Marantan vs Diokno (G.R. No. 205956 February 12, 2014)

Marantan vs Diokno
G.R. No. 205956 February 12, 2014
Facts: Petitioner P/Supt. Hansel M. Marantan (Marantan) is the respondent in G.R. No. 199462, a petition filed on December 6, 2011, but already dismissed although the disposition is not yet final. Respondent Monique Cu-Unjieng La’O (La ‘O) is one of the petitioners in the said case, while respondent Atty. Jose Manuel Diokno (Atty. Diokno) is her counsel therein. G.R. No. 199462 relates to Criminal Case Nos. 146413-PSG, 146414-PSG and 146415-PSG, entitled “People of the Philippines v. P/SINSP Hansel M. Marantan, et al.,” pending before the Regional Trial Court of Pasig City, Branch 265 (RTC), where Marantan and his co-accused are charged with homicide. The criminal cases involve an incident which transpired on November 7, 2005, where Anton Cu-Unjieng (son of respondent La‘O), Francis Xavier Manzano, and Brian Anthony Dulay, were shot and killed by police officers in front of the AIC Gold Tower at Ortigas Center, which incident was captured by a television crew from UNTV 37 (Ortigas incident). In G.R. No. 199462, La‘O, together with the other petitioners, prayed, among others, that the resolution of the Office of the Ombudsman downgrading the charges from murder to homicide be annulled and set aside; that the corresponding informations for homicide be withdrawn; and that charges for murder be filed. In the meantime, on January 6, 2013, a shooting incident occurred in Barangay Lumutan, Municipality of Atimonan, Province of Quezon, where Marantan was the ground commander in a police-military team, which resulted in the death of thirteen (13) men (Atimonan incident). This encounter, according to Marantan, elicited much negative publicity for him. Marantan alleges that, riding on the unpopularity of the Atimonan incident, La‘O and her counsel, Atty. Diokno, and one Ernesto Manzano, organized and conducted a televised/radio broadcasted press conference. During the press conference, they maliciously made intemperate and unreasonable comments on the conduct of the Court in handling G.R. No. 199462, as well as contumacious comments on the merits of the criminal cases before the RTC, branding Marantan and his coaccused guilty of murder in the Ortigas incident. 
Issue: Whether or not the petition for contempt is meritorious.
Held: No. The sub judice rule restricts comments and disclosures pertaining to the judicial proceedings in order to avoid prejudging the issue, influencing the court, or obstructing the administration of justice. A violation of this rule may render one liable for indirect contempt under Sec. 3(d), Rule 71 of the Rules of Court,4 which reads: 
Section 3. Indirect contempt to be punished after charge and hearing. – x x x a person guilty of any of the following acts may be punished for indirect contempt: x x x 
(d) Any improper conduct tending, directly or indirectly, to impede, obstruct, or degrade the administration of justice.
The proceedings for punishment of indirect contempt are criminal in nature. This form of contempt is conduct that is directed against the dignity and authority of the court or a judge acting judicially; it is an act obstructing the administration of justice which tends to bring the court into disrepute or disrespect. Intent is a necessary element in criminal contempt, and no one can be punished for a criminal contempt unless the evidence makes it clear that he intended to commit it.
For a comment to be considered as contempt of court “it must really appear” that such does impede, interfere with and embarrass the administration of justice. What is, thus, sought to be protected is the all-important duty of the court to administer justice in the decision of a pending case. The specific rationale for the sub judice rule is that courts, in the decision of issues of fact and law should be immune from every extraneous influence; that facts should be decided upon evidence produced in court; and that the determination of such facts should be uninfluenced by bias, prejudice or sympathies.
The power of contempt is inherent in all courts in order to allow them to conduct their business unhampered by publications and comments which tend to impair the impartiality of their decisions or otherwise obstruct the administration of justice. As important as the maintenance of freedom of speech, is the maintenance of the independence of the Judiciary. The “clear and present danger” rule may serve as an aid in determining the proper constitutional boundary between these two rights.
The “clear and present danger” rule means that the evil consequence of the comment must be “extremely serious and the degree of imminence extremely high” before an utterance can be punished. There must exist a clear and present danger that the utterance will harm the administration of justice. Freedom of speech should not be impaired through the exercise of the power of contempt of court unless there is no doubt that the utterances in question make a serious and imminent threat to the administration of justice. It must constitute an imminent, not merely a likely, threat.

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