MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews) – That three journalists in Butuan City were acquitted of libel on Monday was refreshing news, like rain after a long dry spell. Judge Augustus Calo of Regional Trial Court Branch 5 cited the constitutional right to freedom of expression in dismissing the case filed by former mayor Daisy Plaza against Maria Kristina E. Cassion, Franklin A. Caliguid, and Alberto Endozo Jr.
Calo’s decision also highlighted what could be obvious by now: the Plazas can no longer do as they please in Butuan. The courtroom defeat added to the pain of the political dislocation they suffered after May 2010. For decades dating back to the pre-martial law era, they held the city in their hands. Now all they can do is rage over the unfavorable decision of a local judge.
In all those years, nobody dared cross the Plazas. Lesser politicians kowtowed to their wishes. The local media heaped praises on them, and was ever careful not to court their ire or displeasure. This explains their abhorrence toward criticisms of the way they ran the local government, proof of which was the libel case filed against Cassion et al based on a letter-to-the-editor published in the local paper where the three journalists had worked.
The letter alleged that Ms Plaza received bribe money from a construction firm for a road project in Barangay Bonbon.
The ex-mayor could have put the issue to rest with a reply denying the accusation. But having been used to seeing the local media treat them as gods, she opted to sue the three journalists, apparently as a warning to others who may find the courage to say that the emperor – I mean empress – has no clothes on.
Finding legal redress was farthest from Ms Plaza’s mind; all she wanted was to teach Cassion and company a lesson. As Erwin Mascarinas reported, she told a local TV station that she wanted to “discipline” the accused. That statement smacks of the mentality of one who is used only to hearing good things being said about her or the way she governed the city.
Be that as it may, I’m confused why it took nearly ten years for the case to be resolved. It would be speculative, if not unfair, to say that the judge had long ago wanted to decide on it but waited for an opportune time. Like after the political defeat of the Plazas in Butuan?
These things won’t matter anymore to Cassion, Caliguid and Endozo Jr. The libel case is now just history. And so are the Plazas of Butuan. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at email@example.com.)