December 8, 2023

So the story goes. A judge innocently parked his car somewhere along Kayang Street. He probably went on an errand to buy some pasalubong for his family and friends. While away, his license plate was apprehended because he was illegally parked. In addition to that, the last digit of his license plate bears a number which corresponds to the number that is barred for that day due to the number coding scheme. When he went back to his car, he noticed that his plate number was missing. He had to go to the police station to redeem it by paying the requisite fine and penalty. It should have ended there. But not for the judge. He did not take the confiscation of his plate number sitting down.
As soon as he was back in his sala, he issued an order citing in contempt of court the traffic enforcers who confiscated his license plate. He asserts that its confiscation was done without due process. When he was compelled to report to the police station to redeem it, the time he spent there delayed him from performing his job as a dispenser of justice. Had his car been spared the ignominy of being accosted for a violation of a city ordinance, he could have gone home earlier and could have attended to the trials that were scheduled that day. More time, more cases heard. He, therefore, concluded that the police enforcers should explain why they should not be cited in contempt of court for impeding the administration of justice.
People who are privy to this situation cannot help but ask: “Can the judge do this?” Law students are debating among themselves whether it is within the authority of the judge to cite a police officer in contempt of court for apprehending him. It is a question straight out of the Bar examination that deserves a specific answer.
First, what is contempt of court? Under Rule 71 of the Rules of Court of the Philippines, there are two kinds of contempt: direct contempt and indirect contempt.
The first deals with any “”misbehavior in the presence of or so near a court as to obstruct or interrupt the proceedings in the same” while the second includes “any improper conduct tending directly or indirectly, to impede, obstruct or degrade the administration of justice.”
Second, was the confiscation of the judge’s license plate while he was violating a city ordinance contemptible? Obviously, it should not be direct contempt because it does not constitute a misbehavior near a court. It happened near the market. The act of law enforcers in apprehending traffic violators is not an improper conduct. In fact, it is well within the scope of their authority. It is their duty. While it may indirectly impede the administration of justice, as want to be asserted by the judge, there is nothing improper in enforcing the law. Remember that law and order must always go hand-in-hand.
It, therefore, becomes quite elementary to answer the question: Is the judge justified in issuing the citation order? You want to know my answer? Based on the foregoing discussion of law, your answer is as good as mine.
On more than one occasion, the Supreme Court of the Philippines admonished that the power of judges to use the powers of contempt, while discretionary, is more for the preservation of the dignity and respect due to the courts rather than for the vindication of the personal pride and honor of the magistrate. While it is a form of punishment, it is corrective rather than retaliatory. Hence, it must be used sparingly because an indiscriminate exercise of this unusual and impartial remedy could be interpreted as an abuse of authority.
No wonder the mayor of Baguio thinks that the act of the judge in citing the police officers in contempt of court is an arrogance of power. He asserts that the enforcers were merely enforcing the law without any fear or favor. That the enforcement of the no parking ordinance and number coding scheme is being equally applied, whether the violator is a judge or any other random motorist, for that matter. He is of the notion that this matter should not go unnoticed.
Thus, the mayor wrote a letter to the Supreme Court asking that the judge be made to explain his action. He berated the judge to be more circumspect and be more cognizant that he is not above the law. Nobody is. A judge, by reason of his position, must act in a humbler way than an ordinary citizen.
The mayor is correct. He must have lost his cool to say those things against the judge. Well, I do not blame him. Any other mayor who cares for the welfare of his city and his police force would have done the same. In fact, I cheer for the mayor and agree with what he did.