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Monday, June 17, 2024

Judges deplore attacks vs. courts

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The Philippine Judges Association on Monday denounced what it described as “virulent attacks” and criticisms hurled against the courts, judges and the judiciary following a Manila City regional trial court judgment finding Rappler executive editor Maria Ressa and former researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr. guilty of cyberlibel.

In a statement issued by the PJA through its president Judge Felix P. Reyes, the judges lamented that “for the past several days, the Philippine judiciary as a whole, has been the recipient of virulent attacks from the public.”

“Some of the assaults went to the edge of portraying that the ‘rule of law in the Philippines is broken and democracy is under threat,” the PJA president said.

“The PJA is saddened by how the judiciary is being dragged and vilified just because a decision was rendered in a manner not acceptable to the parties therein. The attacks on the judiciary as so vicious that they may lead to the public losing faith and respect in our judicial system,” Reyes added.

The judges explained that courts settle controversies on the basis of facts and law.

“The facts are established by evidence and the law is applied to the facts established. When a party loses the case, there are remedies available under the law,” the group said.

Last week, Manila City RTC Judge Reinelda Estacio Montesa convicted Ressa and Santos of cyberlibel and sentenced each of them to six months up to six years in prison.

Ressa and Santos were also ordered to pay complainant-businessman Wilfredo Keng the amount of P400,000 as moral and exemplary damages.

Since the handing down of the verdict last June 15, Judge Montesa, the trial courts, and the judiciary as a whole have been subject of various criticisms.

In its statement, Rappler slammed the RTC’s decision, saying it “sets a dangerous precedent not only for journalists but for everyone online.”

“The decision today (June 15) marks not the rule of law, but the rule of law twisted to suit the interests of those in power who connive to satisfy their mutually beneficial personal and political agenda,” Rappler said.

“Today marks diminished freedom and more threats to democratic rights supposedly guaranteed by the Philippine Constitution, especially in the context of a looming anti-terrorism law,” it added.

Under the rules of courts, Rappler, Ressa and Santos can still file before the RTC a motion for reconsideration. If their motion is denied, they can elevate the case to the Court of Appeals and eventually to the Supreme Court.

“Everyone is reminded that ‘personal attacks, criticisms laden with political threats, those that misrepresent and distort the nature and context of judicial decisions, those that are misleading or without factual or legal basis, and those that blame the judges for the ills of society, damage the integrity of the judiciary and threaten the doctrine of judicial independence,” the PJA executive said.

“These attacks do a grave disservice to the principle of an independent judiciary and mislead the public as to the role of judges in a constitutional democracy, shaking the very foundation of our democratic government,” Reyes said.

A check with the SC showed that Judge Montesa has been a trial court judge for 14 years.

She has been “a highly regarded lecturer” of the Philippine Judicial Academy, the Council of Europe, the United States Homeland Security, and the US Department of Justice Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development Assistance and Training on cybercrime and intellectual property.

The SC documents also showed that Judge Montesa “has been involved in capacity building and judicial training strategy development, and conducts international trainings on cybercrime and electronic evidence not only for judges but also for prosecutors, court attorneys and graft investigators and prosecutors at the Office of the Ombudsman.”

Montesa is also “a member of the Technical Working Group that drafted the Rules on Cybercrime warrants.”

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