In my article last week, I pointed out that Lorraine Badoy, the ex-spokesman of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, did not commit any crime or punishable act when she criticized a Manila Regional Trial Court judge who rendered a decision declaring that the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (CPP-NPA), are not terrorist organizations.
Reacting to that decision, Badoy purportedly posted in her social media account that, “If I kill this judge and I do so out of my political belief that all allies of the CPP-NPA-NDF (National Democratic Front) must be killed because there is no difference in my mind between a member of the CPP-NPA-NDF and their friends, then please be lenient with me.”
Many publicity seekers slammed Badoy for that alleged statement.
I stressed in my article that the remark attributed to Badoy is an obvious hyperbole which nobody in his right mind will take seriously. It is a satirical remark which, according to jurisprudence on Constitutional Law, is duly protected free speech.
Likewise, I maintained that Badoy’s remark also smacks of a fair comment made by a citizen on a matter of public interest and discourse. According to jurisprudence, a fair comment under such circumstances is not an actionable wrong.
Just recently, a group of lawyers and law school teachers filed a petition in the Supreme Court praying that Badoy be cited in indirect contempt for the remark attributed to her.
Although the aforesaid lawyers and academics are virtually unheard of and are not exactly in the legal limelight as the term is understood by journalists, an online news story nevertheless referred to them as “a group of legal luminaries, lawyers and law school deans.”
In my opinion, the members of the group are basking in the free publicity their petition has attracted for themselves, as seen in the way they joyfully posed for a newspaper photograph outside the main building of the Supreme Court in Manila.
It seems that they want Badoy cited in indirect contempt because of her alleged “improper conduct tending, directly or indirectly, to impede, obstruct, or degrade the administration of justice.”
With all due respect to the Supreme Court, I believe that the petition is untenable.
First, a court ruling should be open to public scrutiny, analysis and commentary, like what Badoy supposedly did. To rule otherwise is to undermine the very essence of free speech and freedom of expression. On that ground alone, the remark attributed to Badoy can hardly be considered “improper conduct.”
Second, Badoy’s alleged statement cannot possibly “impede, obstruct or degrade the administration of justice.” It is an obvious exaggeration, a satirical statement even, which nobody in his right trend of thought will take seriously.
If the administration of justice in the Philippines can easily get compromised by a hyperbolic remark from just one individual like Badoy, then something is wrong not with Badoy, but with the justice system itself.
Third, since Badoy’s critics seem to suggest that Badoy is not worthy of any credence, then that suggestion is the best defense available to Badoy.
How can the remarks of a person who, according to that person’s critics, has no credibility, actually tend to “impede, obstruct or degrade the administration of justice” in the Philippines?
From the way Badoy’s critics sound, it seems like they believe that the vast majority of the Filipino people are stupid and very gullible, and are, therefore, unable to comprehend with even minimal discernment what Badoy purportedly said.
Fourth, the judge concerned seems to have quite a number of vocal defenders already. The judge’s defenders ought to provide enough protection against any possibility that Badoy’s alleged statements will “impede, obstruct or degrade the administration of justice.”
Fifth, under the clear and present danger test used by the courts to determine whether speech can be the subject of curtailment and censure, the statement attributed to Badoy can hardly be considered censurable, much less the basis for citing her for indirect contempt.
That’s because the purported “danger” Badoy’s alleged remarks pose to the administration of justice as imagined by Badoy’s detractors does not even exist.
Thus, there is no legal ground for asking the Supreme Court to cite Badoy in indirect contempt.
Sixth, between upholding Badoy’s constitutional right to free speech, and entertaining the manifestly speculative basis for the petition to cite her in indirect contempt, logic and reason dictate that the issue must be resolved in Badoy’s favor.In conclusion, all Filipinos, the members of the judiciary in particular, should not be unsettled when a citizen like Lorraine Badoy speaks her mind about a court decision.
What should be unsettling is when citizens are prohibited from commenting on judicial rulings which, by their nature, are imbued with a very high degree of public interest.