SC “slaps” all 36 UP Law Professors for
their plagiarism charge against a Justice
Instead of receiving the axe, all 36 UP law professors, including a visiting American law professor, were merely slapped by the Supreme Court but pointedly reminding them “of their lawyerly duty, under Canons 1, 11 and 13, to give due respect to the courts and to refrain from intemperate and offensive language tending to influence the Court on pending matters or to denigrate the courts and the administration of justice.”
In A.M. No. 10-10-4-SC, penned by Ms. Justice Teresita J. Leonardo-De Castro, the high tribunal found however the explanations of the 36 UP law professors as unsatisfactory while that of Prof. Raul T. Vasquez as satisfactory.
The ponencia commended Prof. Vasquez for being “candid enough to state that his agreement to the Statement was in principle and that the reason plagiarism was a ‘fair topic of discussion’ among the UP Law faculty prior to the promulgation of the October 12, 2010 Decision in A.M. No. 10-7-17-SC was the uncertainty brought about by a division of opinion on whether or not willful or deliberate intent was an element of plagiarism.”
According to the SC, Prof. Vasquez acknowledged that “he may have been remiss in failing to assess the effect of the language of the Statement and could have used more care.” Commendably, the Court went on, he “did all this without having to retract his position on the plagiarism issue, x x x. This is all that this Court expected from respondents, not for them to sacrifice their principles but only that they recognize that they themselves may have committed some ethical lapse in this affair.”
From the case law arrived at by the high tribunal in disposing the “Show Cause” Resolution it issued on October 19, 2010, it can be perceived that the high tribunal clearly “walked a tight rope.” Meting out a harsh disciplinary sanction against the 36 UP law professors would create another uproar from lawmakers, the academe and the pubic in general as what took place when the SC issued that “show cause” order. On the other hand, if the Court did not show some form of disciplining the law professors, it would intensify criticism that it was catering to public opinion, which in most cases, is not always right. A reprimand, as what it sanctioned is good enough to satisfy both extremes.
As to the American visiting professor, Prof. Owen J. Lynch, a member of the Bar of the State of Minnesota and, therefore, not under the disciplinary authority of the SC, nonetheless the Court reminded him that “while he is engaged as a professor in a Philippine law school he should strive to be a model of responsible and professional conduct to his students even without the threat of sanction from this Court. For even if one is not bound by the Code of Professional Responsibility for members of the Philippine Bar, civility and respect among legal professionals of any nationality should be aspired for under universal standards of decency and fairness.”
The 36 law professors who got the “slap” are Attys. Marvic M.V.F. Leonen, Froilan M. Bacungan, Pacifico A. Agabin, Merlin M. Magallona, Salvador T. Carlota, Carmelo V. Sison, Patricia R.P. Salvador Daway, Dante B. Gatmaytan, Theodore O. Te, Florin T. Hilbay, Jay L. Batongbacal, Evelyn (Leo) D. Battad, Gwen G. De Vera, Solomon F. Lumba, Rommel J. Casis, Jose Gerardo A. Alampay, Miguel R. Armovit, Arthur P. Autea, Rosa Maria J. Bautista, Mark R. Bocobo, Dan P. Calica, Tristan A. Catindig, Sandra Marie O. Coronel, Rosario O. Gallo, Concepcion L. Jardeleza, Antonio G.M. La Viña, Carina C. Laforteza, Jose C. Laureta, Owen J. Lynch, Rodolfo Noel S. Quimbo, Antonio M. Santos, Gmeleen Faye B. Tomboc, Nicholas Felix L. Ty, Evalyn G. Ursua, Raul T. Vasquez, Susan D. Villanueva and Dina D. Lucenario. In the October 19, 2010 Show Case Resolution, the Court directed them to explain within ten (10) days from receipt of the copy of the Resolution why they should not be disciplined as members of the Bar for violation of Canons 1, 11 and 13 and Rules 1.02 and 11.05 of the Code of Professional Responsibility.
In the case of Dean Leonen, the Court further admonished him “to be more mindful of his duty, as a member of the Bar, an officer of the Court, and a Dean and professor of law, to observe full candor and honesty in his dealings with the Court and warned that the same or similar act in the future shall be dealt with more severely.”
Mr. Justice Antonio T. Carpio and Ms. Justice Conchita Carpio Morales each penned a dissenting while Ms. Justice Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno reserved the right to write a separate dissenting opinion. Mr. Justice Martin S. Villarama, Jr. wrote a separate opinion while Mr. Justice Mariano C. del Castillo took no part in view of his direct involvement in the heated controversy.
On the issue that the show cause order has infringed their right to free expression, the Court said that 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.”
According to the recital of the SC, 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.”
“To reiterate,” said the SC, “it was not the circumstance that respondents expressed a belief that Justice Del Castillo was guilty of plagiarism but rather their expression of that belief as ‘not only as an established fact, but a truth’ when it was ‘[o]f public knowledge [that there was] an ongoing investigation precisely to determine the truth of such allegations.’” It was also pointed out in the Show Cause Resolution that there was a pending motion for reconsideration of the Vinuya decision. The Show Cause Resolution “made no objections to the portions of the Restoring Integrity Statement that respondents claimed to be ‘constructive’ but only asked respondents to explain those portions of the said Statement that by no stretch of the imagination could be considered as fair or constructive, x x x.”
Did the controversial order violate the professors’ academic freedom also guaranteed by the Constitution? To this, the Court said: “It is not contested that respondents herein are, by law and jurisprudence, guaranteed academic freedom and undisputably, they are free to determine what they will teach their students and how they will teach. We must point out that 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.”
The high court considered the issue of confrontation between academic freedom and the context in which it could invite limitation as novel for it has not been passed upon in any previous case before the Court involving, as it does, the “question of whether lawyers who are also law professors can invoke academic freedom as a defense in an administrative proceeding for intemperate statements tending to pressure the Court or influence the outcome of a case or degrade the courts.”
Even applying by analogy the Court’s past treatment of the “free speech” defense in other bar discipline cases, the Court said that academic freedom cannot be successfully invoked by respondents. For the implicit ruling in the jurisprudence discussed above is that 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. To our mind, 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.”
But at the outset, the Court made it clear as it “stressed that the Show Cause Resolution clearly dockets this as an administrative matter, not a special civil action for indirect contempt under Rule 71 of the Rules of Court, contrary to the dissenting opinion of Associate Justice Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno (Justice Sereno) to the said October 19, 2010 Show Cause Resolution. Neither is this a disciplinary proceeding grounded on an allegedly irregularly concluded finding of indirect contempt as intimated by Associate Justice Conchita Carpio Morales (Justice Morales) in her dissenting opinions to both the October 19, 2010 Show Cause Resolution and the present decision.”
“Thus,” the Court continued, “the 35 respondents named in the Common Compliance should, notwithstanding their claim of good faith, be reminded of their lawyerly duty, under Canons 1, 11 and 13, to give due respect to the courts and to refrain from intemperate and offensive language tending to influence the Court on pending matters or to denigrate the courts and the administration of justice.” The facts and the Case Law in this resolution will come out in the http://www.caselaw.ph, Volume 22, April 4, 2011 edition.