Second journalist arrested on libel charge in ten days

An online news correspondent facing a criminal libel charge was arrested on 15 April 2015 in Barangay Poctol, Daraga, Albay province. Albay is 451 kilometers south of Manila.

Members of the Daraga Municipal Police Office arrested BicolToday.com correspondent Elmer James Bandol on the strength of a warrant issued by the Masbate Regional Trial Court on 15 July 2012. The arrest is in connection with a libel complaint filed by then Masbate Electric Cooperative (MASELCO) General Manager Dr. Eduardo Margallo. Bandol is also a contributor to several local newspapers in Bicol.

The libel is supposedly based on a news story Bandol published in the online news website on 14 December 2011 alleging that MASELCO incurred financial losses of up to Php 314 million due to “mismanagement,” improper “procurement procedures” and several “illegal transactions.” (“314 million pesos losses of Masbate power coop traced to mismanagement-NEA”) The report also tagged Margallo as the “Kissing GM” based on several sexual harassment complaints allegedly filed by MASELCO women employees against him.

BicolToday.com Executive Officer Angel Ayala told the Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility that Bandol was first held in the Daraga Municipal Police Office after the arrest. Bandol was later brought to the Masbate province on April 16 to answer charges against him in court. He was released after posting bail of Php 10,000.

According to a BicolToday.com report, Bandol had been previously cited in several libel complaints, all of which have been dismissed by the courts.

Only last April 5, Hataw newspaper publisher and columnist and former National Press Club President Jerry Yap was arrested by the members of the Manila Police District for two counts of criminal libel. Yap was released on April 6 after posting bail of Php 20,000.

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.