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667 Phil. 128


[ A.M. No. 10-11-5-SC, June 14, 2011 ]


[A.M. No. 10-11-6-SC ]




On November 23, 2009, 57 people including 32 journalists and media practitioners were killed while on their way to Shariff Aguak in Maguindanao. Touted as the worst election-related violence and the most brutal killing of journalists in recent history, the tragic incident which came to be known as the "Maguindanao Massacre" spawned charges for 57 counts of murder and an additional charge of rebellion against 197 accused, docketed as Criminal Case Nos. Q-09-162148-72, Q-09-162216-31, Q-10-162652-66, and Q-10-163766, commonly entitled People v. Datu Andal Ampatuan, Jr., et al.  Following the transfer of venue and the reraffling of the cases, the cases are being tried by Presiding Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of Branch 221 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Quezon City inside Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City.

Almost a year later or on November 19, 2010, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation, GMA Network, Inc., relatives of the victims,[1] individual journalists[2] from various media entities, and members of the academe[3] filed a petition before this Court praying that live television and radio coverage of the trial in these criminal cases be allowed, recording devices (e.g., still cameras, tape recorders) be permitted inside the courtroom to assist the working journalists, and reasonable guidelines be formulated to govern the broadcast coverage and the use of devices.[4] The Court docketed the petition as A.M. No. 10-11-5-SC.

In a related move, the National Press Club of the Philippines[5] (NPC) and Alyansa ng Filipinong Mamamahayag[6] (AFIMA) filed on November 22, 2010 a petition praying that the Court constitute Branch 221 of RTC-Quezon City as a special court to focus only on the Maguindanao  Massacre trial to relieve it of all other pending cases and assigned duties, and allow the installation inside the courtroom of a sufficient number of video cameras that shall beam the audio and video signals to the television monitors outside the court.[7] The Court docketed the petition as A.M. No. 10-11-6-SC.

President Benigno S. Aquino III, by letter of November 22, 2010[8]  addressed to Chief Justice Renato Corona, came out "in support of those who have petitioned [this Court] to permit television and radio broadcast of the trial." The President expressed "earnest hope that [this Court] will, within the many considerations that enter into such a historic deliberation,
attend to this petition with the dispatch, dispassion and humaneness, such a petition merits."[9] The Court docketed the matter as A.M. No. 10-11-7-SC.

By separate Resolutions of November 23, 2010,[10] the Court  consolidated A.M. No. 10-11-7-SC  with A.M. No. 10-11-5-SC.  The Court shall treat in a separate Resolution A.M. No. 10-11-6-SC.

Meanwhile, various groups[11] also sent to the Chief Justice their respective resolutions and statements bearing on these matters.

The principal accused in the cases, Andal Ampatuan, Jr. (Ampatuan), filed a Consolidated Comment of December 6, 2010 in A.M. No. 10-11-5-SC and A.M. No. 10-11-7-SC.  The President, through the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), and NUJP, et al. filed their respective Reply of January 18, 2011 and January 20, 2011.  Ampatuan also filed a Rejoinder of March 9, 2011.

On Broadcasting the Trial of the Maguindanao Massacre Cases

Petitioners seek the lifting of the absolute ban on live television and radio coverage of court proceedings.  They principally urge the Court to revisit the 1991 ruling in Re: Live TV and Radio Coverage of the Hearing of President Corazon C. Aquino's Libel Case[12] and the 2001 ruling in Re: Request Radio-TV Coverage of the Trial in the Sandiganbayan of the Plunder Cases Against the Former President Joseph E. Estrada[13] which rulings, they contend, violate the doctrine that proposed restrictions on constitutional rights are to be narrowly construed and outright prohibition cannot stand when regulation is a viable alternative.

Petitioners state that the trial of the Maguindanao Massacre cases has attracted intense media coverage due to the gruesomeness of the crime, prominence of the accused, and the number of media personnel killed. They inform that reporters are being frisked and searched for cameras, recorders, and cellular devices upon entry, and that under strict orders of the trial court against live broadcast coverage, the number of media practitioners allowed inside the courtroom has been limited to one reporter for each media institution.

The record shows that NUJP Vice-Chairperson Jose Jaime Espina, by January 12, 2010 letter[14] to Judge Solis-Reyes, requested a dialogue to discuss concerns over media coverage of the proceedings of the Maguindanao Massacre cases.  Judge Solis-Reyes replied, however, that "matters concerning media coverage should be brought to the Court's attention through appropriate motion."[15] Hence, the present petitions which assert the exercise of the freedom of the press, right to information, right to a fair and public trial, right to assembly and to petition the government for redress of grievances, right of free access to courts, and freedom of association, subject to regulations to be issued by the Court.

The Court partially GRANTS pro hac vice petitioners' prayer for a live broadcast of the trial court proceedings, subject to the guidelines which shall be enumerated shortly.

Putt's Law[16] states that "technology is dominated by two types of people: those who understand what they do not manage, and those who manage what they do not understand."  Indeed, members of this Court cannot strip their judicial robe and don the experts' gown, so to speak, in a pretense to foresee and fathom all serious prejudices or risks from the use of technology inside the courtroom.

A decade after Estrada and a score after Aquino, the Court is once again faced with the same task of striking that delicate balance between seemingly competing yet certainly complementary rights.

The indication of "serious risks" posed by live media coverage to the accused's right to due process, left unexplained and unexplored in the era obtaining in Aquino and Estrada, has left a blow to the exercise of press freedom and the right to public information.

The rationale for an outright total prohibition was shrouded, as it is now, inside the comfortable cocoon of a feared speculation which no scientific study in the Philippine setting confirms, and which fear, if any, may be dealt with by safeguards and safety nets under existing rules and exacting regulations.

In this day and age, it is about time to craft a win-win situation that shall not compromise rights in the criminal administration of justice, sacrifice press freedom and allied rights, and interfere with the integrity, dignity and solemnity of judicial proceedings.  Compliance with regulations, not curtailment of a right, provides a workable solution to the concerns raised in these administrative matters, while, at the same time, maintaining the same underlying principles upheld in the two previous cases.

The basic principle upheld in Aquino is firm ? "[a] trial of any kind or in any court is a matter of serious importance to all concerned and should not be treated as a means of entertainment[, and t]o so treat it deprives the court of the dignity which pertains to it and departs from the orderly and serious quest for truth for which our judicial proceedings are formulated."  The observation that "[m]assive intrusion of representatives of the news media into the trial itself can so alter and destroy the constitutionally necessary atmosphere and decorum" stands.

The Court concluded in Aquino:

Considering the prejudice it poses to the defendant's right to due process as well as to the fair and orderly administration of justice, and considering further that the freedom of the press and the right of the people to information may be served and satisfied by less distracting, degrading and prejudicial means, live radio and television coverage of court proceedings shall not be allowed. Video footages of court hearings for news purposes shall be restricted and limited to shots of the courtroom, the judicial officers, the parties and their counsel taken prior to the commencement of official proceedings. No video shots or photographs shall be permitted during the trial proper.

Accordingly, in order to protect the parties' right to due process, to prevent the distraction of the participants in the proceedings and in the last analysis, to avoid miscarriage of justice, the Court resolved to PROHlBIT live radio and television coverage of court proceedings. Video footage of court hearings for news purposes shall be limited and restricted as above indicated.[17]

The Court had another unique opportunity in Estrada to revisit the question of live radio and television coverage of court proceedings in a criminal case. It held that "[t]he propriety of granting or denying the instant petition involve[s] the weighing out of the constitutional guarantees of freedom of the press and the right to public information, on the one hand, and the fundamental rights of the accused, on the other hand, along with the constitutional power of a court to control its proceedings in ensuring a fair and impartial trial."  The Court disposed:

The Court is not all that unmindful of recent technological and scientific advances but to chance forthwith the life or liberty of any person in a hasty bid to use and apply them, even before ample safety nets are provided and the concerns heretofore expressed are aptly addressed, is a price too high to pay.

WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED.


In resolving the motion for reconsideration, the Court in Estrada, by Resolution of September 13, 2001, provided a glimmer of hope when it ordered the audio-visual recording of the trial for documentary purposes, under the following conditions:

x x x (a) the trial shall be recorded in its entirety, excepting such portions thereof as the Sandiganbayan may determine should not be held public under Rule 119, ยง21 of the Rules of Criminal Procedure; (b) cameras shall be installed inconspicuously inside the courtroom and the movement of TV crews shall be regulated consistent with the dignity and solemnity of the proceedings; (c) the audio-visual recordings shall be made for documentary purposes only and shall be made without comment except such annotations of scenes depicted therein as may be necessary to explain them; (d) the live broadcast of the recordings before the Sandiganbayan shall have rendered its decision in all the cases against the former President shall be prohibited under pain of contempt of court and other sanctions in case of violations of the prohibition; (e) to ensure that the conditions are observed, the audio-visual recording of the proceedings shall be made under the supervision and control of the Sandiganbayan or its Division concerned and shall be made pursuant to rules promulgated by it; and (f) simultaneously with the release of the audio-visual recordings for public broadcast, the original thereof shall be deposited in the National Museum and the Records Management and Archives Office for preservation and exhibition in accordance with law.[19]

Petitioners note that the 1965 case of Estes v. Texas[20] which Aquino and Estrada heavily cited, was borne out of the dynamics of a jury system, where the considerations for the possible infringement of the impartiality of a jury, whose members are not necessarily schooled in the law, are different from that of a judge who is versed with the rules of evidence.  To petitioners,  Estes also does not represent the most contemporary position of the United States in the wake of latest jurisprudence[21] and statistical figures revealing that as of 2007 all 50 states, except the District of Columbia, allow television coverage with varying degrees of openness.

Other jurisdictions welcome the idea of media coverage.  Almost all the proceedings of United Kingdom's Supreme Court are filmed, and sometimes broadcast.[22]  The International Criminal Court broadcasts its proceedings via video streaming in the internet.[23]

On the media coverage's influence on judges, counsels and witnesses, petitioners point out that Aquino and Estrada, like Estes, lack empirical evidence to support the sustained conclusion.  They point out errors of generalization where the conclusion has been mostly supported by studies on American attitudes, as there has been no authoritative study on the particular matter dealing with Filipinos.

Respecting the possible influence of media coverage on the impartiality of trial court judges, petitioners correctly explain that prejudicial publicity insofar as it undermines the right to a fair trial must pass the "totality of circumstances" test, applied in People v. Teehankee, Jr.[24] and Estrada v. Desierto,[25] that the right of an accused to a fair trial is not incompatible to a free press, that pervasive publicity is not per se prejudicial to the right of an accused to a fair trial, and that there must be allegation and proof of the impaired capacity of a judge to render a bias-free decision.  Mere fear of possible undue influence is not tantamount to actual prejudice resulting in the deprivation of the right to a fair trial.

Moreover, an aggrieved party has ample legal remedies. He may challenge the validity of an adverse judgment arising from a proceeding that transgressed a constitutional right.  As pointed out by petitioners, an aggrieved party may early on move for a change of venue, for continuance until the prejudice from publicity is abated, for disqualification of the judge, and for closure of portions of the trial when necessary. The trial court may likewise exercise its power of contempt and issue gag orders.

One apparent circumstance that sets the Maguindanao Massacre cases apart from the earlier cases is the impossibility of accommodating even the parties to the cases - the private complainants/families of the victims and other witnesses - inside the courtroom.  On public trial, Estrada basically discusses:

An accused has a right to a public trial but it is a right that belongs to him, more than anyone else, where his life or liberty can be held critically in balance.  A public trial aims to ensure that he is fairly dealt with and would not be unjustly condemned and that his rights are not compromised in secrete conclaves of long ago.  A public trial is not synonymous with publicized trial; it only implies that the court doors must be open to those who wish to come, sit in the available seats, conduct themselves with decorum and observe the trial process.  In the constitutional sense, a courtroom should have enough facilities for a reasonable number of the public to observe the proceedings, not too small as to render the openness negligible and not too large as to distract the trial participants from their proper functions, who shall then be totally free to report what they have observed during the proceedings.[26] (underscoring supplied)

Even before considering what is a "reasonable number of the public" who may observe the proceedings, the peculiarity of the subject criminal cases is that the proceedings already necessarily entail the presence of hundreds of families.  It cannot be gainsaid that the families of the 57 victims and of the 197 accused have as much interest, beyond mere curiosity, to attend or monitor the proceedings as those of the impleaded parties or trial participants.  It bears noting at this juncture that the prosecution and the defense have listed more than 200 witnesses each.

The impossibility of holding such judicial proceedings in a courtroom that will accommodate all the interested parties, whether private complainants or accused, is unfortunate enough.  What more if the right itself commands that a reasonable number of the general public be allowed to witness the proceeding as it takes place inside the courtroom.  Technology tends to provide the only solution to break the inherent limitations of the courtroom, to satisfy the imperative of a transparent, open and public trial.

In so allowing pro hac vice the live broadcasting by radio and television of the Maguindanao Massacre cases, the Court lays down the following guidelines toward addressing the concerns mentioned in Aquino and Estrada:

(a) An audio-visual recording of the Maguindanao massacre cases may be made both for documentary purposes and for transmittal to live radio and television broadcasting.

(b) Media entities must file with the trial court a letter of application, manifesting that they intend to broadcast the audio-visual recording of the proceedings and that they have the necessary technological equipment and technical plan to  carry out the same, with an undertaking that they will faithfully comply with the guidelines and regulations and cover the entire remaining proceedings until promulgation of judgment.

No selective or partial coverage shall be allowed.  No media entity shall be allowed to broadcast the proceedings without an application duly approved by the trial court.

(c) A single fixed compact camera shall be installed inconspicuously inside the courtroom to provide a single wide-angle full-view of the sala of the trial court.  No panning and zooming shall be allowed to avoid unduly highlighting or downplaying incidents in the proceedings.  The camera and the necessary equipment shall be operated and controlled only by a duly designated official or employee of the Supreme Court.  The camera equipment should not produce or beam any distracting sound or light rays. Signal lights or signs showing the equipment is operating should not be visible.  A limited number of microphones and the least installation of wiring, if not wireless technology, must be unobtrusively located in places indicated by the trial court.

The Public Information Office and the Office of the Court Administrator shall coordinate and assist the trial court on the physical set-up of the camera and equipment.

(d) The transmittal of the audio-visual recording from inside the courtroom to the media entities shall be conducted in such a way that the least physical disturbance shall be ensured in keeping with the dignity and solemnity of the proceedings and the exclusivity of the access to the media entities.

The hardware for establishing an interconnection or link with the camera equipment monitoring the proceedings shall be for the account of the media entities, which should employ technology that can (i) avoid the cumbersome snaking cables inside the courtroom, (ii) minimize the unnecessary ingress or egress of technicians, and (iii) preclude undue commotion in case of technical glitches.

If the premises outside the courtroom lack space for the set-up of the media entities' facilities, the media entities shall access the audio-visual recording either via wireless technology accessible even from outside the court premises or from one common web broadcasting platform from which streaming can be accessed or derived to feed the images and sounds.

At all times, exclusive access by the media entities to the real-time audio-visual recording should be protected or encrypted.

(e) The broadcasting of the proceedings for a particular day must be continuous and in its entirety, excepting such portions thereof where Sec. 21 of Rule 119 of the Rules of Court[27] applies, and where the trial court excludes, upon motion, prospective witnesses from the courtroom, in instances where, inter alia, there are unresolved identification issues or there are issues which involve the security of the witnesses and the integrity of their testimony (e.g., the dovetailing of corroborative testimonies is material, minority of the witness).

The trial court may, with the consent of the parties, order only the pixelization of the image of the witness or mute the audio output, or both.

(f) To provide a faithful and complete broadcast of the proceedings, no commercial break or any other gap shall be allowed until the day's proceedings are adjourned, except during the period of recess called by the trial court and during portions of the proceedings wherein the public is ordered excluded.

(g) To avoid overriding or superimposing the audio output from the on-going proceedings, the proceedings shall be broadcast without any voice-overs, except brief annotations of scenes depicted therein as may be necessary to explain them at the start or at the end of the scene.  Any commentary shall observe the sub judice rule and be subject to the contempt power of the court;

(h) No repeat airing of the audio-visual recording shall be allowed until after the finality of judgment, except brief footages and still images derived from or cartographic sketches of scenes based on the recording, only for news purposes, which shall likewise observe the sub judice rule and be subject to the contempt power of the court;

(i) The original audio-recording shall be deposited in the National Museum and the Records Management and Archives Office for preservation and exhibition in accordance with law.

(j)  The audio-visual recording of the proceedings shall be made under the supervision and control of the trial court which may issue supplementary directives, as the exigency requires, including the suspension or revocation of the grant of application by the media entities.

(k) The Court shall create a special committee which shall forthwith study, design and recommend appropriate arrangements, implementing regulations, and administrative matters referred to it by the Court concerning the live broadcast of the proceedings pro hac vice, in accordance with the above-outlined guidelines. The Special Committee shall also report and recommend on the feasibility, availability and affordability of the latest technology that would meet the herein requirements.  It may conduct consultations with resource persons and experts in the field of information and communication technology.

(l)  All other present directives in the conduct of the proceedings of the trial court (i.e., prohibition on recording devices such as still cameras, tape recorders; and allowable number of media practitioners inside the courtroom) shall be observed in addition to these guidelines.

Indeed, the Court cannot gloss over what advances technology has to offer in distilling the abstract discussion of key constitutional precepts into the workable context.  Technology per se has always been neutral.  It is the use and regulation thereof that need fine-tuning. Law and technology can work to the advantage and furtherance of the various rights herein involved, within the contours of defined guidelines.

WHEREFORE, in light of the foregoing disquisition, the Court PARTIALLY GRANTS PRO HAC VICE the request for live broadcast by television and radio of the trial court proceedings of the Maguindanao Massacre cases, subject to the guidelines herein outlined.


Carpio, Velasco, Jr., Leonardo-De Castro,  Brion, Peralta, Bersamin, Del Castillo, Abad, Villarama, Jr., Perez, Mendoza, and Sereno, JJ., concur.
Corona, C.J.,  on official leave.

[1] Ma. Reynafe Momay-Castillo, Editha Mirandilla-Tiamzon, and Glenna Legarta.

[2] Horacio Severino, Glenda Gloria, Mariquit Almario Gonzales, Arlene Burgos, Abraham Balabad, Jr., Joy Gruta, Ma. Salvacion Varona, Isagani De Castro, Danilo Lucas, Cecilia Victoria Orena Drilon, Cecilia Lardizabal, Vergel Santos, Romula Marinas, Noel Angel Alamar, Joseph Alwyn Alburo, Rowena Paraan, Ma. Cristina Rodriguez, Luisita Cruz Valdes, David Jude Sta. Ana, and Joan Bondoc.

[3] Roland Tolentino, Danilo Arao, Elena Pernia, Elizabeth Enriquez, Daphne Tatiana Canlas, Rosalina Yokomori, Marinela Aseron, Melba Estonilo, Lourdes Portus, Josefina Santos, and Yumina Francisco,

[4] Vide rollo (A.M. No. 10-11-5-SC), p. 95.

[5] Represented by its president, Jerry Yap.

[6] Represented by its president, Benny Antiporda.

[7] Vide rollo (A.M. No. 10-11-6-SC), p. 19.

[8] Rollo (A.M. No. 10-11-7-SC), pp. 1-2.

[9] Id. at 2.

[10] Rollo (A.M. No. 10-11-7-SC), p. 3; rollo (A.M. No. 10-11-5-SC), p. 186.

[11] The Sangguniang Panlungsod of General Santos City endorsed Resolution No. 484 of November 22, 2010 which resolved to "strongly urge the Supreme Court of the Philippines to allow a live media coverage for public viewing and information on the court proceedings/trial of the multiple murder case filed against the suspects of the Maguindanao massacre."  The Court noted it by Resolution of December 14, 2010.  Rollo, (A.M. No. 10-11-5-SC), pp. 429-431, 434.

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Cebu City Chapter passed Resolution No. 24 (December 7, 2010) which resolved, inter alia, "respectfully ask the Supreme Court to issue a circular or order to allow Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes to concentrate on the case of the Maguindanao massacre, unencumbered by other cases until final decision in this case is rendered." The Court noted it by Resolution of January 18, 2011. Rollo, (A.M. No. 10-11-6-SC), pp. 90-91, 97.

The Sangguniang Panlungsod of Cagayan de Oro City also carried Resolution Nos. 10342-2010 and 10343-2010, both dated November 23, 2010, which resolved to support the clamor for "speedy trial" and that "the hearing of the Maguindanao massacre be made public" with a request "to consider the appeal to air live the hearings thereof."  The Court noted it by Resolution of December February 1, 2011.  Rollo, (A.M. No. 10-11-5-SC), pp. 671-674, 676.

[12] En Banc Resolution of October 22, 1991.

[13] A.M. No. 01-4-03-SC, June 29, 2001, 360 SCRA 248; Perez v. Estrada, 412 Phil. 686 (2001).

[14] Rollo, (A.M. No. 10-11-5-SC), p. 121.

[15] Id. at 122.

[16] Based on the 1981 book entitled "Putt's Law and the Successful Technocrat" which is attributed to the pseudonym Archibald Putt.

[17] Supra note 20 at 6-7.

[18] Perez v. Estrada, 412 Phil. 686, 711.

[19] A.M. No. 01-4-03-SC, September 13, 2001, 365 SCRA 62, 70.

[20] 381 U.S. 532 (1965).

[21] Chandler v. Florida, 449 U.S. 560 (1981).

[22] (Last accessed: May 25, 2011).

[23] Vide (Last accessed: June 7, 2011).

[24] G.R. Nos. 111206-08, October 6, 1995, 249 SCRA 54.

[25] G.R. Nos. 146710-15, March 2, 2001, 353 SCRA 452.

[26] Perez v. Estrada, supra note 26 at 706-707.

[27] Exclusion of the public. ? The judge may, motu proprio, exclude the public from the courtroom if the evidence to be produced during the trial is offensive to decency or public morals. He may also, on motion of the accused, exclude the public from the trial except court personnel and the counsel of the parties.

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