In its 15-page decision dated Oct. 1, 2018 and made public Thursday, the first division of the High Court, through now retired Associate Justice Noel Tijam, upheld the Court of Appeals (CA) and the Makati City Regional Trial Court Branch 56 in turning down the civil complaint filed by the journalists against the leadership of the Philippine National Police, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and members of the administration of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
'We find no reason to deviate from the RTC's and CA's ruling, dismissing the case for lack of cause of action as petitioners failed to prove that their rights were violated which constitute an actionable wrong. The realities of life in a complex society preclude an absolute exercise of the freedoms of speech and of the press. They are not immune to regulation by the State in the exercise of its police power," the SC noted.
"We sustain thus the RTC's and the CA's finding that there is no prior restraint nor an impermissible regulation on the petitioners' freedom of speech and of the press considering that respondents' questioned acts were merely brought about by the exigencies of the situation and ultimately, were valid exercise of their authority so as not to compromise the safety of the civilians at the scene of the incident," .
Veteran journalists Jessica Soho, Ed Lingao, Roby Alampay, and Ellen Tordesillas were among the petitioners in the case. They were joined by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility as petitioners.
Citing lack of merit, the SC dismissed the appeal of the journalists seeking the reversal of the CA and RTC rulings.
The Court ruled that the lower courts correctly held a lack of cause of action because the complainants "failed to prove that their rights were violated, which constitute an actionable wrong."
The SC agreed with the findings of both the CA and the RTC that the constitutional freedoms of speech, and of the press of petitioners were not violated when they were arrested by the PNP and AFP.
The High Tribunal stressed that the arrest of the journalists who "disobeyed the order to vacate the premises upon service of the warrant of arrest to (Trillanes and company)", as well as the subsequent warning issued by then Cabinet secretaries - Ronaldo Puno of the Department of Interior and Local Government, Gilberto Teodoro of the Department of National Defense and the late Raul Gonzalez of the Department of Justice - of possible criminal liabilities against media practitioners for disobedience of lawful orders by authorities was not irregular.
"Indeed, a practical assessment of the particular circumstance on hand would show the necessity of respondents' actions. It is not unreasonable for the authorities to anticipate and deter a possible mayhem in the arrest of enraged military men, who openly refused to succumb to the authorities, and thus act upon the substantive interest of the State on public safety and order," it explained.
The SC also pointed out that the freedoms of expression and of the press are "not absolute" as these are "not immune to regulation by the State in the exercise of its police power."
The High Court rejected the argument of petitioners that the advisory issued by the Cabinet officials against the media were a form of prior restraint that is prohibited in the 1987 Constitution.
"The challenged government actions in the instant petition do not, in any way, come near the government actions struck down as unconstitutional for being tantamount to a prior restraint or censorship. As correctly found by the CA, a plain reading of the questioned advisory clearly shows that no media network or personnel is prohibited nor restricted from reporting or writing on any subject matter or from being present and covering newsworthy events," it ruled.
"It should also be emphasized that the issuance of the advisory, as well as respondents' actions in ordering the dispersal of the media when the warrant of arrest was served, especially when Trillanes' group refused to receive the same, were valid exercises of respondents' authorities," the SC added.
The SC also said the lower court only exercised its discretion for not calling an expert witness, Dean Raul Pangalanan, to testify.
"In as much as the matter of admitting the opinion of an expert witness is left to the sound discretion of the trial court, and considering that there is no showing nor allegation of such grave abuse of discretion on the part of the courts a quo in not admitting Dean Pangalangan's testimony as an expert witness, We sustain the court a quo's ruling on the matter," the SC noted.