Zaldivar vs. Sandiganbayan G.R. No. 79690-707, February 1, 1989 170 SCRA 1 (1989)

Facts: The court have examined carefully the lengthy and vigorously written Motion for Reconsideration dated October 18, 1988 filed by counsel for respondent Raul M. Gonzalez, relating to the per curiam Resolution of the Court dated October 7, 1988. We have reviewed once more the Court’s extended per curiam Resolution, in the light of the argument adduced in the Motion for Reconsideration, but must conclude that we find no sufficient basis for modifying the conclusions and rulings embodied in that Resolution. The Motion for Reconsideration sets forth copious quotations and references to foreign texts which, however, whatever else they may depict, do not reflect the law in this jurisdiction.

Nonetheless, it might be useful to develop further, in some measure, some of the conclusions reached in the per curiam Resolution, addressing in the process some of the “Ten (10) Legal Points for Reconsideration,” made in the Motion for Reconsideration.

Issue: Whether the decision of the SC inviolate the Petitioner’s right to Freedom of Expression.

Held: No, The Court penalizes a variety of contumacious conduct including: “any improper conduct tending, directly or indirectly, to impede, obstruct or degrade the administration of justice.” The “clear and present danger” doctrine invoked by respondent’s counsel is not a magic incantation which dissolves all problems and dispenses with analysis and judgment in the testing of the legitimacy of claims to free speech, and which compels a court to exonerate a defendant the moment the doctrine is invoked, absent proof of impending apocalypse. The clear and present danger” doctrine has been an accepted method for marking out the appropriate limits of freedom of speech and of assembly in certain contexts. It is not, however, the only test which has been recognized and applied by courts. The right of freedom of expression indeed, occupies a preferred position in the “hierarchy of civil liberties”. Freedom of expression is not an absolute. The prevailing doctrine is that the clear and present danger rule is such a limitation. Another criterion for permissible limitation on freedom of speech and of the press, which includes such vehicles of the mass media as radio, television and the movies, is the “balancing-of-interests test”. The principle “requires a court to take conscious and detailed consideration of the interplay of interests observable in a given situation or type of situation.

Under either the “clear and present danger” test or the “balancing-of-interest test,” the court believe that the statements made by respondent are of such a nature and were made in such a manner and under such circumstances, as to transcend the permissible limits of free speech. This conclusion was implicit in the per curiam Resolution of October 7, 1988. It is important to point out that the “substantive evil” which the Supreme Court has a right and a duty to prevent does not, in the instant case, relate to threats of physical disorder or overt violence or similar disruptions of public order. What is here at stake is the authority of the Supreme Court to confront and prevent a “substantive evil” consisting not only of the obstruction of a free and fair hearing of a particular case but also the avoidance of the broader evil of the degradation of the judicial system of a country and the destruction of the standards of professional conduct required from members of the bar and officers of the courts. The “substantive evil” here involved, in other words, is not as palpable as a threat of public disorder or rioting but is certainly no less deleterious and more far reaching in its implications for society.

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