A.m. No 07-09-13-Sc - Amado Macasaet
A.M. No. 07-09-13-SC August 8, 2008 RE: IN THE MATTER OF THE ALLEGATIONS CONTAINED IN THE COLUMNS OF MR. AMADO A.P. MACASAET PUBLISHED IN MALAYA DATED SEPTEMBER 18, 19, 20, AND 21, 2007
Facts of the case: This resolves a contempt charge against respondent Amado A.P. Macasaet (Macasaet), a newspaper columnist, for authoring publications imputing bribery to a member of the Supreme Court namely Justice Consuelo Ynares-Santiago, amounting to P10 million allegedly received in boxes by Cecilia Delis (said to be the secretary of Justice Santiago), in relation to a criminal case which was decided in favor of the accused, Henry T. Go (GR No. 172602). Justice Santiago denied the accusation and Macasaet was ordered to submit an explanation on why no sanctions should be imposed on him for indirect contempt of court under Section 3(d), Rule 71 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure which states that “After a charge in writing has been filed, and an opportunity given to the respondent to comment thereon within such period as may be fixed by the court and to be heard by himself or counsel, a person guilty of any of the following acts may be punished for indirect contempt; (d) Any improper conduct tending, directly or indirectly, to impede, obstruct, or degrade the administration of justice;”. Macasaet testified that the information was received from confidential sources while Delis denied any knowledge of the bribery. An investigating Committee was created to investigate the alleged bribery committed by Justice Santiago. The Committee reported that the columns of Macasaet appeared to be just mere hearsays and concluded that the bribery story was “unbelievable” and further recommended that Macasaet be held in indirect contempt. Issue: Whether or not Macasaet is liable for indirect contempt under Section 3(d), Rule 71 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure. Held/Rationale: Yes. Freedom of speech and of the press is a public right to scrutinize and criticize government. However, many types of criticism become harmful and irresponsible attacks which threaten the judicial independence. A truly independent judiciary is possible only when public confidence in the competence and integrity of the judiciary is maintained, and the public accepts the legitimacy of judicial authority. These kinds of personal attacks damage and threaten the integrity and indepedence of the judiciary. In Gonzales v. Commission on Elections, Lagunzad v. Vda Gonzales and Zaldivar v. Gonzales, it was stated that Freedom of expression is not absolute and not without limitations. Upholding the findings stated in the Comprehensive Report and Recommendation of the Investigating Committee which enumerated the gross inconsistencies and assumptions of the respondent which lacked veracity and showed the reckless disregard of whether the alleged bribery was false or not, the Court held Macasaet guilty of indirect contempt of court.
The Court also cited Article 10(2) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) which states that “The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.” Hence, it is the obligation of the Court to sanction those who wantonly obstruct their processes. Separate Opinion Associate Justice Antonio Carpio had a dissenting opinion. He stated that there was denial of due process on the part of Macasaet because when the witnesses the Committee summoned testified, the Committee monopolized the right to propound questions to the witnesses, denying to Macasaet such right. As matters stand, Macasaet will be subjected to punitive sanctions based on evidence he had no opportunity to scrutinize. However, it was disagreed on the following grounds: (1) the proceedings of the Committee are presumed to be regular. Thus, the onus probandi to prove otherwise rests on Macasaet, not on the Committee. (2) assuming arguendo that Macasaet was not able to cross-examine his witnesses, this does not necessarily mean that his right to due process of law was violated. Further, Macasaet never assert his right to cross-examine the witnesses against him. (3) the Court has the power to invoke the right to cross-examine the witnesses against respondent, for and in his behalf. Otherwise, the Court will be acting as his counsel, which is absurd.