A remedy against disrespect or defiance of authority is the power to hold people in contempt and impose penalties accordingly. Courts, by reason of their function of dispensing justice necessarily have this power. In movies, judges are portrayed as having the unbridled power of ordering the imprisonment of any person found to be disrespectful. We do not know if this is indeed true in the American jurisdiction but in our country, such is not the case. The power of contempt is governed by the Rules of Court and a certain procedure must be followed making sure that the person being charged with contempt is given ample opportunity to defend himself or overturn the finding of the judge. This is of course to prevent abuse of this power by the judges and the unnecessary or unjust imprisonment of payment of penalty by lawyers, litigants, or even the public. Any judge who abuses this power of holding people in contempt usually gets penalised, suspended, or reprimanded by the Supreme Court. The case of Oclarit vs. Paderanga demonstrates this.
Oclarit vs. Paderanga
The case started in the Regional Trial Court branch presided over by Judge Paderanga where lawyer Oclarit presented a motion for the approval or adoption of the compromise agreement signed by the parties before the punong barangay. When Oclarit argued that the compromise agreement is valid and its adoption or approval is proper, the presiding judge repeatedly ordered him to “shut up”. The Court cited the lawyer in direct contempt supposedly because the latter was moving for the approval of the agreement which was not executed before the court but before the punong barangay. The lawyer was ordered to pay One Thousand Pesos and be imprisoned for one day. The private practitioner then filed a case against the judge over his ruling and behavior.
The question before the Supreme Court is whether the finding of direct contempt against Oclarit is valid. The Court said that the behavior of Atty. Oclarit is not contumacious so as to warrant the finding of contempt by the judge. Insisting and arguing that the compromise agreement executed by the parties be approved by the judge is not necessarily contumacious. In fact, the lawyer is correct. A compromise agreement between litigants “may be executed before anyone or even among the parties themselves and then submitted to the court for approval.” (G.R. No. 139519. January 24, 2001) The judge did not also specify the reason why the person is being cited in contempt which is required by the rules of court. The Court also said: “an order of direct contempt is not immediately executory or enforceable. The contemner must be afforded a reasonable remedy to extricate or purge himself of the contempt.” In this case, the lawyer was not given any opportunity to answer or counter the charge against him and was summarily imprisoned and ordered to pay the penalty. Lastly, the SC declared that: “This drastic power must be used sparingly in cases of clearly contumacious behavior in facie curiae The salutary rule is that the power to punish for contempt must be exercised on the preservative, not vindicative principle, and on the corrective and not retaliatory idea of punishment. The courts must exercise the power to punish for contempt for purposes that are impersonal, because that power is intended as a safeguard not for the judges as persons but for the functions that they exercise ”.