press freedom

[Just Saying] Ted Failon, press freedom, and the Supreme Court

Mel Sta Maria

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[Just Saying] Ted Failon, press freedom, and the Supreme Court


The SC decision is an admonition to lower court judges with a penchant for issuing gag-and-contempt orders to be more constitutionally circumspect

Like King Solomon, Supreme Court (SC) magistrates must judge wisely but unlike him, they are not royalties. They are public servants, fallible human beings susceptible to error, being unduly influenced and, God forbid, corrupted. The SC, its justices and decisions should not be immune from open criticism.

In Stradcom Corporation vs. Failon (G.R. No. 190980, October 10, 2022), broadcast journalist Ted Failon was sought to be cited for criminal contempt.   

In his radio program, he commented on a pending case about government bidding filed by Bayan Muna with the SC. He relayed his serious anxiety over the outcome of the SC resolution. Apparently, his confidence in the SC was not totally positive.   

Because of his uneasiness, Failon also mentioned a certain case where   he claims the SC flip-flopped in its taking cognizance of a motion for reconsideration. He said: “At tila ba isang malaking himala, tila baga isang hindi maipaliwanag na pangyayari biglang nagbukas ang pintuan ng Supreme Court at tinanggap ang panibagong motion…” (Ang like a huge miracle, like a difficult to explain event, the Supreme Court suddenly opened its doors and accepted a new motion…)

He also commented on another case where certain public officials were not considered resigned in their present position upon filing of their candidacy for public office. Exasperatingly, he sarcastically lamented:  “Por dios por santo mga kapatid ko sa pananampalataya, mga kapatid ko sa pananalig, mga kapamilya, ano na ang nangyayari sa ating Kataas-taasang Hukuman?!!!” (For God’s sake, my brethren in faith, family members, whatever happened to our Supreme Court?!!!)

It was alleged that he contemptuously depicted the SC as “fickle minded, lacking firmness and resoluteness in its decisions” and obstructed the orderly administration of justice.   

The SC dismissed the petition, ruling that Failon:

merely expressed his frustrations and disagreements with past decisions of this Court to reinforce his fears about the outcome in Bayan Muna. His words were not the kind of expressions which were adjudged contumacious by this Court worthy of its exercise of the contempt power. He did not insinuate disreputable motives to this Court or any of its specific members; neither did he use intemperate language to demean the Court’s dignity or the respect due to it. Even his sarcastic intimations cannot be deemed actionable. The contempt power, though seemingly plenary, should be applied judiciously and sparingly with extreme self-restraint for the purpose of ‘correction and preservation of the dignity of the court, not for retaliation or vindication.’ Recognizing the right of the people to criticize the courts and judges fairly and courteously through legitimate means, we ‘ought to be patient and tolerate as much as possible everything which appears as hasty and unguarded expression of passion or momentarily outbreak of disappointment at the outcome of a case.”

And as to the accusation that he violated the sub judice rule by discussing a pending case in his radio program, the SC said:

“There was no showing that respondent’s remarks or even his interview with Congressman Casino could cause a serious and imminent threat to the dispensation of justice in Bayan Muna. A perusal of the assailed interview shows that it was merely a reiteration of the arguments raised by petitioners in Bayan Muna, which is not of that nature to generate the substantive evil of obstructing the administration of justice in the ongoing case that needs to be forestalled. To stress, a public utterance or publication will not be deprived of the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech and of the press simply because it relates to an ongoing judicial proceeding upon the assumption that the expression unavoidably tends to impede the orderly dispensation of justice in the pending case.

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The decision, in effect, highlights that, in a democracy, there must be “a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.” (Terminiello v. Chicago 337 US 1, 4).

It also validates US Supreme Court Judge David J. Brewer’s reminder that: “Justices should be the objects of constant watchfulness by all, and their judgments subject to the freest criticisms. The time is past in the history of the world when any living man or body of men can be set on a pedestal and decorated with a halo. True many criticisms may be, like their authors, devoid of good taste, but better all sorts of criticism than no criticism at all. The moving waters are full of life and health; only in still waters is stagnation and death.” (Government by Injunction, National Corp Report, 848,849)

The well-written SC Stradcom decision, penned by Justice Marvic Leonen, shows the SC’s majesty – because of its erudition – and humility – because of its openness to criticism, making the workings of the Constitution alive for press freedom. Also, it’s an admonition to lower court judges with a penchant for issuing gag-and-contempt orders to be more constitutionally circumspect. –

Mel Sta. Maria is former dean of the Far Eastern University (FEU) Institute of Law. He teaches law at FEU and the Ateneo School of Law, hosts shows on both radio and YouTube, and has authored several books on law, politics, and current events.

1 comment

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  1. ET

    I appreciate the SC Stradcom decision, as articulated by Justice Marvic Leonen and writer Mel Sta. Maria, for making this matter easily comprehensible to concerned and discerning Filipinos.

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