Calida, 4 others cited for indirect contempt

NAGA CITY --- Judge Soliman M. Santos, Jr., of the Regional Trial Court Branch 61 here has cited Solicitor General (SolGen) Jose C. Calida and four other lawyers of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) for indirect contempt penalizing them with a fine of P30,000 over a civil case for environmental protection order.

Santos, in a resolution on Aug. 15, 2020 denied for lack of merit, the OSG’s compliance, which was treated by the court as a motion for reconsideration of the indirect contempt order issued on July 11 this year.

The OSG on Aug. 19 has filed a notice of appeal of the indirect contempt order before the Court of Appeals (CA).

The July 11 indirect contempt order declared OSG counsels, Calida, assistant SolGen Bernard G. Hernandez, senior state solicitor Josephine D. Arias, assistant solicitors Princess Jazmine C. Logroño and Steven G. Gatacelo, guilty of indirect contempt and collectively fined them P 30,000.

The Bicolano judge found Calida and the other OSG counsels guilty of indirect contempt for their continued non-compliance of the court’s directive to withdraw the OSG’s Petition for Certiorari at the CA.

Lawyer Ariez Macaraig, who filed the case for temporary environmental protection order, in reaction to the indirect contempt order of Santos, said “The OSG deserved it. They complicated matters. What could have been a straightforward settlement was lost to cheap technicalities. How could the OSG be so difficult when public safety and the environment is at stake?”

To recall, Santos issued on Dec. 16, 2019 an amended consent decree or amended compromise agreement (ACA) in Civil Case No. 2018-0136 for Temporary Environmental Protection Order (TEPO), over the remaining 26 uncut trees within the road widening project of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) along the San Felipe – Panicuason Road in Naga City.

Prior to the issuance of the ACA, the two OSG lawyers, Logroño and Gatacelo, during the Nov. 18, 2019 final settlement conference on the case, “ said or disclosed nothing about the then already existing (dated Nov. 12, 2019) OSG Petition for Certiori that was to be mailed the same day of 18 November 2019,” where the two were signatories to the petition.

Santos said the act of the two OSG solicitors “certainly looks like negotiating in bad faith” especially with Logroño “even initiating a tree cutting compromise proposal” during the Nov. 18, 2019 final settlement conference.

He also criticized the OSG for “trifling, misleading and confusing” the court and “degrading the administration of justice” for its “incoherent zig-zags” of submissions.”

Santos was referring to OSG’s filing on Nov. 11, 2019 of manifestation with motion that the scheduled settlement conference instead be allotted to initial trial due to defendant’s continuing objection to the court proposed compromise agreement.

This manifestation was followed by the “OSG’s Petition for Certiorari’s TRO prayer “enjoining respondent Judge . . . from further proceeding with the Civil Case No. 2018-0143.”

After the compromise agreement was adopted and approved through the ACA on Dec. 16, 2019, the OSG filed on Dec. 27, 2019 a motion for partial reconsideration (MPR) of the ACA.

When Santos denied the MPR on Jan. 30, 2020, the OSG filed a notice of appeal dated Feb. 14, 2020 and a motion for partial execution on Feb. 24, 2020.

Santos said the actions of the OSG counsels violated legal ethics.

Aside from that, the OSG lawyers despite being given the sufficient opportunity to comply with the court’s order to cause the actual withdrawal of the Petition for Certiorari with the CA and submit proof thereof to the court, did not comply with the directive.

Santos also gave the OSG counsels sufficient opportunity to be heard, however, the latter failed to explain why it failed to obey the court’s order.

The action of the OSG “even tends to indicate a contemptuous attitude towards this court,” Santos indirect contempt order said.

OSG’s motion

In the OSG’s compliance or motion for reconsideration of the indirect contempt order, the OSG said the remedies it resorted to in the case were allowed by the rules, thus were all in good faith and that there was no willful intent to disrespect the court.

“The OSG lawyers’ refusal to immediately withdraw the Petition for Certiorari, Prohibition, and Mandamus from the CA does not amount to indirect contempt,” the OSG’s motion stated.

It added that it’s has been “consistent with and transparent in their (DPWH and DENR) position that the Honorable Court’s Amended Consent Decree dated December 16, 2019 is not fully reflective of the parties’ compromise agreement, as it incorporated terms not agreed upon by the parties.”

The OSG also denied it resorted to forum shopping when its lawyers refused to withdraw the CA’s petition docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 163304.

In its defense, the OSG also said its “ lawyers did not exhibit any act that would degrade the Honorable Court’s administration of justice.

Denial of OSG’s motion

Despite the grounds cited by the OSG in its motion , Santos denied the same citing among others the: state solicitors’ willful refusal to withdraw the CA’s petition; its attempt to misrepresent the facts and mislead the court; misuse of the rules of procedures to defeat the end of justice;

The OSG’s lawyers being remissed “as officers of the court, in the administration and attainment of justice, in this case environmental justice, over their duties to their clients;” violation of the legal ethics specifically Canon 10 of the lawyer’s Code of Professional Responsibility,which provides that “ a lawyer owes candor, fairness and good faith to the court;”

Santos’ Aug. 15 order that denied the OSG’s motion for reconsideration of the indirect contempt order for lack of merit, also stated that no further motion for reconsideration shall be entertained by the court.