Judge Yrastorza’s summons-A A +A
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
SUN.STAR CEBU public and standard editor Pachico Merlo “Cheking” Seares told me over a cup of coffee that he received a subpoena from Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 14 presiding judge Rafael Yrastorza for him to appear before his sala this Friday to explain why he should not be cited in contempt of court for commenting on the judge's decision on the conviction for libel of broadcast journalist Leo Lastimosa.
I learned from other sources that Lastimosa also received a similar summons.
Last month, as the Cebu media was about to celebrate Broadcasters' Month and Cebu Press Freedom Week, Yrastorza convicted Lastimosa for libel and ordered him to pay former governor and now third district Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia some P2 million in moral damages and litigation expenses.
The case stemmed from a complaint filed by Garcia in relation to Lastimosa’s The Freeman column titiled “Doling Kawatan.” Lastimosa appealed his conviction with the Court of Appeals.
The prosecution had summoned Seares to testify on the case. This, after he wrote in his column the result of the survey he conducted among his Mass Communication students at the University of the Philippines on whether they thought “Doling Kawatan” waas Gwen.
Doesn’t the media or the public have the right to discuss cases that have already been decided? I am not a lawyer, but I think that discussing Lastimosa's conviction no longer falls under the sub judice rule because the case has already been decided.
Sub judice is the Latin word for “under judgment.” Meaning that a particular matter is under trial or is being considered by a judge or court. The term maybe used synonymously with “the present case” or “case at bar.” It is generally considered
inappropriate to comment publicly on cases that are sub judice. Publicly discussing sub judice cases may constitute interference with due process.
Are judges “sacred cows”? The Supreme Court (SC) can even be criticized for its questionable rulings, like the way it flip-flopped on the the cityhood issue of 16 municipalities. The SC flip-flopped five times. Did the High Tribunal order any opinion-maker or broadcast commentator to explain why they should not be cited in contempt for criticizing a judicial decision?
Come on, Your Honor. Don't be too onion-skinned. And please don't use your contempt power just to get back at media people who criticized your decision. Please know the meaning of compassion. The two journalists have no chance of legally fighting you because, in this case, you are the complainant, the judge and the executioner.
Again, I am not a lawyer but in my research, I have encountered two SC decisions on the contempt power of members of the bench.
In the case of Esmeralda-Baroy vs. Peralta, the Supreme Court said, “Judges are enjoined to exercise contempt power judiciously and sparingly with utmost restraint and with the end view of utilizing the same for correction and preservation of the dignity of the court and not for retaliation or vindication.”
Then in the case of Angeles vs. Gemale, the High Court said, “The power to punish for contempt should be exercised for purposes that are not personal, because the power is intended as a safeguard not for judges as persons but for the functions they exercise.”
I rest my case.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on September 25, 2013.