De Lima, Lacierda face disbarment for criticizing Corona

Posted at 02/03/12 5:50 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Justice Secretary Leila De Lima and Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda have been slapped with a disbarment case before the Supreme Court(SC) for "contemptuous" utterances and remarks against Chief Justice Renato Corona.

In a 5-page petition filed last January 16, lawyer Agustin Sundiam asked the high tribunal to allow the commencement of proceedings for the disbarment and/or suspension of respondents from the practice of law, and to impose disciplinary actions.

Sundiam said that by "echoing" what he called "contemptuous remarks" made by President Aquino against Chief Justice Renato Corona during the 1st National Criminal Justice Summit at the Manila Hotel last December 5, De Lima and Lacierda violated the Lawyer's Oath, the Code of Professional Responsibility, and the Rules of Court in the Philippines.

During the said event, which happened days before the initiation of an impeachment complaint against Corona by administration allies at the House of Representatives, President Aquino bashed Corona for being a "midnight appointee" of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and for supposedly being a roadblock in his reform agenda.

"[K]ung may isang lingkod-bayan na tumatanaw ng utang ng loob, hindi sa taumbayan na siyang dapat na bukas ng aming kapangyariha, kundi sa isang padron na isiniksik siya sa puwesto, maaasahan po kaya natin siyang intindihin ang interes ng Pilipino?" Aquino said in his speech, with the Chief Justice merely a seat away from him.

"Shortly thereafter, the respondents also made utterances and remarks on national television which were bannered in all newspapers in the country and which this Honorable Court may take judicial notice, echoing the said contemptuous remarks of the President of the Philippines apparently in their respective aforesaid capacities as cabinet members," Sundiam, in his petition, said.

"These contemptuous remarks of the respondents are violative fo the Lawyer's Oath, the Code of Professional Responsibility and Section 20(b), Rule 138 of the Rules of Court which direct the respondents-lawyers to observe and maintain the respect and dignity due to the courts of justice and judicial officers," he added.

Sundiam alleged that the remarks issued by De Lima and Lacierda against the Chief Justice -- the head of a co-equal branch of government -- constitute indirect contempt as defined and punished under the 1997 Revised Rules on Civil Procedure.

Sundiam's petition further alleged that "the subject remarks were calculated precisely to degrade or tend to degrade the administration of justice, and erode and undermine the people's confidence" in the Supreme Court and the judicial officers.

Complainant/petitioner stressed that respondents' stature notwithstanding, the Supreme Court should apply the Rules and doctrines it has laid down "with equal force to every and all citizens."

"[E]specially and including the respondents, since no one is above the law in our democratic and republican State," Sundiam said.

De Lima reaction

Asked for comment, De Lima, through text message, told ABS-CBN News she merely exercised a right in openly criticizing Corona.

"With due respect, whatever utterances are alluded to in this latest disbarment complaint, the same are not contemptuous. It is called free expression, a constitutional right which the Chief Justice himself has publicly exercised in at least 2 occasions before an assembly of court sympathizers."

The justice chief said she will formally respond to the complaint in due time.

Lacierda, has not replied to ABS-CBN News' request for comment.

SC directs de Lima, Lacierda to file comment

The Supreme Court, in en banc session last Tuesday, voted to require De Lima and Lacierda to file their comment within 10 days receipt of notice.

De Lima was also directed by the high tribunal to submit her comment on a separate disbarment case filed by lawyer Ricardo Riversa for defying a temporary restraining order(TRO) issued by the SC last November 15 against a travel ban imposed by the Department of Justice(DOJ) on former first couple Gloria and Mike Arroyo.

No cases had been filed against the Arroyo couple then before a trial court.