A Muntinlupa trial court has junked an indirect contempt case against detained Senator Leila de Lima and her legal counsel, Filibon Tacardon over the latter’s statements to the media about the senator’s drug cases.
In a 33-page order dated May 2, Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Judge Gener Gito granted the motion to dismiss the case filed by De Lima and her lawyer, Filibon Tacardon. “What respondent Tacardon reported to the media are mere echoes of the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses. The Court does not find malice in them nor contumacious in those statements,” Gito said.
Government prosecutors, in December 2020, filed a petition for indirect contempt against De Lima and Tacardon, accusing them of violating the sub judice rule which bars parties to a case from discussing the merits in public to avoid influencing the outcome of the case.
They cited statements made by Tacardon to the media that officials of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and the Anti-Money Laundering Council have allegedly cleared De Lima from the illegal drug charges and that drug lord Vicente Sy admitted on the witness stand that he never met the senator despite previously claiming he gave her P500,000 as campaign funds in 2012.
The court said Tacardon’s statements did not meet the “clear and present danger” test in assessing whether statements were contemptuous.
“The Court deciphered the comments and utterances of respondent Atty. Tacardon to the various media outlets and find nothing therein that would create a ‘clear and present danger’ to the administration of justice. What respondent Atty. Tacardon reported are the answers of the prosecution witnesses during their cross-examination. Respondent Atty. Tacardon merely reported the admissions made by those witnesses,” Judge Gito said.
The court also noted there was no violation of the sub judice rule because Tacardon only restated the admissions of the prosecution witnesses and his statements were “not fabricated, edited, slanted or couched in such a manner that it may influence the judge.”
Tacardon also did not discuss the merits of the case nor did he analyze the impact of the admissions to the merits of the case, the court said.
The court also differentiated the case from other cases like those of ousted Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, who was reprimanded for publicly claiming that the grant of the quo warranto petition against her would result in a dictatorship and destroy the judiciary.
In contrast, the court absolved both Tacardon and De Lima.
De Lima was supposedly complicit in Tacardon’s statements to the media by authorizing the lawyer to make the claims.
But the court rejected this argument.
“If respondent Atty. Tacardon cannot be punished for those statements, the same can be said true likewise for Senator De Lima. Her indictment to the case was on the basis of complicity; she having authorized respondent Atty. Tacardon to make those statements complained of,” he said.
The RTC ruling came after two key witnesses against De Lima retracted their testimonies.
In April, self-confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa took back all his allegations against De Lima during a 2016 Senate hearing that he gave her a total of P8 million in drug payoffs when she was Justice Secretary, through her former driver, Ronnie Dayan.
A few days later, former Bureau of Corrections OIC Rafael Ragos also recanted his testimony in court that he personally delivered P10 million of alleged drug money to Dayan at De Lima’s house in Parañaque. Ragos accused former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II of pressuring him to testify against De Lima.