The Power of Contempt vs. Professors Promoting “Rebellious” Ideas

The Philippine National Police (PNP) is given the difficult task of enforcing the law. Our police force should have the necessary tools to effectively discharge their functions, which is why the PNP was recently given the power to issue subpoena and enforce this power through contempt. The recent news items, involving PNP Chief Director General Oscar Albayalde and the power of contempt (“Professors promoting ‘rebellious’ ideas may face contempt — Albayalde“, Inquirer.net; “PNP chief says teachers ‘instigating’ students should be charged“, ABS-CBN News), got our attention. For purposes of discussing points of law, let us do a brief scan of the Supreme Court decisions on the power of contempt.

Contempt

In its broad sense, contempt is a disregard of, or disobedience to, the rules or orders of a legislative or judicial body or an interruption of its proceedings by disorderly behavior or insolent language in its presence or so near thereto as to disturb its proceedings or to impair the respect due to such a body. In its restricted and more usual sense, contempt comprehends a despising of the authority, justice, or dignity of a court.

Contempt Inherently Judicial in Nature

The power of contempt is inherently judicial in nature. The power to punish for contempt is inherent in all courts; its existence is essential to the preservation of order in judicial proceedings, and to the enforcement of judgments, orders and mandates courts, and, consequently, in the administration of justice.

To preserve their authority and efficiency, safeguard the public confidence in them, and keep inviolate their dignity, courts of justice should not yield to the assaults of disrespect and must, when necessary, wield their inherent power to punish for contempt, a power necessary for their own protection against improper interference with the due administration of justice.

Direct and Indirect Contempt

There are two (2) kinds of contempt of court, namely: direct and indirect. Indirect contempt or constructive contempt is that which is committed out of the presence of the court. A person who is guilty of disobedience or of resistance to a lawful order of a court or who commits any improper conduct tending, directly or indirectly, to impede, obstruct, or degrade the administration of justice may be punished for indirect contempt.

Criminal or Civil in Nature

A contempt charge can either be criminal or civil in nature. A criminal contempt involves a conduct that is directed against the dignity and authority of the court or a judge acting judicially; it is an act obstructing the administration of justice which tends to bring the court into disrepute or disrespect.

Civil contempt on the other hand, consists in failing to do something ordered to be done by a court in a civil action for the benefit of the opposing party therein and is, therefore, an offense against the party in whose behalf the violated order is made.

Adminsitrative Bodies

The exercise of the power of contempt has always been regarded as a necessary incident and attribute of courts. The exercise of the power of contempt by administrative bodies has been invariably limited to making effective the power to elicit testimony.

In March of 2018, President Rodrigo Duterte signed Republic Act No. 10973, granting the CHIEF of the PNP and the DIRECTOR and DEPUTY DIRECTOR for administration of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) the authority to administer oath and to issue subpoena and subpoena duces tecum. The law itself spells out the limitations to the PNP’s power to issue subpoena:

1. The power to issue subpoena shall be exercised SOLELY by the specified officials and may not be delegated to any other person or office.

2. The subpoena shall state the nature and purpose of the investigation. Otherwise stated, there must be an existing investigation.

3. Failure to comply with the subpoena shall authorize the filing of a case for indirect contempt under the Rules of Court with the Regional Court. In other words, the PNP officers cannot directly cite any person in contempt; they must file the appropriate case with the RTC.

Judicious Exercise of Power

The contempt power, however plenary it may seem, must be exercised judiciously and sparingly with utmost self-restraint with the end in view of utilizing it for correction and preservation of the dignity of the court, not for retaliation or vindication.

Sources: Masangcay vs. COMELEC, G.R. No. L-13827, 28 September 1962; Bildner vs. Ilusorio, G.R. No. 157384, 5June 2009; CASCONA vs. Dominguez, et al., G.R. No. 189949, 25 March 2015.

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