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Brion's Supplemental Opinion on Webb Et Al Re Vizconde Massacre

Brion's Supplemental Opinion on Webb Et Al Re Vizconde Massacre

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Published by Gerald Magno

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Published by: Gerald Magno on Dec 14, 2010
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06/03/2013

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EN BANC
 
Agenda of December 14, 2010
 
Item No. 85
 
G.R. Nos. 176389 and 176864 – ANTONIO LEJANO,
et al., petitioners – versus– 
COURT OF APPEALS,
et al., respondents.
 Promulgated:December 14, 2010
x-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------x
 
SUPPLEMENTAL OPINION
 
BRION,
 J.
:
 In addition to my vote and
independently of the merits of the present case
, Iwrite this opinion to point out the growing disregard and non-observance of the
 sub judice
rule, to the detriment of the rights of the accused, the integrity of the courts,and, ultimately, the administration of justice. I seize this opportunity fully awarethat the present case – dubbed in the news media as the Vizconde Massacre – isone of the most sensational criminal cases in Philippine history in terms of themode of commission of the crime and the personalities involved. From the timethe charges were filed, the case has captured the public’s interest that an unusualamount of air time and print space have been devoted to it. Of late, with the public’s renewed interest after the case was submitted for decision, key personalities have again been unabashedly publicizing their opinions andcommenting even on the merits of the case before various forms of media. ASenior Justice of this Court, who was a witness in the case (while he was in privatelaw practice) and who consequently inhibited himself from participation, was even publicly maligned in the print and broadcast media through unsupportedspeculations about his intervention in the case. That was how bad and how lowcomments about the case had been.
 
In essence, the
 sub judice
rule restricts comments and disclosures pertainingto pending judicial proceedings. The restriction applies not only to participants inthe pending case,
i.e.
, to members of the bar and bench, and to litigants andwitnesses, but also to the public in general, which necessarily includes themedia. Although the Rules of Court does not contain a specific provisionimposing the
 sub judice
rule, it supports the observance of the restriction by punishing its violation as
indirect contempt
under Section 3(d) of Rule 71:
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 indirectcontempt:
 
x x x x
 
(d) Any improper conduct tending, directly or indirectly, to impede,obstruct, or degrade the administration of justice[.]
 Persons facing charges for indirect contempt for violation of the
 sub judice
rule often invoke as defense their right to free speech and claim that thecitation for contempt constitutes a form of impermissible subsequent punishment.We have long recognized in this jurisdiction that the freedom of speechunder Section 4, Article III of the Constitution is not absolute. A very literalconstruction of the provision, as espoused by US Supreme Court Justice HugoBlack,
[1]
may lead to the disregard of other equally compelling constitutional rightsand principles. In
Vicente v. Majaducon
,
[2]
this Court declared that “[the freedomof speech] needs on occasion to be adjusted to and accommodated with therequirements of equally important public interests such as the maintenance of theintegrity of courts and orderly functioning of the administration of  justice.” Courts, both within and outside this jurisdiction, have long grappled withthe dilemma of balancing the public’s right to free speech and the government’sduty to administer fair and impartial justice. While the
 sub judice
rule may beconsidered as a curtailment of the right to free speech, it is “necessary to ensure the
 
 proper administration of justice and the right of an accused to a fair trial.”
[3]
Boththese latter concerns are equally paramount and cannot lightly be disregarded.Before proceeding with this line of thought, however, let me clarify thatthe
 sub judice
rule is not imposed on all forms of speech.
 In so far as criminal  proceedings are concerned 
, two classes of 
 publicized 
speech
made during the pendency of the proceedings
can be considered as contemptuous:
 first 
, commentson the merits of the case, and
 second 
, intemperate and unreasonable comments onthe conduct of the courts with respect to the case. Publicized speech should beunderstood to be limited to those aired or printed in the various forms of mediasuch as television, radio, newspapers, magazines, and internet, and excludesdiscussions, in public or in private, between and among ordinary citizens. TheConstitution simply gives the citizens the right to speech, not the right tounrestricted
 publicized 
speech.Comments on the merits of the case may refer to the credibility of witnesses,the character of the accused, the soundness of the alibis offered, the relevance of the evidence presented, and generally any other comment bearing on the guilt or innocence of the accused.
[4]
The danger posed by this class of speech is the undueinfluence it may directly exert on the court in the resolution of the criminal case, or indirectly through the public opinion it may generate against the accused and theadverse impact this public opinion may have during the trial. The significance of the
 sub judice
rule is highlighted in criminal cases, as the possibility of undueinfluence prejudices the accused’s right to a fair trial. “The principal purpose of the
 sub judice
rule is to preserve the impartiality of the judicial system by protecting it from undue influence.”
[5]
Public opinion has no place in a criminaltrial. We ruled that – 
it is a traditional conviction of civilized society everywhere that courts and juries,in the decision of issues of fact and law should be immune from every extraneousinfluence;
that facts should be decided upon evidence produced in court; and

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