MANILA - The Supreme Court (SC) has cleared members of the media of indirect contempt for reporting about the disbarment case against Ampatuan lawyer Sigrid Fortun.
In a 15-page decision penned by Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio dated Feb. 13 but released only on Wednesday, the high court, through its Second Division, junked Fortun's plea against officers of the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ), Inquirer.net's Tetch Torres, The Philippine Star's Edu Punay, GMA online's Sophia Dedace and ABS-CBN's Ces Drilon for reporting about the disbarment complaint.
The high court stressed that while disbarment complaints are confidential in nature as stated in the Rules of Court, there is "legitimate public interest" surrounding the Maguindanao massacre case where Fortun is defense counsel representing former Maguindano Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr., former Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., and former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan
“If there is a legitimate interest, media is not prohibited from making a fair, true and accurate news report of a disbarment complaint. In the absence of a legitimate public interest in a disbarment complaint, members of the media must preserve the confidentiality of disbarment proceedings during its pendency.
“[A]s a general rule, disbarment proceedings are confidential in nature until their final resolution and the final decision of this Court. In this case, however, the filing of a disbarment complaint against petitioner is itself a matter of public concern considering that it arose from the Maguindanao massacre case,” the decision read.
The high court held that the mediamen “made a fair and true news report and appeared to have acted in good faith in publishing and posting details of the disbarment complaint.”
The high court noted that Fortun failed to show that there was bad faith on the part of the mediamen.
The high court also pointed out that public interest is not on Fortun himself but on his participation in the celebrated massacre case.
The high court, meantime, ordered private prosecutor Prima Quinsayas to pay a fine of P20,000 for causing the distribution of the disbarment complaint against Fortun.
Fortun's clients are the primary accused in the brutal slay of 58 individuals, mostly mediamen, in Ampatuan, Maguindanao on Nov. 23, 2009.