Supreme Court Dismisses Ampatuan’s Indirect Contempt Petition Against ABS-CBN

Datu Andal Ampatuan Jr. TMT FILE PHOTO
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The Supreme Court has recently made a significant decision regarding the 2009 Maguindanao Massacre case. Datu Andal Ampatuan Jr., one of the main perpetrators of the massacre, had filed a petition for indirect contempt against ABS-CBN and one of its reporters. However, the Supreme Court, in a decision penned by Senior Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, dismissed the petition.

To provide some background, on November 23, 2009, armed groups intercepted the convoy of Maguindanao gubernatorial candidate Esmael Mangudadatu as he was on his way to file his certificate of candidacy. This tragic event, known as the Maguindanao Massacre, resulted in the deaths of at least 57 individuals. Ampatuan and members of his family were among the 197 persons implicated for murder.

In June 2010, Lakmodin Saliao revealed in an interview with ABS-CBN’s reporter Jorge Cariño on “TV Patrol World” that he was present when the Ampatuan family planned the heinous crime. In response, Ampatuan filed a petition before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) to cite Saliao, ABS-CBN, and Cariño for indirect contempt, claiming that the interview was intended to influence the trial of the case.

ABS-CBN and Cariño countered Ampatuan’s petition by asserting that it failed to state a cause of action. However, both the RTC and the Court of Appeals (CA) upheld Ampatuan’s petition, prompting ABS-CBN and Cariño to file a petition for review on certiorari before the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court granted the petition by ABS-CBN and Cariño, leading to a reexamination of the court’s contempt powers and a clarification of what constitutes contemptuous speech and the reasons for its punishment. The court emphasized that contempt of court involves disobedience to the court’s authority, justice, and dignity. It includes willful disregard or disobedience of the court’s orders and conduct that brings the court’s authority and the administration of law into disrepute or hinders the due administration of justice.

In the case of ABS-CBN and Cariño, the Supreme Court found that Ampatuan’s petition lacked the necessary elements to prove the existence of actual malice or deliberate and reckless disregard of the truth or falsity of the statements made in the interview. Furthermore, there was no sufficient allegation of a clear and present danger posed by the interview and its broadcast to the administration of justice by the high court.

The Supreme Court also recognized that Saliao’s statements were matters of grave public concern that deserved to be aired. It highlighted the use of the term “testigo” (witness) in Saliao’s presentation to the public, blurring the distinction between media interviews and witness presentations in open court. Additionally, the court noted that Cariño’s conclusion of the interview further reinforced the truthfulness of Saliao’s statements, resembling testimony rather than a mere journalistic interview.

This decision by the Supreme Court has significant implications for the case of the Maguindanao Massacre and sets a precedent for the court’s contempt powers. By dismissing Ampatuan’s petition, the court affirms the importance of freedom of the press and the public’s right to know about matters of grave public concern.

In conclusion, the Supreme Court’s dismissal of the contempt petition filed by Datu Andal Ampatuan Jr. against ABS-CBN and its reporter Jorge Cariño underscores the court’s commitment to upholding the principles of justice and freedom of the press. The decision clarifies the boundaries of contemptuous speech and emphasizes the need for a clear mental element and a demonstration of the potential harm to the administration of justice. With this ruling, the court ensures that matters of public concern can be discussed openly and responsibly, contributing to the pursuit of truth and accountability in our society.

Source: The Manila Times

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