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Supreme Court threatens to sanction law faculty critics

The Supreme Court has ordered 37 faculty members of the University of the Philippines' College of Law to explain why they should not be sanctioned for airing a statement against a magistrate embroiled in a plagiarism controversy. Supreme Court spokesman and administrator Jose Midas Marquez on Wednesday said the court has promulgated a resolution ordering the law professors to explain why disciplinary action should not be imposed on them. "The court, in a 10-3 vote with two taking no part, has directed the members of the UP Law to show cause within 10 days why they should not be disciplined for violation of certain canons of the Code of Professional Responsibility for lawyers," Marquez said. UP Law Dean Marvic Leonen was also instructed to explain why a "dummy" statement was submitted even if it was supposedly "not a true and faithful reproduction" of the UP law faculty’s original statement, Marquez added. In a dissenting opinion, one associate justice called it a "judicial witch hunt against its detractors." According to Marquez, lawyers are barred from making public statements that tend to influence public opinion while a case is pending. "The publication of a statement by the faculty of the UP College of Law regarding the allegations of plagiarism and misrepresentation in the Supreme Court was totally unnecessary, uncalled for, and a rash act of misplaced vigilance," the high court said. "The UP Law faculty would fan the flames and invite resentment against a resolution that would not reverse the said decision. This runs contrary to their obligation as law professors and officers of the court, to which they owe fidelity according to the oath they have taken as attorneys, and not to promote distrust in the administration of justice," the court said. Associate Justice Martin Villarama Jr. penned the resolution, with the concurrence of Chief Justice Renato Corona and Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Eduardo Nachura, Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Arturo Brion, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Jose Perez, Jose Mendoza. Associate Justices Antonio Carpio, Conchita Carpio-Morales, and Maria Lourdes Sereno dissented. Associate Justice Roberto Abad was on leave, while Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo, whom the high court cleared of allegations that he plagiarized an April 2010 ruling concerning comfort women during World War II, took no part in the proceedings. In a dissenting opinion, Associate Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales called the resolution "nothing but an abrasive flexing of the judicial muscle." High standards of moral conduct In August, UP law professors had urged Del Castillo to resign for supposedly breaching the court's "high standards of moral conduct." However, the court said its Ethics and Ethical Standards Committee has an "original" and a "dummy" copy of the professors' manifesto. The "original" copy showed 37 signatures beside the 81 names on the list while the "dummy" copy seemed to indicate all the faculty members were signatories because the letters "Sgd." or "signed" were printed beside their names. The court remarked: "As it turned out, the original statement was signed by only a minority of the faculty members on the list. The set of signatories that appeared like solid teeth in the dummy turned out to be broken teeth in the original. Since only 37 out of the 81 on the list signed the document, it does not appear to be a statement of the faculty, but of just some of its members." UP stands firm In a phone interview with GMANews.TV, Leonen said the faculty members stand by their statement and criticized the court for threatening to discipline them instead of Del Castillo. "We find it very strange that citizens willing to speak out are the ones threatened with punishment, rather than the object of criticisms," said the dean. In issuing the statement calling for Del Castillo's resignation, faculty members were exercising their "freedom of expression and academic autonomy," the dean said. "We welcome the opportunity given by the Supreme Court in the show cause order to be able to define freedom of expression and academic autonomy. We are law professors who are also lawyers. Our duty in relation to the profession is to provide free and candid criticisms of published decisions of the Supreme Court," Leonen added. He likewise noted that the number of faculty members who originally signed the statement "has not grown to an overwhelming majority of the members of the faculty of law." 37 in the line of fire The 37 faculty members who risk facing disciplinary action are Leonen, Froilan Bacungan, Pacifico Agabin, Merlin Magallona, Salvador Carlota, Carmelo Sison, Patricia Salvador Daway, Dante Gatmaytan, Theodore Te, Florin Hilbay, Jay Batongbacal, Evelyn (Leo) Battad, Gwen De Vera, Solomon Lumba, Rommel Casis, Jose Gerardo Alampay, Miguel Armovit, Arthur Autea, Rosa Maria Bautista, Mark Bocobo, Dan Calica, Tristan Catindig, Sandra Marie Coronel, Rosario Gallo, Concepcion Jardeleza, Antonio La Viña, Carina Laforteza, Jose Laureta, Owen Lynch, Rodolfo Noel Quimbo, Antonio Santos, Gmeleen Faye Tomboc, Nicholas Felix Ty, Evalyn Ursua, Raul Vasquez, Susan Villanueva, and Dina Lucenario. The court said they violated Canons 10, 11, 13 and Rules 1.02 and 11.05 of the Code of Responsibility. For the supposed submission of a dummy copy of the statement, Leonen violated Canon 10, Rules 10.01, 10.02 and 10.03, the court said. Dissenting opinions The UP law professors have found allies in Associate Justices Carpio-Morales and Sereno, who both gave brief but strongly-worded dissenting opinions on the case. In the latest resolution, Associate Justice Carpio joined the two in their dissenting opinion. In her opinion, Carpio-Morales said that disciplining the law professors was a “knee-jerk response" of the high court. "The Resolution demonstrates nothing but an abrasive flexing of the judicial muscle that could hardly be characterized as judicious," Carpio-Morales said. She added that the majority of the justices had "prejudged" the faculty members as guilty and warned that the Court may just be conducting a "judicial witch hunt against its detractors." For her part, Sereno said the SC has nothing to lose if it does not mete out punishments on the 37 faculty members. "With all due respect to my colleagues, it is not the place of the Court to seek revenge against those who, in their wish to see reform in the judiciary, have the courage to say what is wrong with it. The Court finds its legitimacy in demonstrating its moral vein case after case, not in flaunting its judicial brawn," Sereno said. "There is nothing to be gained for the administration of justice in not letting this one instance pass just because feelings have been hurt and the urge to retaliate must be satisfied," added Sereno. - DM/YA/HS, GMANews.TV