The Supreme Court (SC) has been asked to take action on the social media attacks against human rights lawyers, as well as those hurled against Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) Judge Marlo A. Magdoza-Malagar.
Meanwhile, the Ateneo De Manila University’s Law School condemned the social media attacks against a Manila trial court judge, saying the allegations were “not just irresponsible but are also contemptuous.”
For its part, the Philippine National Police (PNP) gave assurance it will continue to extend protection to all members of the judiciary and its personnel nationwide.
In a related development, the SC vowed to be vigilant in protecting judges and justices against administrative cases filed against them “that are meant solely to harass, embarrass, or vex them.”
Judge Malagar, who ruled that the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) are not terrorist organizations, has been subjected to social media attacks, one of them from former National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) spokesperson Lorraine Marie Badoy.
Badoy’s social media posts have been condemned by various lawyers’ organizations with most of them pleading the SC to cite her in contempt of court.
In a letter to Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo and all the SC justices, 485 human rights lawyers, led by National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) president Edre Olalia and lawyer Evalyn Ursua. said: “We also hope that the Court will address Ms. Badoy’s attacks against human rights lawyers which were part of her attacks against Judge Malagar.”
The letter however, did not specify Badoy’s posts against them.
The lawyers expressed gratitude to the SC for tackling the issue on Badoy’s attacks against Malagar in social media.
“We are heartened by this and the Court’s public statement sternly warning those who incite violence which endangers the lives of judges and their families and informing the public that such constitutes contempt of court,” they said in their letter.
“We look forward to the specific action that the Honorable Court will finally take on the matter to exact accountability from Ms. Badoy and others,” they said.
Meanwhile, the lawyers said that they “intend to discuss with our colleagues specific actions that members of the Bar could take to contribute to the many efforts to put an end to the culture of impunity and disrespect for the rule of law in our country.”
“We stand with our Judiciary in its efforts to ensure that ours will always be a society of rules, of democratic and critical discourse, and one that protects human rights,” they stressed.
In a statement, the Ateneo Law School stressed that the attacks against judges are considered attacks against a free judiciary.
“We, the members of the Ateneo Law School community, strongly condemn the red-tagging and inciting of violence against members of the legal profession and the Judiciary, the most recent being the grave online attacks against Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 19 Judge Marlo Magdoza-Malagar,” it said.
“This statement goes beyond standing with and for one of our own. (Judge Malagar is a member of Ateneo Law School Batch 1997). This, too, is a reminder that an attack against a dutiful member of the court is an attack against a free judiciary mandated to safeguard our inherent rights through the rule of law,” it added.
The SC earlier warned that fine or imprisonment or both will be imposed on “those who continue to incite violence through social media and other means which endanger the lives of judges and their families.”
“The Court sternly warns those who continue to incite violence through social media and other means which endanger the lives of judges and their families, and that this shall likewise be considered a contempt of this court and will be dealt with accordingly,” the SC said, in its September 27, 2022 resolution.
The Sept. 27 resolution containing the stern warning was issued after the SC tackled the social media posts of Badoy.
Judge Malagar’s declaration that the CPP and NPA are not terrorist organizations drew criticisms from the public, one of them the social media posts of Badoy.
In her Facbook post last Friday, Sept. 23, Badoy also accused Judge Malagar of “lawyering” for the CPP-NPA.
“So if I kill this judge and I do so out of my political belief that all allies of the CPP NPA NDF (National Democratic Front) must be killed because there is no difference in my mind between a member of the CPP NPA NDF and their friends, then please be lenient with me,” Badoy also stated in her Facebook post that was deleted last Saturday,
In his speech before the members of the Metropolitan and City Trial Judges Association of the Philippines (METCJAP) last Sept. 29 in Boracay, Aklan, Chief Justice Gesmundo assured the SC’s protection of judges, justices, and officials and personnel of the judiciary.
“While it is our constitutional duty to supervise our lower courts, it is our moral duty to protect each of you and ensure that you are able to perform your duties free from any threat, harassment, undue influence, coercion, and, certainly, any form of violence,” the Chief Justice said.
The SC warning came after it dismissed the administrative complaint against Regional Trial Court Judge Winston S. Racoma and ordered the complainants, who were then ranking provincial officials of Camarines Norte, to explain why they should not be held for indirect contempt of court for prematurely filing a complaint that was “intended to harass or vex” the judge.
Ordered to explain in 10 days from receipt of notice were former Camarines Norte Gov. Edgardo A. Tallado, Vice Gov. Jonah Pedro P. Pimentel, and Provincial Board Members Rodolfo V. Gache, Stanley B. Alegre, Renee F. Herrera, Gerardo G. Quinones, Reynor V. Quibral, Erwin L. Lausin, Artemio B. Serdon Jr., Jay G. Pimentel, and Ramon R. Baning.
Indirect contempt of court is punishable with a fine or prison term of six months, or both fine and imprisonment.
The SC’s unanimous full court decision, which was made public last Sept. 28, was written by Associate Justice Maria Filomena D. Singh.
Case records showed that in 2019 when Tallado and the provincial board members were still incumbent officials, they filed an administrative case against Judge Racoma for gross ignorance of the law and procedure and gross misconduct.
In 2015, Barangay officials Leslie B. Esturas and Moises Delos Santos Jr. were charged administratively before the Sangguniang Bayan of Capalonga town in Camarines Norte.
Then Capalonga Mayor Senandro M. Jalgalado ordered the preventive suspension for 60 days of the two barangay officials who appealed the suspension before the Sangguniang Panlalawigan.
In 2016, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan granted the appeal and ordered the reinstatement of the two barangay officials. Mayor Jalgalado did not implement the decision of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan as he pointed out that Tallado was under preventive suspension at that time and had no authority to approve and enforce the reinstatement decision.
On Dec. 18, 2018, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan recommended the 60-day preventive suspension of Jalgalado for his defiance to implement the reinstatement decision. The recommendation was approved by Tallado who issued the notice of preventive suspension against Jalgalado.
Mayor Jalgalado challenged the preventive suspension in a petition filed before the RTC in Daet, Camarines Norte. RTC Judge Arniel A. Dating stopped the implementation of the suspension order.
Jalgalado then asked the suspension of proceedings filed against him by the two barangay officials and pointed out that the Local Government Code prohibits the investigation of an elective official in an administrative complaint within 90 days prior to a local election.
Aside from denying Jalgalado’s motion, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan resolved the complaint and ordered the mayor’s suspension for six months. On April 4, 2019, Tallado issued the six-month suspension order.
Jalgalado challenged his six-month suspension before the Daet RTC. The case originally landed in the sala of Judge Dating but with the judge’s inhibition, the case was assigned to Judge Racoma after raffle.
Tallado and the Sangguniang Panlalawigan members sought Racoma’s inhibition and pleaded for the dismissal of Jalgalado’s petition.
During the April 23, 2019 hearing, Tallado and his group manifested that it is the Court of Appeals (CA), not the RTC, which has jurisdiction over the case.
On April 25, 2019, Judge Racoma stopped the enforcement of the six-month suspension of Jalgalado who was ordered to post an injunction bond of P100,000.
Judge Racoma ruled that Jalgalado’s suspension, which fall within the 90-day period before the 2019 local elections, will strip the mayor of his rights and obligations to carry out the duty of his office and serve his constituents.
On April 26, 2019, Racoma inhibited himself from the case. A check with Court Administrator Raul B. Villanueva of the SC’s Office of the Court Administrator showed that Judge Racoma had retired compulsorily on Feb. 16, 2022.
Instead of filing a motion to reconsider Racomas’ April 25, 2019 order, Tallado and his group filed the administrative case against the judge. They claimed that the judge committed gross ignorance of the law and procedure when he took cognizance of Jalgalado’s petition in which the CA, not the RTC, has jurisdiction.
In its report dated April 20, 2022, the Judicial Integrity Board (JIB) found Racoma guilty of gross ignorance of the law and procedure and recommended a fine of P200,000.
The JIB said that the Sangguniang Panlalawigan is considered by the Local Government Code as a quasi-judicial body, and that Judge Racoma should not have taken cognizance of Jalgalado’s petition in which the CA has jurisdiction.
“The Court (SC) rejects the recommendation of the JIB, and dismisses the charge of gross ignorance of the law against Judge Racoma,” the SC ruled.
“Errors committed by a judge in the exercise of his or her adjudicative functions cannot be corrected through administrative proceedings, but should instead be assailed through available judicial remedies,” the SC said, citing its previous decisions.
“It is well-settled that disciplinary proceedings and criminal actions against judges are not complementary or suppletory to, nor a substitute for, these judicial remedies, whether ordinary or extraordinary. For, obviously, if subsequent developments prove the judge’s challenged act to be correct, there would be no occasion to proceed against him at all,” the SC said.
“Besides, to hold a judge administratively accountable for every erroneous ruling or decision he renders, assuming he has erred, would be nothing short of harassment and would make his position doubly unbearable,” it added.
“To hold otherwise would be to render judicial office untenable, for no one called upon to try the facts or interpret the law in the process of administering justice can be infallible in his judgment. It is only where the error is tainted with bad faith, fraud, malice, or dishonesty that administrative sanctions may be imposed against the erring judge,” it further said.
Considering that the administrative complaint filed by the complainants pertains to the exercise of Judge Racoma’s adjudicative functions, the SC said the complainants should have first exhausted judicial remedies instead of immediately resorting to administrative proceedings.
“In any case, whether Judge Racoma gravely abused his discretion or otherwise erred in taking cognizance of the Petition for Certiorari filed by Mayor Jalgalado, docketed as Civil Case No. 8403, does not necessarily translate to an administrative violation unless there is a clear showing of bad faith on his part.
“Our judges do not perform their judicial duties in a vacuum. They, like us, assume their role in society and, as such, necessarily interact and relate with other members of their communities,” the SC said.
“The Court takes judicial notice that Judge Racoma is up against powerful individuals whom we can assume wield great power and influence in his place of work. This is not the first case filed against Judge Racoma by the Complainants as there are other administrative cases that have been filed against him by the same or related individuals,” it added.