DOJ asks to cite De Lima, lawyer in contempt for public statements on trial

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
DOJ asks to cite De Lima, lawyer in contempt for public statements on trial
Sen. Leila De Lima to attend court trial at the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 205 on August 16, 2019.
Office of Sen.Leila de Lima / Released

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Justice on Friday moved to cite Sen. Leila De Lima and her lawyer in contempt over statements on a trial that entered its fourth year in 2020.

The DOJ prosecution team led by Provincial Prosecutor Ramoncito Ocampo filed a petition for indirect contempt before the Muntinlupa courts, where De Lima faces three drug cases.

The prosecutors said that De Lima and her lawyer Filibon Tacardon's “misinformation” is deemed an “affront to the lawful proceedings” of the court in their “obvious desire to attack or insult” the court’s independence.

The filing follows statements from Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra and Prosecutor General Benedicto Malcontento accusing De Lima and Tacardon of violating the sub judice ("under a judge") rule, which prohibits parties from discussing trial proceedings.

But Malcontento, in November, said Tacardon cherry-picked the witness’ testimonies.

Guevarra, for his part, said then that he asked prosecutors to consider filing a petition to cite in contempt "persons who knowingly make comments or render opinions on the probative value of evidence being presented to court, with clear intent to influence the judge’s appreciation of evidence."

Senior Assistant City Prosecutor Darwin Cañete meanwhile told reporters prior to filing that Mark Lopez — a social media personality and his friend — brought the statements of De Lima’s legal team to his attention.

“We found those statements to be contemptuous, and which prompted us to file this case,” he said.

The prosecutors said that should the petition be given due course, they intend to present four reporters — among them a reporter for Philstar.com —  who wrote articles on Tacardon’s statements as witnesses. 

Tacardon’s statements

De Lima’s trial entered its fourth year in 2020, and the recent hearings saw government investigators and New Bilibid Prison inmates taking the witness stand for the prosecution, according to statements from the senator’s office.

In at least past three hearings, Tacardon said, an Anti-Money Laundering Council investigator and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency forensic examiner testified that they found no suspicious transactions between the senator and drug convicts.

The prosecution, in its petition, cited Tacardon’s statement on the October 23, 2020 bail hearing which was picked up by several media outlets. They accused De Lima’s lawyer of “[wanting] to convey to the public that the Panel’s witnesses...have already cleared [De Lima].”

They also cited Tacardon’s statement on the November 13 hearing on three other witnesses.

De Lima also stood by her lawyer’s statements and said what they have been sharing are factual and were done under her authority.

The prosecution denied claims made in Tacardon's press statements.

‘Statements made to influence court for bail petition resolution’

The prosecutors said Tacardon and De Lima violated the sub judice rule, adding that they should be made liable for indirect contempt.

They said that statements made are “timely and deliberate”, as De Lima’s petition for bail will be submitted for resolution as the prosecution terminates its presentation of evidence on November 13.

RELATED: Saying evidence against her is weak, De Lima seeks provisional liberty | De Lima moves for bail in second drug case

"Their press statements and pronouncements in different media platforms have the power to persuade, influence, intimidate, incite the perception and sentiments of their colleagues and other government officials, including the trial court judges," they said.

The prosecutors also said Tacardon and De Lima "took advantage of the mainstream media to publish pronouncements intended to disinform or misinform the general public of the merits of the cases to the detriment of finding out the truth in each and every case.”

"This is an obvious attempt of respondents to condition the minds of the public and affect the Court in finally deciding on the criminal liability of the accused in its decision to these cases," they added.

"To reiterate, respondents’ intentional and malicious misinformation to the media and the eventual publication of the same not only constitute improper conduct tending to impede, obstruct and/or degrade the administration of justice but also to threaten the People’s constitutional right to a fair trial," they also said.



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