Biyernes, Oktubre 21, 2011

Are we criminally liable for Libel?

By Mortz C. Ortigoza

Libel case respondent Mortz Ortigoza. He is one of the three staff of Northern Watch Newspaper who was sued by Board Member Alfie Bince

Board Member (BM) Alfonso Bince sued me, Yolly Fuertes (Publisher), and Brando Cortez (Editor-in-Chief) of this paper recently at the prosecutor‘s office in Rosales, Pangasinan.
The case he filed was Libel. It was a result of my column “Most BMs received P40 monthly from Jueteng – BM Uy
The P40 was ridiculous and incredible but I rectified it in my August 14, 2011 column   after some members of the Sangguniang Panlalalwigan (SP) or the Provincial Board threaten me on mass media with libel.
 I said there it was a typographical error.  I explained that what BM Danny  Uy told me and other media men in several occasions that most of his fellow BMs were recipient of the P40 thousand payola from the illegal number game jueteng.
Libel is public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status, or circumstance tending to cause the dishonor, discredit, or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead, (Article 234 of the Revised Penal Code).
It is a case handles by the Regional Trial Court even its penalty of up to Prision correctional medium period (4 years and two months.) or a fine of up to P6, 000 or both.
Although it shows its prison term is under the ambit of the lesser Municipal Trial Court, it probably shows that written slander is a special case because it involves special people – the journalists (aheem!).
If BM Bince wants the court to convict us, he should meet all the four (4) elements of criminal libel.
A) There must be defamatory Imputation; B) Publicity of the Libelous Matter; C) The Person Libeled must be Identified; D) There must be Malice on the Part of the Accused.
Since there was already publication of my disputed column, I’ll answer elements A, C, and D at my very best knowledge.
On Element A: There was no defamatory imputation. I wrote that article in good faith and without malice.
Bm Uy for several times has been telling me and some media colleagues with bravados that he did not receive even  a single centavo from jueteng intended monthly for  the members of the SP.
I included Uy’s statement to my column that most of his colleagues received payolas to corroborate my observation of the indifference of the SP to the government sanctioned Loterya ng Bayan (LNB).
“Is the absence of payola the reason that made members of the august body critical of the LNB?” I posed there.
What I asked it in my column it was privileged (it means no action for libel). Besides, it was in the form of a question and a matter of public interest concerning public officials.
As what Borjal vs. Court of Appeal (301 SCRAA 1 January 14, 1999 says….”Fair comments on matters of interest are privileged and constitute a valid defense in an action for libel or slander.
 I did not concoct the statement of BM Uy, there were media men and non media men who already went public by corroborating what I exposed that they heard too that Uy said that most of his colleague were recipients of the illegal number game.
On Element C : It says that the person libeled must be identified. Bm Bince was not identified as recipient of the payola in that article.
On the first row of the first (1) paragraph of my column I wrote “Recently, I overheard board member Alfonso Bince adversely commenting on the surge of Lotery ng Bayan (LNB) in Pangasinan. “Loterya ng Mayayaman, he incessantly and derisively quipped to two radio stations where he was interviewed the other week in phone patch”.
On the fifth (5) paragraph of the same row I posed “Does Bince’s dislike for LNB reflect the mentality of his colleague whose names are preceded with the adjective “Honorable”?”
“On the eight (8) paragraph of the same row I asked” Is the absence of payola the reason that members of the august body critical of LNB?”
Now, where’s the name of BM Bince here that he wrote on paragraph D of his Affidavit Complaint (AC):
 Thus the above column article specifically mentioning his name is benefiting from the operation of illegal number game as jueteng is  blatant lie and falsehood and constitutes   malicious imputation of   a crime which tends to cause his dishonor, discredit, and contempt from his constituents in the 6th congressional district of Pangasinan from more than twenty (20) years and in the entire province and all possible readers of Northern watch, who by reason of which he has suffered mental anguish and wounded feelings”
Susmariosep, the allegation of Bince is an insult to the intelligence of even the ordinary readers and his constituents.
How could he accuse me and company that I dragged his name on my column when I only mentioned him on the fifth paragraph as critical of the LNB and not its beneficiary?
And that fifth and eight paragraphs were even a poser?
It means a query, a question I made not for him but to his colleagues.
You my dear readers can browse again what the fifth (5) paragraph of my column and you connect that to paragraph 8, and- son of a gun - you would be enlightened, too.
I was no longer talking about Bince there but his colleagues.
The AC of the offended lawmaker at Paragraph A was misleading and the prosecutor who would resolve the complaint should take notice.
He juxtaposed my statement on the first paragraph of row 1of my column where I mentioned his name  as critical to the LNB to  paragraph six of the same row of Uy’s statement that most if not all of his colleagues at the provincial board received P40, 000 monthly payola from  a jueteng operator.
Holly Molly, the 1st paragraph was a different topic to the 6th paragraph!
On Element D: I did write that article without malice but with a patriotic duty to unmask the hypocrisy of the members of the SP of being critical or indifferent to LNB but not to jueteng.
As what my kumpadre Edmund Burke says : All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”.
If the complaint of Bince could not meet any one of the four (4) elements then the prosecutor should throw the complaint to the waste basket like dung to save valuable scarce prosecutorial resources.
Oh, by the way Bince said on the first paragraph of his AF that he is a resident of Rosales, Pangasinan where he filed his AF.
He failed to mention that he is pubic official.
Paragraph  3 of  Article 360 of the Revised Penal Code said that were one of the offended parties is  public officer”….the action should be filled in the Court of First Instance (precursor of the RTC) where he held office at the time of the commission of the offense or where the article  is printed and first published…”.
Bince failed also to mention that he has a government funded office in Rosales. By overlooking his public position and government office at his AC, could our defense lawyers ask for the immediate dismissal in the name of jurisdiction for this harassment that took the attention already of the national and local media and other entity who mull to organize a rally by inviting personalities like Archbishop Oscar Cruz to denounce what a member of the provincial board has been doing to us?
Bince should have stated the location of his public office that could either be in Lingayen –where the provincial capitol is located, or the one in Rosales but he failed to mention it that he has one there.
Otherwise, this wannabe political columnist surmised that the case should be dismissed pronto by the prosecutor at Rosales so that we could get back to our duty to write what is true without the albatross breathing on our neck.
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