THE MEDIA LAWYER who filed a disbarment case against Ampatuan defense counsel Sigfrid Fortun before the Supreme Court was the one instead who was cited for contempt and fined by the tribunal after she allegedly violated the rule on confidentiality in disbarment cases.
The Supreme Court ordered Atty. Prima Jesusa Quinsayas, a lawyer representing media murder victims in several cases including the 2009 Maguindanao Massacre, to pay a fine of P20,000 after the tribunal found her guilty of indirect contempt.
Interestingly, the charge stems from the disbarment case that Quinsayas filed against Fortun, the main defense counsel of the Ampatuan clan that has been accused of masterminding the Maguindanao Massacre.
Quinsayas, who is a lawyer of the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ), a network of media organizations that supports the families of media murder victims, filed the disbarment case against Fortun in November 2010, a year after the Maguindanao Massacre. Quinsayas accused Fortun of using and abusing “all legal remedies” in order to delay the proceedings in the Maguindanao Massacre case. The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism is a co-founder and an active member of the FFFJ.
The disbarment case has not yet been resolved more than two years after its filing. The case is still being reviewed by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), which will then make a recommendation to the high court. Fortun for his part struck back at Quinsayas by filing a petition for contempt against Quinsayas and several media personalities for allegedly violating the confidentiality rule governing all disbarment cases.
Fortun accused Quinsayas of distributing to the media copies of the disbarment complaint that she had filed against Fortun in 2010. Fortun claimed that in doing so, Quinsayas violated Rule 139-B of the Rules of Court that makes all disbarment proceedings confidential until a ruling is finally made by the court.
In addition to Quinsayas, Fortun had asked the SC to also cite for contempt the officers of the FFFJ, media executives and on-camera talents of ABS-CBN and GMA, and several reporters and editors of the Philippine Star and the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Fortun said the other accused were also guilty of disseminating information on the disbarment case.
Among those that Fortun asked the court to cite for contempt were members of the Board of Trustees of the FFFJ, including PCIJ executive director Malou Mangahas, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility director Melinda Quintos de Jesus, Center for Community Journalism and Development director Red Batario, and Rey Hulog of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court said that proceedings against attorneys need to be confidential so that the court may be free from all influence or interference. The confidentiality rule was also intended to ensure the protection of the professional reputations of attorneys and other officers of the court.
“As a general rule, disbarment proceedings are confidential in nature until their final resolution and the final decision of this court,” the court said.
The court absolved the media organizations, saying they merely reported on a lead that they received on the filing of the disbarment case against Fortun, who is a person of public interest. Members of the Board of the FFFJ were also absolved after Fortun failed to prove that they had a hand in the distribution of the complaint.
However, in the case of Quinsayas, the court said that she remains bound by Rule 139-B of the Rules of Court, “both as a complainant in the disbarment case against petitioner and as a lawyer.”
“Instead of preserving its confidentiality, Atty. Quinsayas disseminated copies of the disbarment complaint against petitioner to members of the media which act constitutes contempt of court,” the court ruled.
Sought for comment, Quinsayas said the ruling was “totally unexpected,” and said she may still file a motion for reconsideration.
“I have mixed feelings,” Quinsayas said in a text message to the PCIJ. “Being cited for indirect contempt was totally unexpected. At the same time, there are reasons to be thankful for as the High COurt reaffirmed the importance of press freedom and recognized the significance of the massacre case.”