the Maguindanao massacre case.”
“The interest of the public is not on petitioner [Fortun] himself but primarily on his involvement and participation as defense counsel in the Maguindanao massacre case,” the high court said, adding that Fortun also failed to substantiate his claim that the members of the media acted in bad faith and conspired against him.
The high court noted that the members of the media “made a fair and true news report and appeared to have acted in good faith in publishing and posting details of the disbarment complaint.”
However, the high court cited lawyer Prima Quinsayas, counsel of the victims, for violating the Rules of Court for distributing copies of the disbarment complaint to members of the media and ordered her to pay a fine of P20,000.
Fortun represents former Maguindano Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr., Andal “Datu Unsay” Ampatuan Jr., and former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan, primarily accused in the gruesome murder of 58 people, including 32 journalists and media workers, in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman, Ampatuan town on Nov. 23, 2009.