Manila Standard - Have they gone overboard?

21 November 2020

By Charlie V. Manalo | Manila Standard

"A better question might be, who’s gone overboard?"

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court ordered Manila Times reporter Jomar Canlas to explain why he should not be cited in contempt for writing an article regarding a leaked document emanating from Associate Justice Marvic Leonen which supposedly tackled his position on the Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. protest against Ma. Leonora “Leni” Robredo.

Solicitor General Jose Calida was likewise asked to explain by the High Court as he used Canlas’ article.

In the same en banc session where the order was said to have been issued, Leonen allegedly threatened his colleagues against leaking documents to media practitioners saying they could be punished because it violates the confidentiality rule of the tribunal. He cited the case of former associate justice Ruben Reyes who was sanctioned for leaking draft decisions in the case of Rep. Jocelyn Limkaichong.

The SC order on Canlas for him to explain why he shouldn’t be cited for contempt for writing something based on a “leaked” document, supposedly coming from a member of the High Court, has a great bearing on media practitioners including me. If the SC rules on this matter, it could effectively define the parameters on when we do or do not write articles based on documents provided to us by our sources.

As we are not experts on legal matters, we consulted our friend, lawyer Larry Gadon for some reactions on the issue.

According to Gadon, Canlas and Calida could not have violated any legal ethic as “Reflection,” the supposed leaked document which was the basis for the news article Jomar wrote, was not an official court document.

Gadon notes that the said document, which Leonen reportedly distributed to other members of the High Court to allegedly to influence them to dismiss Marcos’ protest, was written by Leonen in July 2017, at a time when he still was not appointed as ponente of the case.

“Ang ‘Reflections’ ay hindi official na record ng petition, so walang nilabag na leakage (The ‘Reflections’ is not in the official record of the petition, thus no leakage was committed),” Gadon stressed.

Further, Gadon said Calida could not be accused of being biased in favor of Marcos when he filed his own petition seeking to inhibit Leonen. His only purpose there is to ensure that the case moves. It is the right of the people to know the truth behind the alleged cheating in the vice presidential election count as Marcos claims, hence the need to fast-track the case proceedings but without bias and pre-judgement.

On the part of Canlas, Gadon said what the Manila Times reporter did was in mere furtherance of press freedom—that is to report on the development of the Marcos protest case.

“He did not incite people to revolt against the government, to commit crimes or to disrespect the Supreme Court. What he did was in accordance with press freedom,” said Gadon.

According to the lawyer, if there is someone who should be made to answer on the issue of “Reflections,” it should be Leonen himself as it was him who supposedly exhibited extreme biases against Marcos, his family, his associates and friends in the said document.

So there. After talking to Atty. Larry, I think I should change the title of this article from “Have they gone overboard?” (Referring to Canlas and Calida), to “Who’s gone overboard?” (Referring to you-know-who).