Criminal Libel Suits Against Journalists
One arrested, another convicted, two dismissed in two months
A journalist was convicted of libel and another arrested in the Philippines on the same charge in less than two months. But two other libel cases against media workers were dismissed during the same period.
Libel is still a criminal offense in the Philippines despite calls for its decriminalization. In October 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Committee urged the Philippine government to review its 83-year-old libel law which it described as “excessive.” CMFR and journalists’ groups have been urging the decriminalization of libel for nearly two decades.
On 29 January 2016, Digos City Police arrested broadcaster Arvin Malaza for five counts of alleged libel on the strength of a warrant issued by the Davao del Sur Regional Trial Court on January 20. The libel complaint was filed by former Digos City mayor Arsenio Latasa.
CMFR reported on 29 September 2015 that Latasa had filed more than 225 counts of criminal libel against Muews 97.5 fm and K 37 TV owner and broadcaster Malaza, who is also known as Jun Blanco in his programs. The charges were based on the supposedly libelous commentaries by the broadcaster over his radio program Isumbong mo kay Blanco (Complain to Blanco) aired daily from 9:00 am to 12:00 pm with simulcast on K 37 TV. Malaza had discussed in his program the extrajudicial killings that allegedly occurred and the questionable projects supposedly undertaken by the city during Latasa’s administration (1992 to 2010).
Malaza was admitted to the Digos Doctor’s Hospital after he suffered chest pains during his arrest. He was released after posting bail of PHP50,000, but remained in the hospital where his condition is being monitored.
Earlier, on 21 December 2015, radio blocktimer Joene Cahilog, also known as Rex “Kandos” Santos in his radio program, was found guilty of libel by the Negros Oriental Regional Trial Court. Cahilog was sentenced to imprisonment of from one year, eight months and 21 days to two years and two months.
The libel charges against the blocktimer were based on his “negative and hurtful” commentaries against Florence Felice Baesa, another broadcaster from a different radio station in Dumaguete, in his program “Kandos” aired over dyGB-FM in April 2014.
The court also ordered Cahilog to pay PHP20,000 in moral damages.
A report from The Sunday Negros Chronicle said Cahilog was also convicted on 2 May 2014 of libel charges filed by Nekanne Lleanderal –Ang Gobonseng. This was after Cahilog commented on a drug raid by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency on a travel lounge owned by Gobonseng.
The Taguig City Prosecutor’s Office dismissed the libel charges filed by alleged pork barrel mastermind Janet Lim Napoles against Rappler reporter Natashya Gutierrez in 2013. The complaint was based on Gutierrez’s stories about the “lavish lifestyle” of Napoles’ daughter Jeane. According to the complaint, the Rappler reports caused the Napoles family “grave humiliation and distress.”
On 27 August 2013, CMFR reported that businesswoman Napoles had filed separate libel complaints against reporter Gutierrez, lawyer-blogger Berteni Causing, fashion designer Eduardo Baddeo who granted interviews implicating Napoles in the alleged large-scale misuse of government funds, and another against four individuals from the Manila broadsheet Philippine Daily Inquirer (publisher Raul Pangalangan; editors Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc and Jose Ma. D. Nolasco; and reporter Gil C. Cabacungan).
According to a January 19 Rappler report, the prosecutor dismissed the case against Gutierrez in a resolution dated 16 November 2015 “for lack of probable cause.”
Also dismissed were the libel charges against Sun.Star Davao editor-in-Chief Stella Estremera and a reporter identified as John Doe with the initials RSA.
The complaint filed before the Davao City Prosecutor’s Office against Estremera and RSA by Antonio Paner and Johnny Repaso was over a story published in April 2015 about the alleged eviction of 40 lumad (indigenous people) families from their ancestral land in Tugbok, Davao City by the group allegedly headed by Paner and Repaso.
According to a Sun.Star report, a joint resolution dated 23 November 2015 by Prosecutor 3 Gaye Cañete and approved by Chief Prosecutor lawyer Nestor Ledesma said that “The dismissal was based on the grounds that ‘despite the fact that the source of the news came from e-mails sent to the reporter, there is no sufficient proof that will bolster the fact that the reporter entertained…that there was a high degree of awareness of [the report’s] probable falsity…such that other news agencies picked up related news article involving the lumad in the area where killings and chaos were allegedly happening.’
“The respondent was ‘able to present proof that other media entities published articles related to the scenario as shown in the article,” the resolution stated, adding that the questioned article (was in furtherance of) the need for the public to be informed of the issues that beset certain groups of individuals in Manuel Guinga.’”