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In Re Ramon Tulfo, AM 90-4-1545-0, April 17, 1990

N BANC
[AM No. 90-4-1545-0 : April 17, 1990]
COLUMN OF MR. RAMON TULFO IN THE PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER ISSUES OF 13 AND 16
OCTOBER 1989
Gentlemen:
Quoted hereunder, for your information, is a resolution of the Court En Banc dated April 17, 1990
AM No. 90-4-1545-0 (Column of Mr. Ramon Tulfo in the Philippine Daily Inquirer issues of 13 and 16
October 1989)
On 13 October 1989, respondent Ramon Tulfo (Tulfo, for short) wrote an article entitled "Idiotic
Decision" in his column "On Target" in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, stating therein that the Supreme
Court rendered an "idiotic decision" in legalizing the checkpoints. This was followed by another article
in the same column on 16 October 1989, entitled "Sangkatutak na Bobo," Tulfo referring therein to the
members of the Supreme Court as "stupid" for having rendered such decision on checkpoints, and
calling them "sangkatutak na bobo justices of the Philippine Supreme Court."
In a resolution dated 19 October 1989, the Court required Tulfo to show cause in writing why he
should not be punished for contempt of court, for making such derogatory statements in his column
against the Supreme Court and its members.
Without denying the writing and publication of the questioned articles, Tulfo raised the following
defenses in his "Explanation:" (1) that he was just reacting emotionally to said decision of the Court
because he had been a victim of harassment, abuse and oppression by checkpoints; (2) that the use
of the adjective "idiotic" was meant and intended in the sense of the decision being "illogical,
irrational, unwarranted and unwise;" (3) that the words "stupid justices" and "sangkatutak na bobo" in
the 16 October 1989 article are not his own words but that he was merely quoting the words of some
lawyers in reaction to the decision, without any intention on his part to degrade, ridicule, insult and
bring disrepute to the Court; (4) that the case having been decided and terminated, the comments
made in said articles as to the soundness of the Court's decision do not constitute contempt of court;
(5) that said articles did not pose any clear and present danger or serious and imminent threat to the
administration of justice.
Citing press freedom, a Motion for Intervention was filed by the National Press Club, Union of
Journalists of the Philippines, Press Photographers of the Philippines, and the People's Movement for
Press Freedom, in connection with the resolution of the Court requiring Tulfo to explain why he should
not be held in contempt of court. Movants alleged that such resolution is an unwarranted assault and
undue restriction on freedom of speech and press. Said motion was considered by the Court in its
deliberations leading to this resolution.
We find Tulfo's "explanation" to be fatally devoid of merit.
At the outset, it should be stated that, contrary to Tulfo's pretense, the Court's decision on the issue of
checkpoints had not become final at the time he wrote the questioned articles. In fact, the Court has
yet to act on the motion for reconsideration of said decision, filed by the petitioner therein, to which
the Solicitor General, appearing for the respondents, has filed an opposition. Consequently, at the time
Tulfo wrote and published the questioned articles, the case had not been closed and terminated but
was sub judice.
The power to punish for contempt is inherent in all courts, as it is essential to their right of selfpreservation.[1] Courts are universally acknowledged to be vested, by their very creation, with power

to impose silence, respect, and decorum in their presence and submission to their lawful mandates,
and as corollary to this proposition, to preserve themselves and their officers from the approach of
insults and pollution.[2] Any improper conduct which tends, directly or indirectly, to impede, obstruct,
or degrade the administration of justice is punishable for indirect contempt. [3]
Contempt of court is a defiance of the authority, justice or dignity of the court; it is such conduct as
tends to bring the authority and administration of the law into disrespect or to interfere with or
prejudice parties or their witnesses during litigation. Contempt of court is defined as disobedience to
the court by setting up an opposition to its authority, justice and dignity. It signifies not only a willful
disregard or disobedience of the court's orders but is such conduct as tends to bring the authority of
the court and the administration of law into disrepute or in some manner to impede the due
administration of justice.[4] It may be committed both by lawyers and non-lawyers, in and out of court.
[5]

There are two (2) types of publication of newspaper comments on proceedings in court, which have
been considered in contempt proceedings, namely: (1) those in which the object of the publication is
to affect the decision in a pending case or action, and (2) those which have for their purpose the
bringing of courts or judges or other court officers into discredit. [6] Tulfo's articles comprise both types
of publication. As already pointed out, at the time his articles were written and published, the case on
the checkpoints was sub judice as the Court's decision therein had not became final. As to why and
how said articles have for their purpose to bring the Supreme Court and its members into discredit,
will be shown presently.
It has been settled that mere criticism or comment on the correctness; or wrongness, soundness or
unsoundness of a decision of the court in a pending case, made in good faith, may be tolerated, for if
it is well founded, it may enlighten the court and contribute to the correction of an error, if any has
been committed.[7]
The Court, needless to state, as a human institution, does not assume a posture of infallibility or
perfection in its decisions or rulings. In fact, its decisions are open to criticisms for as long as they are
couched in respectful language and, above all directed at the merits of the case. Where, however,
comment in the guise of a critique is intended merely to degrade and ridicule the Court, as well as
to insult its members, thereby causing or conditioning the public to lose its respect for the Court and
its members, the comment becomes clearly an obstruction or affront to the administration of justice;
hence, it is contemptous. To cast doubt before the public eye as to the integrity of the judicial
institution by malicious imputations of disrepute and incompetence to the Supreme Court and its
members, does not fall under the category of fair criticism. The right to criticize is not absolute or
unlimited. Above all, it must be bona fide and should not spill over the walls of decency and propriety.
Any intemperate and unfair criticism is a gross violation of one's duty of respect to the courts. [8]
Coming to Tulfo's specific language employed in the questioned articles, a man in his right senses
would find no social; value, or intellectual significance or even literary delight in its use. In fact,
nothing constructive can be attained by an attempt to downgrade, damage and even destroy the
authority of the Court which is a focal institution of democracy in this country. Most prudent observers
believe (whether or not Tulfo subscribes to it) that any act which tends to destroy the authority of the
Court is in itself an attempt to destroy that democracy xxxxxxxxx
"What is at stake in cases of this kind is the integrity of the judicial institutions of the country in
general and of the Supreme Court in particular. Damage to such institutions might not be quantifiable
at a given moment in time but damage there will surely be if acts like those of respondent Gonzales
are not effectively stopped and countered. The level of trust and confidence of the general public in
the courts, including the court of last resort, is not easily measured; but few will dispute that a high
level of such trust and confidence is critical for the stability of democratic goverment. [9]

xxxxxxxxx
It is thus imperative that the Court should preserve its authority, dignity and the respect due it from
litigants, lawyers and the public, for the reason that "The Supreme Court of the Philippines is, under the Constitution, the last bulwark to which the Filipino
people may repair to obtain relief for their grievances or protection of their rights when these are
trampled upon, and if the people lose their confidence in the honesty and integrity of the members of
this court and believe that they can not expect justice there-from, they might be driven to take the
law into their own hands, and disorder and perhaps chaos would result." [10]
If this Court were to allow insults hurled against it and its members to go unpunished, then it
becomes remiss in its own duty to maintain its authority, integrity, and dignity.
Tulfo's claim that he was "emotional" when he wrote the questioned articles can in no way serve as an
excuse for insulting and demeaning the highest court of the land and its members. In fact, it has been
held that not even good faith is a ground for exoneration in a contempt charge. [11]
Being of age and presumably gifted with reason, Tulfo must have been fully aware of the seriousness
of his undertaking to insult the Court and its members. For such conduct, he must assume
responsibility for its consequences, without hiding behind the cloak of "emotionalism" or the
convenient anonymity of his alleged "reaction" sources. A writer worth his guts should know that a
pre-condition to credibility is honesty, not cowardice.
The Court does not deny Tulfo's right to be emotional about certain issues; however, as a responsible
member of the press, he should first rationalize and tackle issues with objectivity. The fact that the
issue of checkpoints had become a "highly emotional issue" for him is not a logical reason to insult the
Court and its members, for, if Tulfo strongly felt that the Court had erred in its decision, he was free to
criticize the decision on its merits. But to maliciously demean the Court and the intelligence of its
members achieved really nothing in pointing out the errors, if any, in the decision objected to.
Reading through the two (2) articles written by Tulfo, respectively entitled "Idiotic decision" and
"Sangkatutak na Bobo", it is plain that Tulfo intended to ridicule and degrade the Court and its
members before the public, not merely to criticize its decision on the merits, as he would now like to
make this Court believe. The general tone and language used in Tulfo's articles belie his belated
allegation that the word "idiotic" was used in the sense of the decision being merely "illogical,
irrational, unwarranted and unwise."
Reprehensible language may take various forms and in all cases its general tone should be considered.
Whether or not the meaning and intent of a certain article constitute contempt is to be determined by
the Court as a matter of law upon a fair consideration of the language used. Disclaimer by the author
of intentional disrespect to the Court, just like disclaimer by a publisher of any knowledge of the article
prior to its publication is not a defense.[12]
As Tulfo well knows, in ordinary parlance, "idiotic" is defined as "devoid of intellect, utterly stupid,
sense-less or foolish";[13] while legally, it is defined as "a person who has been without understanding
from his nativity, and whom the law, therefore, presumes never likely to attain an" [14] or "the lowest
level of feeblemindedness in which an individual is possessed of a maximum mental age of two years
or an IQ of 25"[15] while the word "stupid" is defined as "wanting in or slow of mental perception;
lacking ordinary activity of mind; slow-witted; dull."[16]
Had Tulfo honestly meant to express only to the public his personal opinion that the questioned
decision is "illogical, irrational, unwarranted and unwise," then, he could have said so without resort to
the use of words which are derogatory, and thereafter claim that he did not mean the way they were
written or understood by his readers. Such turnabout only shows how grossly irresponsible, or in bad
faith or mentally dishonest Tulfo was in writing said articles and causing the same to be published.

In fine, the intent clearly manifested by Tulfo in the questioned articles is to give an image of a
Supreme Court composed of members who are ignorant or devoid of intelligence, thus, incapable of
carrying out the proper dispensation of justice which they are tasked to perform under the
Constitution. And, while it has been said that those who have great proficiency at hurling insults at
others usually fit such insults so well, the Court will not pass this judgment on Tulfo but will simply
hold him as having insulted, without any rational justification, the institution of the Supreme Court and
its members.
Likewise, there is no merit in Tulfo's defense that he was merely quoting the reactions of some lawyers
to the decision when he referred to the Supreme Court justices as "sangkatutak na bobo". While it is
true that in his opening statement in the 16 October 1989 article, Tulfo stated that many lawyers he
had talked to describe the present complement of justices as "sangkatutak na bobo", yet, his parting
shot and personal statement at the end of the article, which says "(T)o the sangkatutak na bobo
justices of the Philip-pine Supreme Court, please take note!", runs counter to his very claim that such
assessment of the Court and its members was not his personal opinion. Thus, he is not only an
inventive expert; he is totally in bad faith. At the very least, he cannot be exculpated from full and
sole responsibility for the publication of such derogatory statement.
Moreover, in a later (6 November 1989) article, Tulfo declared that he was not sorry at all that he
wrote the way he did in his two (2) questioned articles, and he claimed that he was "merely
expressing his honest opinion." He stood firm with his original indictment of the Court and its
members as "sangkatutak na bobo" and "stupid justices", and never truly apologized for making such
statements. It is thus clear that all that he claimed to be sorry for was that he cannot take back what
he had said in his earlier articles, and that he was sorry for those who have been allegedly affected by
the ruling on checkpoints, like the motorists, consumers and end-users.
Freedom of speech and expression, like all constitutional freedoms, is not absolute, and freedom of
expression has, on appropriate occasions, to be adjusted and accommodated to the requirements of
equally important public interests. One of these fundamental public interests is the maintenance of the
authority, integrity and orderly functioning of the courts. For, the protection and maintenance of
freedom of expression itself can be secured only within the framework of a functioning and orderly
system of justice.[17] Freedom of expression is not license to insult the Court and its members and to
impair the authority, integrity and dignity of the Court.
The inherent power of courts to punish any publication calculated to interfere with the administration
of justice is not restricted by the constitutional guarantee of freedom of the press, for freedom of the
press is subordinate to the authority, integrity and independence of the judiciary and the proper
administration of justice. Freedom of the press must not be confounded with license or abuse of that
freedom. Writers and publishers of newspapers have the right, but no greater than the right of others,
to bring to public notice the conduct and acts of courts, provided the publications are true and fair in
spirit; in short, there is no law to restrain or punish the freest expression of disapprobation of what is
done in or by the courts,[18] provided that free expression is not used as a vehicle to satisfy one's
irrational obsession to demean, ridicule, degrade and even destroy the courts and their members.
Consequently, Tulfo's as well as intervenors' claim to press freedom, is not well taken in this instance.
ACCORDINGLY, the Court finds and adjudges respondent Ramon Tulfo in CONTEMPT OF COURT, and he
is hereby GRAVELY CENSURED, with the STRONGEST WARNING that a repetition of the same or
similar misconduct will be dealt with MORE SEVERELY.