Inquirer apologizes to libel plaintiff for 2014 PDAF stories; Former editor hits management for apology

THE PHILIPPINE Daily Inquirer on 30 July 2021 issued an apology to dzBB news anchor Carmelo del Prado for its 2014 investigative reports linking the broadcaster to the 10-billion Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam which resulted in a seven-year libel litigation between the two camps. Former Inquirer editor Jose Ma. Nolasco, in a press release, condemned the PDI management for compromising with the “dismissible” libel case.

In 2014, del Prado filed libel charges against Inquirer editors and reporters for stories alleging that he was a beneficiary of the PDAF scam. The reports tagged the broadcaster, along with other media personalities, as having received payoffs from the National Agribusiness Corp. (Nabcor) in the guise of ad payments. Included in his charges were then Inquirer publisher Raul Pangalangan, then editor-in-chief Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc, then managing editor Nolasco, then associate editor for online Abel Ulanday, then news editor Artemio Engracia Jr. and then reporters Christine Avendaño and reporter Nancy Carvajal. Also in his complaint were Nabcor officials Victor Roman Cacal and Rhodora Mendoza who were among  the sources cited in the Inquirer reports. 

Inquirer stood by its multi-awarded PDAF scam investigative series against the case as the report was “supported by statements” of the sources and had undergone “careful investigation” by the reporters and editor. This year, however, new Chair Raul Palabrica decided to reverse the management position upon the “advice of the management legal counsel.”   

According to Nolasco’s statement, Palabrica urged those charged in the Inquirer to sign a compromise agreement with Del Prado to drop his complaint.

Nolasco said that under the agreement: the Inquirer agreed to run an apology to Del Prado on the Inquirer’s front page; expunge from the archives ten pork barrel stories/sidebars related to his libel complaint; and pay damages worth PHP1.5 million in ad space.

In its apology, Inquirer said that documents do not show that del Prado received payoffs or benefited from PDAF. And that they “regret the inconvenience and the adverse effects that the news report may have caused del Prado, his family, GMA network and colleagues in the media.”

Nolasco also commented that instead of fighting out the case in court and standing by its stories, the management  chose to concede.  He said that the move was “a bad call by the PDI management, a set-back for press freedom and a sad day for PH journalism.” 

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, said in a statement that the Inquirer’s compromise “set a dangerous precedent and emboldens the powers that be to exploit criminal libel to restrict and gag the press from ferreting out the truth and live up to its duty in keeping the public informed.”

CMFR recognized the Inquirer’s investigative series on the PDAF scam and awarded Nancy Carvajal the Award of Distinction in its 2014 Jaime V. Ongpin Journalism Seminar.