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SUPPLEMENTAL OPINION

BRION, J.:

In addition to my vote and independently of the merits of the present case, I write 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 aware that the present case – dubbed

in the news media as the Vizconde Massacre – is one of the most sensational criminal cases in Philippine history in terms of

the mode of commission of the crime and the personalities involved. From the time the charges were filed, the case has

captured the public’s interest that an unusual amount 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 and commenting even on the merits of the case before various forms of media. A Senior Justice of

this Court, who was a witness in the case (while he was in private law practice) and who consequently inhibited himself

from participation, was even publicly maligned in the print and broadcast media through unsupported speculations about his

intervention in the case. That was how bad and how low comments about the case had been.

In essence, the sub judice rule restricts comments and disclosures pertaining to pending judicial proceedings. The

restriction applies not only to participants in the pending case, i.e., to members of the bar and bench, and to litigants and

witnesses, but also to the public in general, which necessarily includes the media. Although the Rules of Court does not

contain a specific provision imposing 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 indirect contempt:

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 the citation for contempt constitutes a form of impermissible subsequent punishment.

We have long recognized in this jurisdiction that the freedom of speech under Section 4, Article III of the
Constitution is not absolute. A very literal construction of the provision, as espoused by US Supreme Court Justice Hugo
Black,[1] may lead to the disregard of other equally compelling constitutional rights and principles. In Vicente v.

they can appear to urge. in public or in private. While the sub judice rule may be considered as a curtailment of the right to free speech. not the right to unrestricted publicized speech. between and among ordinary citizens.”[7] In foreign jurisdictions. and second.”[5] Public opinion has no place in a criminal trial. radio. the courts do not hesitate to exercise their power to punish for contempt where necessary to dispose of judicial business unhampered by publications that tend to impair the impartiality of verdicts. as the possibility of undue influence prejudices the accused’s right to a fair trial. both within and outside this jurisdiction. where fitting dignity and calm ambiance is demanded. a particular finding: the media can “wage a campaign” against one of the parties to proceedings. the relevance of the evidence presented. newspapers.[8] If the media publish prejudicial material. and excludes discussions. the character of the accused. and that the determination of such facts should be uninfluenced by bias. prejudice or sympathies. magazines. that facts should be decided upon evidence produced in court. comments on the merits of the case.[2] this Court declared that “[the freedom of speech] needs on occasion to be adjusted to and accommodated with the requirements of equally important public interests such as the maintenance of the integrity of courts and orderly functioning of the administration of justice. The Constitution simply gives the citizens the right to speech. let me clarify that the sub judice rule is not imposed on all forms of speech. In so far as criminal proceedings are concerned. Comments on the merits of the case may refer to the credibility of witnesses. or indirectly through the public opinion it may generate against the accused and the adverse impact this public opinion may have during the trial. Publicized speech should be understood to be limited to those aired or printed in the various forms of media such as television. intemperate and unreasonable comments on the conduct of the courts with respect to the case. and internet. The significance of the sub judice rule is highlighted in criminal cases. in the decision of issues of fact and law should be immune from every extraneous influence. however. two classes of publicized speech made during the pendency of the proceedings can be considered as contemptuous: first. “The principal purpose of the sub judice rule is to preserve the impartiality of the judicial system by protecting it from undue influence.” Courts. or may in fact be urging. it is “necessary to ensure the proper administration of justice and the right of an accused to a fair trial. and generally any other comment bearing on the guilt or innocence of the accused.Majaducon.[4] The danger posed by this class of speech is the undue influence it may directly exert on the court in the resolution of the criminal case.[6] The right to a fair trial is an adjunct of the accused’s right to due process which “guarantees [him] a presumption of innocence until the contrary is proved in a trial x x x where the conclusions reached are induced not by any outside force or influence but only by evidence and argument given in open court. We ruled that – it is a traditional conviction of civilized society everywhere that courts and juries. Before proceeding with this line of thought. the soundness of the alibis offered.”[3] Both these latter concerns are equally paramount and cannot lightly be disregarded. If the jury . have long grappled with the dilemma of balancing the public’s right to free speech and the government’s duty to administer fair and impartial justice.

for the exercise of said right cannot be used to impair the independence and efficiency of courts or public respect therefore and confidence therein. and that (b) the public’s confidence in the administration of justice is maintained. and unduly impairs upon the dignity of the court.”[12] As may be observed from the cited material. . and “not spill over the walls of decency and propriety. even those who are determined. “It might be farcical to build around them an impregnable armor against the influence of the most powerful media of public opinion. of course. nonetheless. they are not immune from the pervasive effects of media. is not meant to stifle all forms of criticism against the court. the Court has noted the enormous effect of media in stirring public sentience x x x Even while it may be difficult to quantify the influence. uninfluenced by publication or public clamor. if the jury’s decision does not accord with media opinion. it can likewise be said.[11] “The sub judice doctrine protects against the appearance of decisions having been influenced by published material. This. in their conscious minds. in a slightly different context. the courts will be powerless to protect their integrity and independence that are essential in the orderly and effective dispensation and administration of justice. justices and judges are no different from members of the jury. and lowers or degrades the administration of justice. The conscious or unconscious effect that such a coverage may have on the testimony of witnesses and the decision of judges cannot be evaluated but. which is fundamental to our democratic society and ensures that (a) there is a safeguard against judicial arbitrariness or idiosyncrasy.”[19] Without the sub judice rule and the contempt power. it may appear as if they were deliberately reacting against it.”[13] As I said in another case. to avoid bias may be affected.”[21] And to enhance the open court principle and allow the people to make fair and reasoned criticism of the courts. it is not at all unlikely for a vote of guilt or innocence to yield to it.[14] Also. This is the principle of open justice. then the speech constitutes contempt. that. thesub judice rule excludes from its coverage fair and accurate reports (without comment) of what have actually taken place in open court.[10] he has a constitutional right to have his cause tried fairly by an impartial tribunal. even if it was. however. “the actual impact of prejudicial publicity is not relevant to liability for sub judice contempt. Either way. and indisposes their minds to obey them[. [18] “Unwarranted attacks on the dignity of the courts cannot be disguised as free speech. be fair. As the third branch of the government.]”[17] If the speech tends to undermine the confidence of the people in the honesty and integrity of the court and its members. their proceedings and decisions. A comment that impairs of the dignity of the court “excites in the mind of the people a general dissatisfaction with all judicial determinations. the sub judice rule is used by foreign courts to insulate members of the jury from being influenced by prejudicial publicity. it is not necessary that the publicity actually influenced the court’s disposition of the case. the courts remain accountable to the people.”[15] In several cases. But the fact that the jury system is not adopted in this jurisdiction is not an argument against our observance of the sub judice rule. or pressure that media can bring to bear on [witnesses and judges] directly and through the shaping of public opinion.[16] Comment on the conduct of the courts with respect to the case becomes subject to a contempt proceeding when it is intemperate. The people’s freedom to criticize the government includes the right to criticize the courts. it does so in so many ways and in varying degrees. decides in accordance with an outcome promoted by the media. it is a fact. By the same token. it may appear that the jury’s decision was not impartial and based on the evidence presented in court. it will appear as if the jurors were swayed by the media.[9] The accused must be assured of a fair trial notwithstanding the prejudicial publicity. indeed. made in good faith.[20] The criticism must. is contumacious.

Their common action. If we do not apply at all the sub judice rule to the present case. Precisely. the parties. is contempt of court and is punishable. doubts will linger about the real merits of the case due to the inordinate media campaign that transpired.[22] Any publication pending a suit. the reason is obvious to those who have followed the case in the media – both parties are in pari delicto as both have apparently gone to the media to campaign for the merits of their respective causes. the limits of what can be publicly ventilated on the merits of a case while sub judice. the counsel. must be shielded from embarrassment or influence in its all-important duty of deciding the case. the court. and on the comments on the conduct of the courts with respect to the case. the officers of the court. with reference to the suit. or tending to influence the decision of the controversy. Lest we be misunderstood. cannot have their prejudicial effects on both. our application of the sub judice rule to this case cannot serve as a precedent for similar future violations. The resulting (but temporary) curtailment of speech because of the sub judice rule is necessary and justified by the more compelling interests to uphold the rights of the accused and promote the fair and orderly administration of justice. whatever the results may be. this Supplemental Opinion is a signal to all that this Court has not forgotten. In sum. and is in fact keenly aware of. etc. however. .. in a pending litigation. the egregious action of one has been cancelled by a similar action by the other. This Court will not standby idly and helplessly as its integrity as an institution and its processes are shamelessly brought to disrepute. It is in this sense that this Supplemental Opinion is independent of the merits of the case. reflecting upon the court. Thus.