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[G.R. No. 134677.June 19, 2001]

REPUBLIC REAL ESTATE CORP. vs. JIMENEZ-DAVID

EN BANC

Gentlemen:

Quoted hereunder, for your information, is a resolution of this Court dated JUN 19 2001.

G.R. No. 134677 (Republic Real Estate Corporation, petitioner, vs. Regina Jimenez-David, respondent.)

G.R. No. 134914 (Republic Real Estate Corporation, petitioner, vs. Baltazar Endriga, respondents.)

Where does one draw the line between the seminal right of a free press to comment and criticize and the fundamental duty of the judiciary to ensure a fair administration of justice?This is the crucial query which confronts the Court today.

For resolution, as incidents of the consolidated cases of Republic v. Court of Appeals, G.R.No. 103882 and G.R. No. 105276, decided on November 25, 1998, 1 These are two consolidated petitions for review on certiorari involving 55 hectares of the reclaimed area in Pasay City.On June 22, 1957, Republic Act No. 1899 (RA 1899), a law authorizing the reclamation of foreshore lands by chartered cities and municipalities was approved.Pursuant to this law, the Pasay City Council passed Ordinance No. 121 which empowers the City Mayor to award and enter into reclamation contracts.On April 24, 1959, Pasay City and Real Estate Corporation (RREC) entered into an Agreement for the reclamation of the foreshore lands in Pasay City.The Republic of the Philippines (Republic) filed an Amended Complaint with the former Court of First Instance of Rizal, questioning the Agreement on the ground that the subject matter thereof is outside the commerce of man, that its terms and conditions are violative of RA 1899, and that the said Agreement was executed without any public bidding.On March 24, 1972, the trial court dismissed the complaint and enjoined Pasay City and RREC "to have all the plans and specifications in the reclamations approved by the Director of Public Works and to have all the contracts and sub-contract for said reclamation awarded by means of, and only after, public bidding."The Republic interposed appeal to the Court of Appeals, docketed as CA-G.R. CV No. 51349.Pending appeal, Presidential Decree No. 3-A was issued declaring that "the reclamation of areas under water, whether foreshore or inland, shall be limited to the National Government or any person authorized by it under a proper contract" and that "contracts for reclamation still legally existing or whose validity has been accepted by the National government shall be taken over by the National government on the basis of quantum meruit, for proper prosecution of the project involved by administration."On January 28, 1992, the Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the trial court with modification.It ordered the Republic to turn over to Pasay City the ownership and possession over all vacant spaces in the twenty-one hectare area already reclaimed by Pasay City and RREC at the time it took over the same.It also sustained RREC's irrevocable option to purchase sixty per cent (60%) of the Twenty-one (21) hectares of land already reclaimed area to 55 hectares.Hence, the two petitioners for review separately filed with this Court by the Republic (G.R. No. 103882) and by Pasay City and RREC (G.R. No. 105276).On November 25, 1998, this Court rendered a joint Decision, the dispositive portion of which reads:

"WHEREFORE:

In G.R. No. 103882, the Petition if GRANTED; the Decision, dated January 28, 1992, and Amended Decision, dated April 28, 1992, of the Court of Appeals, are both SET ASIDE; and Pasay City Ordinance No. 121, dated May 6, 1958, and Ordinance No. 158, dated April 21, 1959, as well as the Reclamation Agreements entered into Pasay City and Republic Real Estate Corporation (RREC) as authorized by said city ordinances, are declared NULL and VOID for being ultra vires, and contrary to Rep. Act 1899.

The writ of preliminary injunction issued on April 26, 1962 by the trial court a quo in Civil Case No. 2229-P is made permanent, and the notice of lis pendens issued by the Court of Appeals in CA G.R. CV No. 51349 ordered CANCELLED.The Register of Deeds of Pasay City is directed to take note of and annotate on the certificated of title involved, the cancellation of subject notice of lis pendens.

The petitioner, Republic of the Philippines, is hereby ordered to pay Pasay City and Republic Real Estate Corporation the sum of TEN MILLION NINE HUNDRED TWENTY-SIX THOUSAND SEVENTY-ONE AND TWENTY-NINE CENTAVOS (P10,926.29) PESOS, plus interest thereon of six (6%) percent per annum from May 1, 1962 until full payment, which amount shall be divided by Pasay City and RREC, share and share alike.

In G.R. No. 105276, the Petition is hereby DENIED for lack of merit.

No pronouncement as to costs.

SO ORDERED." are separate petitions for contempt filed by Republic Real Estate Corporation (RREC) against Regina Jimenez-David (G.R. No. 134677) and against Baltazar Endriga (G.R. No. 134914).In G.R. No. 134677, petitioner RREC asks the Court to cite in contempt respondent David, a columnist of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, for the disparaging statements she wrote in her column "At Large" published on July 11, 1997.

The pertinent portions of the article complained of are hereunder reproduced:

"WHEN I read the cast of characters who make up the major stockholdeers of Republic Real Estate Corporation, the company now claiming a major portion of the reclaimed land on which the CCP Complex now stands, I smelled a faint whiff of conspiracy and felt a frisson of dread for the CCP.

How else could you get all together in one room -- much less a corporation --- such folks as former PEA chief Ed Zialcita, a taipan like Al Yuchenco, a wannabe taipan like "Don" Emilio Yap, actress Jackielou blanco, and assorted wheeler-dealers, unless they knew they had a sure thing going?As the saying goes, 'Mabigat and kalaban.'Which doesn't make me all that optimistic about the CCP's chances before the Supreme Court.

This doesn't mean that the government's case is weak, or that the RREC's pleadings are so compelling as to win public opinion to their side.Following the company's pursuit of its suit through the country's court, the biggest impression I have is how extremely lucky it's been, especially since after Edsa revolt, with the departure of the Marcoses.But will the case be decided on the merits, or on other considerations?That's the question bothering everyone concerned about the continued survivial of the Cultural Center and the development of the Filipino art and artists." (Italics supplied).

On February 12, 1998, another article came out in respondent David's column entitled "More stink in CCP case," thus:

"RREC lay low in the years following and understandably so since the country fell under martial law in 1972.But the really interesting story in this dispute is not whether RREC has rightful claim to the land, but how certain forces and personalities in both the Aquino and Ramos administrators seems bent on sabotaging the interests of the CCP - and therefore of the government - to favor a group of private investors.

In 1989, RREC filed a claim with the government for 3.5 hectares of CCP complex property or P35 million.After the papers made the rounds of various levels of government, RREC suddenly raised its claim to P245 million, an absurd amount that, CCP officials say, may have been posted to ensure that government would not settle.RREC seemed eager to elevate the matter to the courts, apparently confident of winning the case.And indeed, it has had a remarkable record of winning, with the Office of the Solicitor General, which was supposed to argue CCP's case being the government's 'lawyer,' putting up a lukewarm defense at best.

x x x     x x x     x x x

the case is now due for review by the Supreme Court, but CCP officials are pessimistic given the summary presented by the Court of Appeals which made the claim that the evidence submitted by the government 'tends to support' the RREC's claim.Justice Secretary Silvestre Bello, who had been arguing the CCP's case as solicitor general, reportedly called up a CCP officials to urge him to settle with RREC, claiming the government's case was weak.

Something smells rotten in this case, and some cynics claim one would have to go all the way back to the fraternity ties of certain key characters to understand the interlocking interests at work here.

When I talked with him last week, CCP President Bal Endriga was seething, but half-way resigned to losing or else forced to settle with RREC xxx" (Italics supplied)

Petitioner RREC contends that these two articles tend to impede, obstruct or degrade the administration of justice; that they insult the intelligence, sense of fairness and objectivity of the Supreme Court; that they insinuate that the Court cannot render a correct and just judgment; and that they condition the mind of the people to expect a decision in its (petitioner's) favor.

In her comment on the petition, respondent David maintains that the articles were not intended to influence the Court.The statements constitute fair and legitimate comments or opinions.And even if considered as criticisms, still, she cannot be held guilty of indirect contempt as 'mere criticisms or comment on the correctness or wrongness, soundness or unsoundness of the decision of the court in a pending case made in good faith may be tolerated."Finally, she invokes the doctrine laid down by the Supreme Court in Cabansag v. Fernandez 2 102 Phil 154 [1957].that freedom of speech and press should not be impaired through the exercise of the power to punish for contempt, unless there is no doubt that the utterances in question are serious and imminent threat to the administration of justice.

In G.R. No. 134914, petitioner RREC asks this Court to cite in contempt respondent Baltazar Endriga, then President of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), for causint the publication of the article "A Plea for Justice" in the March 8, 1998 issue of the Inquirer, quoted below:

"We the undersigned artists, members of the artistic/cultural community, and concerned audience of CCP events express our distress and alarm over attempts to have the National Government/ Cultural Center of the Philippines give up 35 hectares of its prime land at the CCP Complex on Roxas Boulevard to Pasay City/Republic Real Estate Corporation (RREC), and thereby plead for public support.

This piece of land was purposely granted to the CCP to develop, and thereby, earn the revenue needed to support its programs, projects and operations as the CCP does not receive annual budgetary appropriation from the government.Instead, because of the unsubstantiated claim of Pasay City/ RREC over this land, the CCP has been forced to operate at a huge deficit, and has not been able to pursue its mandate thoroughly and vigorously.As a result, Philippine artistic and cultural growth and development have suffered.

Claiming that they were deprived by President Marcos of what they already reclaimed in 1961-1962, Pasay City and RREC are now doing all means to acquire 35 hectares of the CCP Complex.

Having followed the case throught the years, we are fully aware that the claims of Pasay City/RREC are baseless because either reclamation activity was stopped in 1962 shortly after RREC's founder Harry Stonehill was deported for massive corrupton by President Diosdado Macapagal (Marcos came to power only in 1966) before they could completely reclaim even one square meter of land to the required elevation prescribed by the contract.Reclamation of the CCP Complex was completed by the Department of Public Works and Highway before the present CCP building could be constructed thereon.RREC's claim that the land was taken away from them by President Marcos is totally false.

The falsity of Pasay City/RREC's claim is supported by layers of overwhelming evidence (contracts, progress reports, photographs, maps, computer analysis, testimonies of experts on reclamation, etc.)

Their original claim from the National Government was for just compensation for the unfinished reclamation work that they undertook and NOT FOR LAND, which after all they had not reclaimed.

In 1989, they filed a claim for P39 million or, alternatively 3.5 hectares of land at the corner of Buendia and Roxas Boulevard (Where Boom na Boom is now located) as compensation for the work they allegedly did.The national government agreed to the payment of P39million in cash.Pending the approval of the Commission on Audit and the President of the Philippines, Pasay City/RREC raised their demand for compensation to P175 million, then to 245 million which the national government found unreasonable.

The claim became more preposterous and ridiculous in 1992.Pasay City/RREC bloated their demand for compensation from 3.5 hectares (now worth P2.6 billion) to 35 hectares (now worth P26 billion).Who can call this anything but UNBRIDLED GREED?

The future of the CCP and its cultural programs, which have national and international impact, rest on keeping this valuable piece of property of which it is, after all, the rightful owner."

The petition avers that the article is contemptuous because it was published while the "case" was still pending before this Court; and that it was intended to deceive the public and unduly influence the Court into rendering a decision in favor of CCP.

Respondent Endriga did not file any comment on the petition against him.

After a careful perusal of the articles above quoted, we find respondent David alone guilty of indirect contempt of this Court.

At the outset, it is significant to note that while a contempt proceeding is only auxiliary to the main case in that it proceeds out of the original case, it is essentially a new and independent proceeding in that it involves new issued and must be initated by the issuance and service of new process. 3 People v. Godoy, 243 SCRA 64 [1995]

(With separate Resolution in an incident in the main case, re complaint for indirect contempt of Judge Eustaquio Z. Gacott, Jr. against Mauricio Reynoso, Jr. and Eva Ponce De Leon, publisher of the Palawan Times). Thus, although the present petitions are mere offshoots of the consolidated cases of Republic v. Court of Appeals decided by this Court three years ago, or on November 25, 1998, their resolution at this instance cannot be characterized as moot and academic.

We shall deal first with the two articles written by respondent David.

Section 3 (d), Rule 71 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended, provides that any improper conduct tending, directly or indirectly, to impede, obstruct, or degrade the administration of justice constitutes indirect contempt.This brings to the fore the cardinal issue - whether or not the articles written by respondent David tend to impede, obstruct or degrade the administration of justice as to constitute indirect of this Court.

There are two (2) types of publication of newspaper comments on proceedings in court which have been considered in contempt proceedings, namely (1) those in which the object of the publication is to affect the decision in a pending case or action, and (2) those which have for their purpose the bringing of courts or judges or other court officers into discredit. 4 A.M. No. 90-4-1545-0 (Column of Mr. Ramon Tulfo in the Philippine Daily Inquirer issues of 13 and 16 October, 1989), citing Slade vs. Perkins vs. Director of Prisons, 58 Phil. 271; In re: Kelly, 35 Phil. 944; In re Sotto, 82 Phil. 595; Commission of Immigration vs. Ccloribel, G.R. No. L- 24139, August 31, 1969, 20 SCRA 1241. David's articles cover both types of publication.

We have read and reread the subject articles and after an objective analysis, we are convinced that they are indeed contemptuous.Respondent David was able to convey in her two articles that this Court is susceptible to outside influence and should the Court decide the "case" in favor of petitioner and against CCP, it was by reason of other considerations and not based on its merits.We quote the derogatory statements:

How else could you get all together in one room - much less a corporation --- such folks as former PEA chief Ed Zialcita, a taipan like Al Yuchenco, a wannabe taipan like "Don" Emilio Yap actress Jackielou Blanco, and assorted wheeler-dealers, unless they knew had a sure thing going?As the saying goes, 'Mabigat and kalaban.'Which doesn't make me all the optimistic about the CCP's chances before the Supreme Court.

This doesn't mean that the government's case is weak, or that RREC's pleading are so compelling as to win public opinion to their side.Following the company's pursuit of its suit through the country's court, the biggest impression I have is how extremely lucky it's been, especially since after Edsa revolt, with the departure of the Marcoses.But will the case be decided on the merits, or on other considerations?

Respondent David's statements that the above-mentioned businessmen would not have banded together as a corporation "unless they knew they had a sure thing going"and "[M]abigat ang kalaban.Which does not make me all that optimistic about the CCP's chance before the Supreme Court," case doubts on the impartiality of this Court.They tend to create distrust and diminish the confidence of the people in our justice system.The harm was aggravated when respondent David left the hanging question- "[B]ut will the case be decided on the merits, or on other considerations?"Surely, it aroused skepticism in the minds of the public as regards the integrity of this Court.The fact that it was made in a form of question does not deprive it of its contemptuous character.Phrasing contumacious words in the form of question will not shield respondent David since her purpose was to convey the same idea that would have been communicated by direct imputation.Obviously, the phrase "other considerations" refers to outside influence.This is confirmed by her subsequent article "More stink in CCP case," thus:

"CCP officials became involved only when the case was elevated to the Court of Appeals and the CA not only granted RREC's claim, but even increased the area it deemed to be legally owned by RREC.

The case is now due for review by the Supreme Court, but CCP officials are pessimistic given the summary presented by the Court of Appeals which made the claim that the evidence submitted by the government 'tends to support' the RREC's claim.Justice Secretary Silvestre Bello, who had been arguing the CCP's case as solicitor general, reportedly called up a CCP officials to urge him to settle with RREC, claiming the government's case was weak.

Something smells rotten in this case, and some cynics claim one would have to go all the way back to the fraternity ties of certain key characters to understand the interlocking interests at work here."

To our mind, to characterize a particular course of action of this Court as one influenced by powerful businessmen is an attempt to keep a tight rein in the exercise of the Court's judicial function.It is tantamount to persuading this Court to shy away from the course of action being criticized.This cannot be permitted.Every citizen has a profound personal interest in the administration of justice by the courts free from outside influence or interference.

Respondent David cannot claim that her statements are mere fair or legitimate comments.Jurisprudence teaches us that there is a vast difference between criticism and fair comment on the one side and defamation on the other.True criticism differs from defamation in the following particulars: (1) Criticism deals only with such things as invite public attention or call for public comment.(2) Criticism never attacks the individual but only his work.In every case the attack is on a man's act, or on some thing, and not upon the man himself.A true critic never indulges in personalities. (3) True criticism never imputes or insinuates dishonorable motives, unless justice absolutely requires it, and then only on the clearest proofs.(4) The critic never takes advantage of the occasion to gratify private malice, or to attain any other object beyond the fair discussion of matters of public interest, and the judicial guidance of the public taste. 5 People v. Godoy, supra. Respondent David's statements fall short of true criticisms.Despite absence of clear proofs, she insinuated the existence of a conspiracy between petitioner RREC and the government.She even imputes dishonorable motives to different personalities such as Ed Zialcita, Al Yuchengco, Emilio Yap, etc.Not to be glossed over is her expression of pessimism on what would be the basis of the Court's decision, i.e. merit or "other considerations."

To cast doubt in the mind of the public on the integrity of the judicial institution by malicious imputations of disrepurt to the Supreme Court and its members does not fall under the category of fair criticism.The right to criticise is not absolute or unlimited.It must be bona fide and should not spill over the walls of decency and propriety.Any intemperated and unfair criticism is a gross violation of one's duty of respect to the courts. 6 Zaldivar vs. Sandiganbayan, 166 SCRA 316 (1988).

Finally, respondent David cannot exculpate herself by the mere invocation of the "constitutional guarantees of freedom of the press, of speech and or expression."The inherent power of the courts to punish any publication calculated to interfere with the administration of justice is not restricted by the constitutional guaranties of liberty and of the press, for liberty of the press is subordinate to the independence of the judiciary and the proper administration of justice.Liberty of the press must not be confounded with license or abuse of that liberty. 7 12 Am. Jur. Sec. 32, p. 413. The rule has always been that the publication of a criticism of a party or of the court to a pending cause, respecting the same, is considered as misbehavior tending to obstruct the administration of justice, and, subjects such persons to contempt proceedings. 8 In Re Kelly, supra. The freedom of speech may not be exercised in such a manner as to destroy respect for the courts, the very institution which is the guardian of such right.The dignity of the courts and the duty of the citizens to respect them are necessary adjuncts to the administration of justice.Denigrating the court by libelous attacks on judicial conduct during the pendency of a case before it may seriously interfere with the administration of justice and may impair, if not destroy, the judicial efficiency of the court or judge subjected to the attack.

Anent the petition to cite respondent Endriga in contempt of court, we must deny the same.The article "A Plea for Justice" does not case doubt on the integrity and honesty of this Court.Unlike the article of respondent David, it does not insinuate or suggest that the Court is susceptible to influence by powerful businessmen.There is nothing therein that maliciously attacks the proceedings of the Court or subjects the Court to unsavory opinions of the general public.It merely states the history of the case as well as the arguments of CCP.In Danguilan-Vitug v. Court of Appeals, 9 232 SCRA 460 [1994].another case involving respondent David, we held:

"With respect to the motion for contempt filed by Margarita Cojuangco against Rina Jimenez-David, we believe that the article written by the latter is not such as to impede, obstruct, or degrade the administration of justice.The allegedly contemptuous article merely restates the history of the case and reiterates the arguments which Rina Jimenez-David, together with some other journalists have raised before this Court in their Brief for Petitioner Vitug." (Underlining added)

The power to punish for contempt is inherent in all courts, as it is essential to their right of self preservation.Courts are universally acknowledged to be vested, by their very creation, with power to impose silence, respect and decorum in their presence and submission to their lawful mandates, and as corollary to this proposition, to perserve themselves and their officers from the approach of insults and pollution. 10 A.M. No. 90-4-1545-0 (Column of Mr. Ramon Tulfo, etc.), supra.Thus, the publication of criticisms tending to influence or obstruct the administration of justice subject those concerned to contempt proceedings.

In fine, we remind respondent David that while it is true that the constitutional guarantee of freedom of the press must be protected to its fullest extent, it is equally true that the maintenance of the independence of the judiciary must be fully safeguarded.The administration of justice and the freedom of the press are equally sacred and neither should be violated by the other.Indeed, the freedom of the press does not tolerate any publication intended to influence or pressure the members of the bench in order to sway their judgments in pending cases.

WHEREFORE, respondent Regina Jimenez-David is declared guilty of indirect contempt of this Court and is REPRIMANDED and WARNED that a repetition of similar misconduct will be dealt with more severely.The petition to cite respondent Baltazar Endriga in contempt of court is DENIED.

Justices Panganiban, Buena and Gonzaga-Reyes took no part.

Very truly yours,

LUZVIMINDA D. PUNO
Clerk of Court

(Sgd.) MA. LUISA D. VILLARAMA

Asst. Clerk of Court


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