BACOLOD City – “The motion is bereft of merit.”
This is how the Municipal Trial Court and Cities (MTCC) Branch 4 here described the dismissed contempt charges filed by a lawyer against six journalists of three dailies in the region.
In a decision dated October 2, 2018, MTCC Judge Francisco Pando said: “the court finds no sufficient factual basis to cite the respondents in contempt.”
The case was filed by Atty. Rey Gorgonio against Dolly Yasa and Lemuel Fernandez of The Daily Guardian; Eugene Adiong and Arman Toga of the Negros Daily Bulletin; and Dominic Banaga and David Fajardo of Watchmen Daily Journal.
Mr. Fernandez is currently on-leave as TDG publisher.
“The court hereby resolved to deny the motion of Atty. Rey Gorgonio to cite respondents Dolly S. Yasa, Dominique Gabriel Banaga, Eugene Adiong, and Armando P. Toga in contempt for lack of merit,” the decision reads.
As for respondents Fernandez and Fajardo, the motion to cite them in contempt is denied for lack of jurisdiction.
In his motion, Gorgonio claimed that the news writers and the publishers, “with malicious intent and in order to mislead the public that consequently degrade and undermine the administration of justice, deliberately misquoted and misrepresented the contents of the decision of the case.”
The case stemmed from the articles written by the reporters on a July 31, 2018 court decision with the following dispositive portion: “Wherefore in view of the foregoing this case for ‘Collection of a sum of money with damages against Edmundo M. Diaz aka Mundit’ is hereby dismissed without prejudice.”
Gorgonio is also the complainant in the case against Diaz.
Gorgonio claimed that as can be gleaned from the published article, “it would appear that the dismissal of the case is on the merit and the cause of the dismissal is by reason of the claim for moral and exemplary damages which has no merit.”
He further claimed that a reader would be misled to believe that the dismissal of the case is on the merit and the claim of the defendant Diaz for not paying his legal obligation for the plaintiff is only extorting money from his is true.
“It is very clear in the decision that the dismissal is without prejudice due to non-compliance of the precondition of referral to the Lupon Tagapamayapa under Republic Act 7160,” Gorgonio contended.
The document also stated that the plaintiff has high respect for the right of the media to freedom of the press and expression.
“However, such freedom of the press and expression should not go beyond the parameters of the law as to degrade and undermine the administration of justice by means of deliberately and maliciously misquoting the court’s decision.”
In her comment, Yasa said that as a practicing journalist for almost 20 years, it is her personal commitment to remain impartial and to hear both sides.
“It is a principle upheld by every member of the fourth estate,” she added.
She added that as a news writer, she sticks to facts and refrains from giving her opinion on or about news at hand.
To the news item cited by Gorgonio, it was devoid of any opinion nor was there any personal observation included in the story.
“It was merely based on the decision of the court, nothing more, nothing less,” she said.
Yasa added the report was a running story about martial law victims who have been processing their claims with the Martial Law Claims Board.
In the previous story, these martial law victims accused Gorgonio of alleged extortion and harassment when he asking them to pay what he claimed are legal fees due him.
The story came out in the front page of TDG and the same treatment was afforded to Gorgonio when he issued his side.
“This is proof that they are impartial and neutral,” she added.
Yasa lamented “while they do their best to uphold press freedom, they are still being subjected to harassments.”
Toga, Adiong, and Banaga also contended that all they did was quote the court decision and there was no opinion or personal observation in the article.
The MTCC decision stated that “considering that nature of the remedy the plaintiff intends to avail, the mere filing of a motion to cite respondents in contempt does not suffice.”
It added that as can be inferred from the tenor of the pleading that Gorgonio is “asking this court to cite the respondents in contempt for deliberately and maliciously misquoting the Court’s decision which conduct tends to degrade and undermine the administration of justice.”
“Clearly, the charge is based on Sec.3 Rule 71 of the Rules of Court which provision enumerates acts which constitute indirect contempt, the rules now require that if the charge for indirect contempt is not one initiated motu proprio by the court, it shall be commenced by a verified petition with supporting particulars and certified true copies of the documents or papers involved in the case,” it added.
The MTCC decision said that the case will then be assigned as a separate docket number after payment of proper filing dues. Non-compliance with this set of requirements is a ground for dismissal of the case.
The decision stated further “as to the substantive aspect of the charge the court finds that the evidence adduced in support of the motion does not satisfactorily establish that respondents are liable for the charge of indirect contempt.
The decision said Gorgonio only presented as evidence the published news articles in question, however the same is “simply not enough to prove that the writers and publishers of the news articles have caused its publication with the intent to mislead the public by deliberately and maliciously misquoting the court’s decision.”
It added that a scrutiny of the contents of said article disclosed that each of them was written with a singular main theme and that pertains to the dispute between Atty. Gorgonio and Mr. Diaz relative to alleged non-payment of the former’s legal services.
“The coverage of the news articles is not entirely devoted to the decision of the case for analysis or commentary purposes. It only highlighted the fact the case was dismissed and this development is being published only as a sort of update or continuation of a previously featured news item of the same theme and in fact, showcasing the earlier incidents of the controversy took up a substantial part of the coverage,” the decision said.
The court, however, noted that what is evidently lacking in the preparation of these news articles is the employment of the journalistic method to verify information.
“For instance, if only the writers and publishers had exerted effort to consult an expert in the field of law to explain to them the nature of the dismissal of the case, which is understandably a highly technical matter, they could have included in these news articles a qualifying phrase stating that the dismissal of the case is to rule on information verification.”
The court said this “may have as well impelled the writers and publishers of the said news articles to contact Atty. Gorgonio himself of his lawyer, as part of the verification process, to ask the plaintiff’s side for comment for certainty, had it happened that matter of dismissal of the case has been clarified.”
In the same manner, had diligent effort geared towards information verification were undertaken by the concerned writers and publishers, they should have avoided misquoting erroneously the portion of the decision which appeared in the news articles.
“Nevertheless, such omission on the part of the writers and publishers to gather other essential details of the material were working on in putting up the news story for they have not been diligent in conducting necessary information verification, is not per se contemptible in the absence of evidence of bad faith.”
“Even if in the publication of the subject news articles the nature of the dismissal of the case was not explained thoroughly and a portion of the decision was misquoted due to lack of diligence in verifying information in relation to the news item, the same does not constitute evidence of ill motive on the part of the writers and publishers of the news articles,” it further said.