‘Block-timers’ belittle Surigao City mayor’s libel charge

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/27 December) –The two radio “block-timers” charged by Surigao City Mayor Ernesto T. Matugas with libel have belittled the case, saying it will not prosper in court.

“If he (Mayor Matugas) feels aggrieved, then he’s perfectly within his right to file any case against us,” said Jamar D. Gavino, one of the two respondents in the case filed by Matugas last month. “But if he must file a case in court, it should have been stronger and buttressed with unassailable facts.”

Gavino said he and his co-accused, Rey O. Culbo, are confident the prosecutor will dismiss it.

Matugas alleged the respondents had maligned him both as a private person and as a public official.

The case is now pending before the city prosecutor’s office, and a clarificatory hearing has been set on January 4, 2012.

The case stemmed from the radio broadcast on March 17, 2011, which supposedly portrayed the mayor as a corrupt official. Matugas alleged that in that broadcast Culbo declared that he took a P5-million bribe from businessman Henry Gaisano in exchange for certain favors on the latter’s mall project.

Culbo hosted the block-time program over dxRS, an affiliate of Radio Mindanao Network, though it has recently been discontinued. Gavino allegedly acted as researcher for Culbo.

But Culbo and Gavino said they never mentioned the name of the mayor during the airing.

Gavino said the allegation that he was a researcher in the program was presumptuous.

“Aside from the plain allegation that Gavino is the radio’s researcher/writer, there’s no proof that he supplied the information to Culbo. In fact, there is no proof that he is the researcher/writer,” the pair’s four-page counter affidavit said.

“There was nothing in the statement that would indicate that the complainant is the person referred to or if the statement even refers to any particular individual,” it added.

They said the case was nothing but a form of harassment to quell freedom of speech.

While the mayor admitted having received a P5-million check from Gaisano after the mall’s groundbreaking rites sometime in March, he insisted the amount was “clean money.”

“Gaisano purchased a P10.4-million property in my subdivision in Tagaytay, he made a down payment of P5 million. There is a paper trail here, a check was issued and a contract to sell,” Matugas had earlier explained.

Matugas, an engineer by profession, is the president of Woodridge Property Inc. (WPI), a firm that is into several real estate development projects throughout the country.

He said that before he became mayor he had been dealing with Gaisano as a client for years now.

Prior to the filing of the libel case by Matugas, Culbo, Gavino and another resident had already pressed charges against the mayor for the alleged bribery.

In a five-page complaint before the Ombudsman, the complainants alleged that on March 17, 2011, during the groundbreaking rites for Gaisano Capital, Gaisano handed Matugas the P5-million check drawn from Banco de Oro Cebu Branch.

Gaisano owns other chains of malls and superstores in the Visayas and Mindanao.

The complainants alleged that the amount was paid in exchange for Gaisano’s entry in the city. Gaisano Capital started building its two-storey mall on a 3.4-hectare area in Barangay Luna last April.

In accepting the money, the complainants said Matugas should be held liable for graft because it was tantamount to bribery, noting that Gaisano, as an investor, was likely to ask favors in permits and other licensing requirements for his department store.

Matugas said that while the libel case is related to the case filed before the Ombudsman, Culbo’s “utterance, based on the information fed by program’s researcher cum writer,” projected him as a “corrupt person and public official”.

“The utterance made a sweeping judgment as if I were an extortionist, which tended to cause dishonor and discredit on my person as a private individual and as an elected public official,” the mayor said in his complaint. (Roel N. Catoto/MindaNews)