Press Release
March 3, 2021

De Lima asks court to dismiss contempt case vs her, lawyer

Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima and her legal counsel Atty. Boni Tacardon have asked the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court, Branch 205 to dismiss the contempt case filed against them by the Prosecution over their statements about testimonies of witnesses in one of her trumped-up drug cases.

In their Comments filed separately last March 1, De Lima and Tacardon said the court should "outrightly dismiss their [Prosecution] petition" because their statements did not present any clear and present danger, or imminent threat to the administration of justice.

"In the words of the Prosecution themselves, what they only fear is that the said 'statements' will 'pursuade, influence, intimidate, incite perception and sentiments of their colleagues and other government officials, including the trial court judges,'" Tacardon said.

"Truth to tell, the Petition do not in any way point to the actual effect of 'statements' to the Honorable Court. There has been no proof presented that Honorable Judge [Liezel] Aquiatan has been influenced, particularly in favor of respondent in her criminal case owing to the alleged 'statements,'" Tacardon added.

De Lima said the Omnibus Orders issued by Aquiatan on Feb. 17 are best proof that there was never any clear and present danger, or imminent threat to the administration of justice occasioned by her comments.

"A plain reading of both Omnibus Orders issued by the trial court in Crim. Case Nos. 17-165 and 17-166 [c]learly show that the trial court labored under no undue pressure arising from any purported tendency of Respondent's statements to influence, intimidate, impede, embarrass or obstruct the trial court's administration of justice," she said.

Aquiatan granted De Lima's Demurrer to Evidence in Case Number 17-166, but denied the same in Case Number 17-165.

Last December 2020, the prosecutors led by Provincial Prosecutor Ramoncito Ocampo asked the court to cite De Lima and Tacardon in contempt, purporting that Tacardon's statements before the media are an "affront to the lawful proceedings" of the court.

It may be recalled the said statements merely shared how a financial investigator from the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) and a Digital Forensic Examiner from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) have reaffirmed under oath that De Lima was not involved in any suspicious transaction that would link her in the illegal drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison (NBP).

"At any rate, contrary to Petitioner's claim that Respondent intentionally and maliciously misinformed the public, the transcript of stenographic notes show that 'statements' attributed to the latter were factual and are consistent with what transpired during the hearings," Tacardon said.

De Lima stressed that her lawyers' out-of-court statements are an essential exercise of her constitutional right to a public trial considering the severe restrictions on public access to her hearings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Per the standards laid down in jurisprudence, the out-of-court statements of respondents consisting of a fair and accurate report of the proceedings in herein respondent's PUBLIC TRIAL in a criminal case are allowed, not only by virtue of the guarantee of free expression and free publication, but more importantly, by virtue herein respondent's constitutionally guaranteed right to a public trial, which not even the courts can deprive her of," De Lima's Comment read.

To fully exercise her constitutional right to a public trial, De Lima said she has "directed her lawyers to brief the media after every hearing on the important developments in the case, especially with regard to the testimonies of the witness presented against her by the government."

Likewise, De Lima pointed out that the rule on sub judice - where a particular case is under trial or being considered by a judge or court - is subject to the constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press.

"The sub judice rule puts limits on what may be considered as fair reporting of an ongoing court case of public interest," she said.

"It is not intended to gag public interest in or public comment on a public trial, more specifically a criminal trial or a case involving public interest. These kinds of court proceedings are a public event, and what occurs in the courtroom is public property," she added.

Tacardon said he finds it "specious" for the Prosecution to call for a violation of sub judice, when they themselves have spoken before the media in relation to the criminal cases of the former justice secretary.

De Lima, for her part, said she believes that the Prosecution filed a contempt case against her and her lawyer in an aim to achieve a "monopoly" on out-of-court statements, comment, and legal opinions.

"Out-of-court statements are not prohibited per se under the sub judice rule, they are merely regulated in relation to contumacious conduct prohibited under the Rules of Court," she said.

"Otherwise, the prosecution itself should have been barred a long time ago from issuing press statements on [my] trial," she added.

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