Tuesday, February 21, 2012

In Re: De Vera, [A.M. No. 01-12-03-SC, July 29, 2002]

Facts: Atty. De Vera made some remarks to the Philippine Daily Inquirer regarding a pending case involving the constitutionality of the Plunder Law. In one statement, “he asked the SC to dispel rumors that it would vote in favor of a petition filed by Estrada’s lawyers to declare the plunder law unconstitutional” and that his group was greatly disturbed by the rumors. In another statement, he said that a decision in favor of the law’s unconstitutionality would trigger mass actions and the people would not just swallow any SC decision that is basically wrong. Atty. De Vera admitted to making the statements but that these were factually accurate and that these are within his right to freedom of speech. Also, his second statement is allegedly historically correct (Marcos and Erap times) but that both statements are not to degrade the court, to destroy public confidence and to bring it into disrepute. The SC found that de Vera’s acts constitute indirect contempt and fined him P20, 000. 

Issue: Whether or not Atty. De Vera’s acts constitute a violation of the provisions of the Code of Professional Responsibility. 

Held: Yes. Freedom of speech is not absolute, and must be balanced with the requirements of equally important public interests, such as the maintenance of the integrity of the courts and orderly functioning of the administration of justice. De Vera is in abuse of his right. Unwarranted attacks on the dignity of the courts cannot be disguised as free speech, for the exercise of said right cannot be used to impair the independence and efficiency of courts or public respect and confidence thereof. His statements are not fair criticisms of any decision of the Court, but are threats made against it to force the Court to decide the issue in a particular manner, or risk earning the ire of the public. It tends to promote distrust an undermines public confidence in the judiciary, by creating the impression that the Court cannot be trusted to resolve cases impartially, uninfluenced by public clamor and other extraneous influences.

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