CASE NO. 7 A.M. No. 01-4-03-S.C. June 29, 2001 SECRETARY OF JUSTICE HERNANDO PEREZ, KAPISANAN NG MGA BRODKASTER NG PILIPINAS, CESAR SARINO, RENATO CAYETANO and ATTY. RICARDO ROMULO, petitioners, vs. JOSEPH E. ESTRADA and INTEGRATED BAR OF THE PHILIPPINES, oppositors. RE: REQUEST RADIO-TV COVERAGE OF THE TRIAL OF IN THE SANDIGANBAYAN OF THE PLUNDER CASES AGAINST THE FORMER PRESIDENT JOSEPH E. ESTRADA. PONENTE
: JUSTICE VITUG FACTS:
The travails of a deposed President continue. The Sandiganbayan reels to start hearing the criminal charges against Mr. Joseph E. Estrada. Media seeks to cover the event via live television and live radio broadcast and endeavors this Court to allow it that kind of access to the proceedings. On 13 March 2001, the Kapisanan ng mga BroadKaster ng Pilipinas (KBP), an association representing duly franchised and authorized television and radio networks throughout the country, sent a letter requesting this Court to allow live media coverage of the anticipated trial of the plunder and other criminal cases filed against former President Joseph E. Estrada before the Sandiganbayan in order "to assure the public of full transparency in the proceedings of an unprecedented case in our history." The request was seconded by Mr. Cesar N. Sarino in his letter of 05 April 2001 to the Chief Justice and, still later, by Senator Renato Cayetano and Attorney Ricardo Romulo. On 17 April 2001, the Honorable Secretary of Justice Hernando Perez formally filed the instant petition,3 submitting the following exegesis: "The foregoing criminal cases involve the previous acts of the former highest official of the land, members of his family, his cohorts and, therefore, it cannot be over emphasized that the prosecution thereof, definitely involves a matter of public concern and interest, or a matter over which the entire citizenry has the right to know, be informed and made aware of. "There is no gainsaying that the constitutional right of the people to be informed on matters of public concern, as in the instant cases, can best be recognized, served and satisfied by allowing the live radio and television coverage of the concomitant court proceedings. "Moreover, the live radio and television coverage of the proceedings will also serve the dual purpose of ensuring the desired transparency in the administration of justice in order to disabuse the minds of the supporters of the past regime of any and all unfounded notions, or ill-perceived attempts on the part of the present dispensation, to railroad the instant criminal cases against the Former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada." Public interest, the petition further averred, should be evident bearing in mind the right of the public to vital information affecting the nation. ISSUE:
(1) Whether or not to grant the request for Radio-TV coverage of the trial of in the Sandiganbayan of the plunder cases against the former president Joseph E. Estrada. RULING:
The Supreme Court ruled that the constitutional guarantees of freedom of the press and the right to public information outweigh the fundamental rights of the accused along with the constitutional power of a court to control its proceedings in ensuring a fair and impartial trial. · Rule 53 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure forbids the taking of photographs during the progress of judicial proceedings or radio broadcasting of such proceedings from the courtroom. A trial of any kind or in any court is a matter of serious importance to all concerned and should not be treated as a means of entertainment. To so treat it DEPRIVES THE COURT OF THE DIGNITY which pertains to it and departs from the orderly and serious quest for truth for which our judicial proceedings are formulated. · With the possibility of losing not only the precious liberty but also the very life of an accused, it behooves all to make absolutely certain that an accused receives a verdict solely on the basis of a just and dispassionate judgment, a verdict that would come only after the presentation of credible evidence testified to by unbiased witnesses unswayed by any kind of pressure, whether open or subtle, in proceedings that are devoid of histrionics that might detract from its basic aim to ferret veritable facts free from improper influence,8 and decreed by a judge with an unprejudiced mind, unbridled by running emotions or passions. · An accused has a RIGHT TO A PUBLIC TRIAL BUT IT IS A RIGHT THAT BELONGS TO HIM, more than anyone else, where his life or liberty can be held critically in balance. A public trial aims to ensure that he is fairly dealt with and would not be unjustly condemned and that his rights are not compromised in secrete conclaves of long ago. A public trial is not synonymous with publicized trial; it only implies that the court doors must be open to those who wish to come, sit in the available seats, conduct themselves with decorum and observe the trial process. In the constitutional sense, a courtroom should have enough facilities for a reasonable number of the public to observe the proceedings, not too small as to render the openness negligible and not too large as to distract the trial participants from their proper functions, who shall then be totally free to report what they have observed during the proceedings.