"x x x.
The judiciary, as the branch of government tasked to administer justice, to settle justiciable controversies or disputes involving enforceable and demandable rights, and to afford redress of wrongs for the violation of said rights must be allowed to decide cases independently, free of outside influence or pressure. An independent judiciary is essential to the maintenance of democracy, as well as of peace and order in society. Further, maintaining the dignity of courts and enforcing the duty of citizens to respect them are necessary adjuncts to the administration of justice.
Thus, Rule 71, Section 3 (d) of the Revised Rules of Court authorizes the courts to hold liable for criminal contempt a person guilty of conduct that is directed against the dignity or authority of the court, or of an act obstructing the administration of justice which tends to bring the court into disrepute or disrespect.
Respondent cannot justify his contemptuous statements--asking the Court to dispel rumors that it would declare the Plunder Law unconstitutional, and stating that a decision declaring it as such was basically wrong and would not be accepted by the peopleas utterances protected by his right to freedom of speech.
Indeed, freedom of speech includes the right to know and discuss judicial proceedings, but such right does not cover statements aimed at undermining the Courts integrity and authority, and interfering with the administration of justice. Freedom of speech is not absolute, and must occasionally be balanced with the requirements of equally important public interests, such as the maintenance of the integrity of the courts and orderly functioning of the administration of justice.
Thus, the making of contemptuous statements directed against the Court is not an exercise of free speech; rather, it is an abuse of such right. Unwarranted attacks on the dignity of the courts cannot be disguised as free speech, for the exercise of said right cannot be used to impair the independence and efficiency of courts or public respect therefor and confidence therein. It is a traditional conviction of civilized society everywhere that courts should be immune from every extraneous influence as they resolve the issues presented before them. The court has previously held that--
xxx As important as the maintenance of an unmuzzled press and the free exercise of the right of the citizen, is the maintenance of the independence of the judiciary. xxx This Court must be permitted to proceed with the disposition of its business in an orderly manner free from outside interference obstructive of its constitutional functions. This right will be insisted upon as vital to an impartial court, and, as a last resort, as an individual exercises the right of self-defense, it will act to preserve its existence as an unprejudiced tribunal.
In People vs. Godoy, this Court explained that while a citizen may comment upon the proceedings and decisions of the court and discuss their correctness, and even express his opinions on the fitness or unfitness of the judges for their stations, and the fidelity with which they perform the important public trusts reposed in them, he has no right to attempt to degrade the court, destroy public confidence in it, and encourage the people to disregard and set naught its orders, judgments and decrees. Such publications are said to be an abuse of the liberty of speech and of the press, for they tend to destroy the very foundation of good order and well-being in society by obstructing the course of justice.
Clearly, respondents utterances pressuring the Court to rule in favor of the constitutionality of the Plunder Law or risk another series of mass actions by the public cannot be construed as falling within the ambit of constitutionally-protected speech, because such statements are not fair criticisms of any decision of the Court, but obviously are threats made against it to force the Court to decide the issue in a particular manner, or risk earning the ire of the public. Such statements show disrespect not only for the Court but also for the judicial system as a whole, tend to promote distrust and undermine public confidence in the judiciary, by creating the impression that the Court cannot be trusted to resolve cases impartially and violate the right of the parties to have their case tried fairly by an independent tribunal, uninfluenced by public clamor and other extraneous influences.
It is respondents duty as an officer of the court, to uphold the dignity and authority of the courts and to promote confidence in the fair administration of justice and in the Supreme Court as the last bulwark of justice and democracy. Respondents utterances as quoted above, while the case of Estrada vs. Sandiganbayan was pending consideration by this Court, belies his protestation of good faith but were clearly made to mobilize public opinion and bring pressure on the Court.
WHEREFORE, Atty. Leonard De Vera is found GUILTY of indirect contempt of court and is hereby FINED in the amount of Twenty Thousand Pesos (P20,000.00) to be paid within ten (10) days from receipt of this Decision.
Davide, Jr., C.J., Bellosillo, Puno, Vitug, Mendoza, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Carpio, Austria-Martinez, and Corona, JJ., concur.
x x x."