Balita publisher Tess Cusipag goes to jail for 21 days
By Ted Alcuitas
“It is the court’s true wish that you learn from this experience that you are bound by the law and you must comply with court orders even if you do not agree with them. The court will compel obedience to its orders and punish disobedience. The protection of the rule of law must be a paramount concern of society.” – Justice F. L. Myers
In a stunning verdict that could spell the end of one of Canada’s oldest Filipino newspaper, Teresita ‘Tess’ Cusipag was sentenced to 21 days in jail for criminal contempt of court.
Cusipag was immediately whisked to an undisclosed provincial jail after the sentencing delivered by Judge Frederick L. Myers of Ontario Superior Court on June 12 at Ontario’s Court of Justice.
Cusipag is the widow of Ruben Cusipag who founded Balita in 1976. It has gained a reputation as a fierce advocate against martial law and continued its community advocacy after the downfall of Marcos. Tess Cusipag took over the newspaper when Ruben was disabled due to a car-pedestrian accident in 1996. He died in July 2013.
Balita Newspaper, Balita Media Inc., Tess Cusipag, Romeo P. Marquez (A.K.A Romy Marquez) and Carllos Padilla (now deceased) were found guilty of contempt of court on June 2, 2107 for violating the order dated July 13, 2016 by Mr. Justice Lederman to refrain from continuing to publish libellous articles about Senator Enverga.
The defendants continued to publish articles prompting the filing of contempt charges by Senator Enverga.
The courtroom was jam-packed with supporters from both sides according to the Toronto-based Philippine Reporter.
The other defendant and Balita writer Romeo P. Marquez was in court to hear the sentence.
Senator Tobias Enverga did not attend but his wife,Rosemere attended together with supporters.
Cusipag, supporters in tears
According to The Philippine Reporter, “Cusipag supporters, including fellow respondent Romy Marquez, were visibly shocked at the verdict. Cusipag appeared in total disbelief upon hearing the conviction. Atty. J. Chow, Cusipag’s legal counsel, took a chance of asking reconsideration and was chided almost instantly. Myers said “No” which sent Cusipag and her supporters to tears. Marquez kept his silence and seemed to be making an effort to ready himself and his camera to document the whole proceeding.”
Cusipag’s supporter stayed in the courtroom to pray over her . Cusipag and her lawyer refused to give a statement to the media.
Justice F. L. Myers found the defendants to be “continuing an avowed, malicious, very public quest to destroy the plaintiffs reputation in face of and despite an order of the Superior Court of Justice.”
Myers said Cusipag was not deterred by the substantial damage award in a previous libel case: “All that it seems to have done is prompted her to transfer her house to her son for free and to transfer two condominium units to others. She tries to avoid the court’s judgment rather than comply with it.”
Cusipag “delivered a very brief affidavit for this sentencing hearing in which she corrects what she says are translation errors in evidence filed by the plaintiff for this hearing. Ms. Cusipag and Balita chose not to file an affidavit explaining their contempt, apologizing, demonstrating their respect for the orders of this court, or evincing an intention to refrain from repeating their contemptuous misconduct in future. They arrive for sentencing unrepentant,” says the decision.”
Cusipag declined to give live evidence at the hearing to explain her intentions after being invited by the judge to do.
In finding Ms. Cusipag in contempt, Justice Myers says…”…I signaled to her the need to demonstrate her respect for the authority of the court and the need to obey its orders. She made no such demonstration. She has not admitted any wrongdoing. She has not voiced words that indicate that she accepts that she must comply with the court’s order or that she intends to do so in future. Rather, her defiance establishes that she and her business are a law unto themselves and are ungovernable without coercion.”
“ The Balita entities cannot be sentenced to jail as they are corporations. I acknowledge that they do not appear to function independent of Ms. Cusipag. Accordingly, I sentence each of Balita Media Inc. and Balita Newspaper to a fine of just $5,000. Tess Cusipag and Balita defendants are also jointly and severally liable for the plaintiffs costs of these contempt proceedings on a full indemnity basis.”
Justice Myers admonished Cusipag and other defendants “… remain bound by Justice Lederman’s order both in letter and in spirit. It is the court’s true wish that you learn from this experience that you are bound by the law and you must comply with court orders even if you do not agree with them. The court will compel obedience to its orders and punish disobedience. The protection of the rule of law must be a paramount concern of society.”