MANILA – The Supreme Court en banc would not be able to act before the Holy Week break on the petition filed by news website Rappler and some of its reporters and managers seeking to end President Rodrigo Duterte's coverage ban against them, Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin said Friday.
Bersamin said the en banc would next meet on May 3.
"No, I don't think so because the en banc is no longer going to meet until May 3," the top magistrate told reporters in Angeles City following the launch of the city as the 4th Justice Zone under the Justice Sector Coordinating Council.
Bersamin said the SC en banc already held its last en banc session in Baguio City on Wednesday.
"'Yung pag-akyat namin sa Baguio, natapos na namin 'yung mga naka-schedule na kaso namin sa en banc. At mahirap lamang na ipagpatuloy namin sa last week kasi nahati 'yung Abril ng Holy Week at pagbibigyan namin ang mga miyembro ng Supreme Court na mangilin," he explained.
(When we went up to Baguio, we finished cases scheduled for en banc. It would be difficult to continue until the last week because Holy Week is in the middle of April and we will give a chance for members of the Supreme Court to be in observance.)
Rappler, in its petition filed with the high court Thursday, asked for a special raffle so that the Supreme Court could act on its plea for a temporary restraining order (TRO) and/or writ of preliminary injunction to prevent the government from imposing a ban on its reporters from covering the President and any public event he would attend.
Rappler said the ban raises a "serious and compelling constitutional question" which it sought to prevent through a TRO.
It cited how the Holy Week break and other holidays "pose significant risk that the instant Petition will not be included in the regular raffle of the Honorable Court."
"Thus, Petitioners respectfully move that the instant Petition be immediately set for raffle and its Application for a Temporary Restraining Order and/or Writ of Preliminary Injunction be immediately acted upon," it added, citing internal rules of the Supreme Court.
But according to former Supreme Court Spokesperson Theodore Te, who represents Rappler in a separate cyberlibel case and also writes a column for the news website, there is still a possibility for Rappler to secure a TRO.
"Raffle is not decided by (SC) en banc. There is a raffle committee which has a definite composition. It meets regularly and should special raffle be needed, it can meet," he told ABS-CBN News in a text message.
He explained that the petition will be raffled and the member-in-charge of the case can make recommendations to the Chief Justice.
"Since court is in recess, the CJ can act based on recommendation of the member in charge," he said.
"If the CJ wants to, he may issue interim reliefs based on the MIC's (member-in-charge) recommendation," he added.
According to a source in the high court, the raffle of cases is done Mondays and Wednesdays.
Rappler had asked the Supreme Court to strike down Duterte's coverage ban, which began on Feb. 20, 2018 when Rappler's Malacañang reporter, Pia Ranada, was prevented from entering the Malacañang compound and from covering events of the President.
That ban, Ranada said, has now been extended to include other public events where the President is present, including their regional correspondents.
According to the petition, the ban constitutes prior restraint and subsequent punishment, in violation of freedom of speech and of the press.
They also complained they were singled out and did not have the opportunity to contest the ban, in violation of their rights to equal protection and due process, respectively.
Last year, the Securities and Exchange Commission revoked Rappler's incorporation papers, saying it allowed foreign-owned Omidyar Network to hold Philippine Depositary receipts (PDRs), in violation of the constitution.
Its executives, including chief Maria Ressa, are also facing several cases in court, including cyber libel and alleged violation of the anti-dummy law. Ressa, who was arrested twice over the last two months, has decried the legal cases as an affront on press freedom and abuse of power.
Rappler has been known for critical reporting on the President and his administration.