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RE: LETTER OF THE UP LAW FACULTY ENTITLED “RESTORING

INTEGRITY: A STATEMENT BY THE FACULTY OF THE UNIVERSITY OF THE


PHILIPPINES COLLEGE OF LAW ON THE ALLEGATIONS OF PLAGIARISM
AND MISREPRESENTATION IN THE SUPREME COURT”
A.M. No. 10-10-4-SC, 08 March 2011, EN BANC, (Leonardo-De Castro, J.)

Sanction awaits a subordinate who misbehaves.

The right to criticize the courts and judicial officers must be balanced
against the equally primordial concern that the independence of the Judiciary be
protected from due influence or interference. In cases where the critics are not
only citizens but members of the Bar, jurisprudence has repeatedly affirmed the
authority of this Court to discipline lawyers whose statements regarding the
courts and fellow lawyers, whether judicial or extrajudicial, have exceeded the
limits of fair comment and common decency.

Shortly after the promulgation of the Supreme Court decision in Vinuya v.


Executive Secretary (the Vinuya decision), the case involving the Filipino
comfort women during the Japanese occupation, the counsel for the petitioners
therein filed, first, a Motion for Reconsideration reiterating the fundamental
responsibility of states in protecting its citizens’ human rights specifically
pertaining to jus cogens norms and, second, a supplement thereto asserting
that the Vinuya decision was plagiarized from different sources and that the true
intents of the plagiarized sources were twisted by the ponente, Justice Mariano
del Castillo (Justice del Castillo), to suit the arguments laid down in said
decision.

Vis-a-vis the Court’s formation of an ethics committee tasked to


investigate the veracity of the alleged plagiarism, the authors who were
purportedly plagiarized sent their respective letters to the Supreme Court,
noting the misreading and/or misrepresentation of their articles. Hence, in their
articles, they argue that the crimes of rape, torture and sexual slavery can be
classified as crimes against humanity, thus attaining the jus cogens status;
consequently, it shall be obligatory upon the State to seek remedies on behalf of
its aggrieved citizens. However, the Vinuya decision cited them to support the
contrary stand.

In response to this controversy, the faculty of UP College of Law came up


with a statement entitled “Restoring Integrity: A Statement by the Faculty of the
University of the Philippines College of Law on the Allegations of Plagiarism and
Misrepresentation in the Supreme Court” (Restoring Integrity Statement), which
statement alleged plagiarism against Justice del Castillo, treating the same not
only as an established fact, but as a truth. Said statement was posted online
and at the College’s bulletin board and was submitted to the Supreme Court.
The manner in presenting the arguments and the language used therein, the
Court believed, were inappropriate considering its signatories are lawyers.
Thus, the Supreme Court issued a Show Cause Resolution directing respondents
to show cause why they should not be disciplined as members of the Bar for
violations of the Code of Professional Responsibility. Conversely, compliance to
such resolution was unsatisfactory, except for one respondent.

ISSUES:

1.) Whether or not the Show Cause Resolution denies respondents their
freedom of expression
2.) Whether or not the Show Cause Resolution violates respondents’
academic freedom as law professors

HELD:

Petition DENIED.

The Show Cause Resolution does not deny respondents their freedom
of expression

A reading of the Show Cause Resolution will plainly show that it was
neither the fact that respondents had criticized a decision of the Court nor that
they had charged one of its members of plagiarism that motivated the said
Resolution. It was the manner of the criticism and the contumacious language
by which respondents, who are not parties nor counsels in the Vinuya case,
have expressed their opinion in favor of the petitioners in the said pending case
for the “proper disposition” and consideration of the Court that gave rise to said
Resolution. The Show Cause Resolution painstakingly enumerated the
statements that the Court considered excessive and uncalled for under the
circumstances surrounding the issuance, publication, and later submission to
this Court of the UP Law faculty’s Restoring Integrity Statement.

The right to criticize, which is guaranteed by the freedom of speech and of


expression in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution, must be exercised
responsibly, for every right carries with it a corresponding obligation. Freedom
is not freedom from responsibility, but freedom with responsibility. Thus,
proscribed are the use of unnecessary language which jeopardizes high esteem
in courts, creates or promotes distrust in judicial administration, or tends
necessarily to undermine the confidence of people in the integrity of the
members of the Court. In other words, while a lawyer is entitled to present his
case with vigor and courage, such enthusiasm does not justify the use of
offensive and abusive language. Language abounds with countless possibilities
for one to be emphatic but respectful, convincing but not derogatory,
illuminating but not offensive.

In a long line of cases, the Court has held that the right to criticize the
courts and judicial officers must be balanced against the equally primordial
concern that the independence of the Judiciary be protected from due influence
or interference. In cases where the critics are not only citizens but members of
the Bar, jurisprudence has repeatedly affirmed the authority of this Court to
discipline lawyers whose statements regarding the courts and fellow lawyers,
whether judicial or extrajudicial, have exceeded the limits of fair comment and
common decency.

The Show Cause Resolution does not violate respondents’ academic


freedom as law professors

There is nothing in the Show Cause Resolution that dictates upon


respondents the subject matter they can teach and the manner of their
instruction. Moreover, it is not inconsistent with the principle of academic
freedom for this Court to subject lawyers who teach law to disciplinary action
for contumacious conduct and speech, coupled with undue intervention in favor
of a party in a pending case, without observing proper procedure, even if
purportedly done in their capacity as teachers.

Academic freedom cannot be successfully invoked by respondents in this


case. The constitutional right to freedom of expression of members of the Bar
may be circumscribed by their ethical duties as lawyers to give due respect to
the courts and to uphold the public’s faith in the legal profession and the justice
system. The Court believes that the reason that freedom of expression may be
so delimited in the case of lawyers applies with greater force to the academic
freedom of law professors.

The Court reiterates that lawyers when they teach law are considered
engaged in the practice of law. Unlike professors in other disciplines and more
than lawyers who do not teach law, respondents are bound by their oath to
uphold the ethical standards of the legal profession. Thus, their actions as law
professors must be measured against the same canons of professional
responsibility applicable to acts of members of the Bar as the fact of their being
law professors is inextricably entwined with the fact that they are lawyers.