Political Law

Mercado v. Lopena G.R. No. 230170, June 06, 2018 Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP)

FACTS:

This is a Petition for Certiorari and Prohibition under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court, invoking the power of the Court “to promulgate rules concerning protection and enforcement of constitutional rights, to declare the cases filed by private respondents against petitioners as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) and therefore contrary to the Constitution, public policy and international law and x x x repugnant to fundamental equality before the law of women and men and the spirit and the intent of Republic Act [No.] 9262.”

The root of this controversy is a domestic dispute between estranged spouses petitioner Ma. Sugar Mercado and private respondent Kristofer Jay Go. Such dispute eventually led to the filing of numerous suits by both parties against each other, and the issuance by the RTC of a Permanent Protection Order (PPO) in favor of petitioner.

Petitioners aver that the cases filed by private respondents against them are forms of SLAPP intended to harass, intimidate, and silence them. Petitioners claim that the subject cases are false and baseless complaints that were filed to emotionally, psychologically, and financially drain them and ultimately to pressure them to give up custody of petitioner Mercado’s minor children. 

ISSUE:

What is a SLAPP?

Is it applicable in this case?

RULING:

The concept of SLAPP was first introduced to this jurisdiction under the Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases (A.M. No. 09-6-8-SC).

As defined therein, a SLAPP refers to an action whether civil, criminal or administrative, brought against any person, institution or any government agency or local government unit or its officials and employees, with the intent to harass, vex, exert undue pressure or stifle any legal recourse that such person, institution or government agency has taken or may take in the enforcement of environmental laws, protection of the environment or assertion of environmental rights. (A.M. No. 09-6-8-SC, Rule 1, Sec. 4(g))

In application, the allegation of SLAPP is set up as a defense in those cases claimed to have been filed merely as a harassment suit against environmental actions:

RULE 6

Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation

x x x x

SECTION 2. SLAPP as a Defense; How Alleged. – In a SLAPP filed against a person involved in the enforcement of environmental laws, protection of the environment, or assertion of environmental rights, the defendant may file an answer interposing as a defense that the case is a SLAPP and shall be supported by documents, affidavits, papers and other evidence; and, by way of counterclaim, pray for damages, attorney’s fees and costs of suit.

The court shall direct the plaintiff or adverse party to file an opposition showing the suit is not a SLAPP, attaching evidence in support thereof, within a non-extendible period of five (5) days from receipt of notice that an answer has been filed.

The defense of a SLAPP shall be set for hearing by the court after issuance of the order to file an opposition within fifteen (15) days from filing of the comment or the lapse of the period. (A.M. No. 09-6-8-SC, Rule 6, Sec. 2)

RULE 19

Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation in Criminal Cases

SECTION 1. Motion to Dismiss. – Upon the filing of an information in court and before arraignment, the accused may file a motion to dismiss on the ground that the criminal action is a SLAPP.

SECTION 2. Summary Hearing. – The hearing on the defense of a SLAPP shall be summary in nature. The parties must submit all the available evidence in support of their respective positions. The party seeking the dismissal of the case must prove by substantial evidence that his acts for the enforcement of environmental law is a legitimate action for the protection, preservation and rehabilitation of the environment. The party filing the action assailed as a SLAPP shall prove by preponderance of evidence that the action is not a SLAPP. (A.M. No. 09-6-8-SC, Rule 19, Secs. 1 and 2)

Transposed to this case, the Court finds no occasion to apply the foregoing rules as the Petition has no relation at all to “the enforcement of environmental laws, protection of the environment or assertion of environmental rights.” (A.M. No. 09-6-8-SC, Rule 1, Sec 4(g))

 R.A. No. 9262, which involves cases of violence against women and their children, is not among those laws included under the scope of A.M. No. 09-6-8-SC:

SECTION 2. Scope. – These Rules shall govern the procedure in civil, criminal and special civil actions before the Regional Trial Courts, Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts in Cities, Municipal Trial Courts and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts involving enforcement or violations of environmental and other related laws, rules and regulations such as but not limited to the following:

(a)Act No. 3572, Prohibition Against Cutting of Tindalo, Akli, and Malave Trees;


(b)P.D. No. 705, Revised Forestry Code;


(c)P.D. No. 856, Sanitation Code;


(d)P.D. No. 979, Marine Pollution Decree;


(e)P.D. No. 1067, Water Code;


(f)P.D. No. 1151, Philippine Environmental Policy of 1977;


(g)P.D. No. 1433, Plant Quarantine Law of 1978;


(h)P.D. No. 1586, Establishing an Environmental Impact Statement System Including Other Environmental Management Related Measures and for Other Purposes;


(i)R.A. No. 3571, Prohibition Against the Cutting, Destroying or Injuring of Planted or Growing Trees, Flowering Plants and Shrubs or Plants of Scenic Value along Public Roads, in Plazas, Parks, School Premises or in any Other Public Ground;


(j)R.A. No. 4850, Laguna Lake Development Authority Act;


(k)R.A. No. 6969, Toxic Substances and Hazardous Waste Act;


(l)R.A. No. 7076, People’s Small-Scale Mining Act;


(m)R.A. No. 7586, National Integrated Protected Areas System Act including all laws, decrees, orders, proclamations and issuances establishing protected areas;


(n)R.A. No. 7611, Strategic Environmental Plan for Palawan Act;


(o)R.A. No. 7942, Philippine Mining Act;


(p)R.A. No. 8371, Indigenous Peoples Rights Act;


(q)R.A. No. 8550, Philippine Fisheries Code;


(r)R.A. No. 8749, Clean Air Act;


(s)R.A. No. 9003, Ecological Solid Waste Management Act;


(t)R.A. No. 9072, National Caves and Cave Resource Management Act;


(u)R.A. No. 9147, Wildlife Conservation and Protection Act;


(v)R.A. No. 9175, Chainsaw Act;


(w)R.A. No. 9275, Clean Water Act;


(x)R.A. No. 9483, Oil Spill Compensation Act of 2007; and


(y)Provisions in C.A. No. 141, The Public Land Act; R.A. No. 6657, Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law of 1988; R.A. No. 7160, Local Government Code of 1991; R.A. No. 7161, Tax Laws Incorporated in the Revised Forestry Code and Other Environmental Laws (Amending the NIRC); R.A. No. 7308, Seed Industry Development Act of 1992; R.A. No. 7900, High-Value Crops Development Act; R.A. No. 8048, Coconut Preservation Act; R.A. No. 8435, Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act of 1997; R.A. No. 9522, The Philippine Archipelagic Baselines Law; R.A. No. 9593, Renewable Energy Act of 2008; R.A. No. 9637, Philippine Biofuels Act; and other existing laws that relate to the conservation, development, preservation, protection and utilization of the environment and natural resources. (A.M. No. 09-6-8-SC, Rule 1, Sec. 2.)

SLAPP, as a defense, is a mere privilege borne out of procedural rules; accordingly, it may only be exercised in the manner and within the scope prescribed by the Court as a rule-making body.

Ultimately, the concept of SLAPP is inapplicable to cases of domestic violence against women and children under R.A. No. 9262.

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