Electric supplier files PHP20M suit against columnist

CMFR/PHILIPPINES – The power supplier for the Central Negros Electric Cooperative filed a PHP20-million libel suit against a columnist of a local newspaper last 5 March 2015.

Energreen Power Development and Management, Inc. sued Visayan Daily Star columnist Modesto Sa-onoy before the Office of the City Prosecutor of Pasig. The libel charge stemmed from Sa-onoy’s 27 January 2015 column titled “Fried in our fat.”

In his 27 January 2015 column, Sa-onoy criticized CENECO for entering into a contract with Energreen which he said does not have enough capital to fulfill its obligations. Sa-onoy alleged that the customers of CENECO will shoulder the cost for the construction of Energreen’s power plant, and likened the contract it to a robbery. According to Panay News, under the contract Energreen must supply 18.9 megawatts of power during peak hours from 2015 to 2029.

“As we can see, Energreen does not have its own money to undertake the project, so it turns to Ceneco to finance this project. Since Ceneco does not have its own money, it has to look somewhere. In simpler language, both do not have the money for their ingredients. The consumers are there, however, with money Ceneco can force to put up so, did the trio – ERC, Evergreen and Ceneco conspired to rob the consumers with a promise they cannot guarantee to repay,” wrote Sa-Onoy.

Energreen claimed that the column was meant to defame it. A March 10 report of the Panay News quoted Jazmines as saying that “Sa-onoy’s statements were baseless and malicious.”

Sa-onoy told Panay News that the information he wrote in his column were from Vicente Petierre III of the Utility Consumers Alliance of Negros. Panay News also reported that “[Sa-onoy] is ready to face Energreen in court, and added that the company must explain why it failed to supply power to Ceneco on the date stipulated in their contract.”

In his 17 March 2015 column, Sa-onoy said that “According to Energreen, the columns damaged its reputation, but it is clear from the charges that the objective of this suit is to harass, to intimidate and stop this column from further commenting on this serious public issue.”

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 old libel law which it described as “excessive.” CMFR and journalists’ groups have been urging the decriminalization of libel for nearly two decades.