Drop libel suit vs reporter, NUJP asks Pacman

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/07 March) – Saying it was an erroneous decision, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines has urged Sarangani Rep. and 8-division world boxing champion Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao to drop the three-count, P75-million libel suit he filed against NUJP General Santos City chapter chairman Edwin Espejo.

“We firmly believe Pacquiao errs in suing Mr. Espejo and seeking compensation that is patently outrageous,” NUJP said in a statement.

The case stemmed from articles written by Espejo that appeared in Mindanews, in Asian Correspondent for which Espejo mainly writes, and Eurasia Review, which reposted the Asian Correspondent story, it added.

At the Asian Correspondent, the piece was titled “Stolen car dealer finds refuge in Pacman mansion,” while MindaNews titled it “Dealer of stolen cars last seen in Pacman mansion.”

Citing reports, Espejo wrote that Mohammad ‘Bong’ Akia, former head of the Presidential Anti-Smuggling Group in Region 12, was seen disembarking from a commercial plane from Manila two weeks ago, and immediately boarded the waiting vehicle of Pacquiao who flew in on the same flight.

“Reports said Akia accompanied Pacquiao in the latter’s residence and has not been seen since,” Espejo reported.

The alleged carjacker also sued Espejo for libel and sought P18 million.

Espejo’s reports showed he had tried to get Pacquiao’s side. Since the boxer is in the US to promote his June 9 fight against Timothy Bradley, it was Pacquiao’s lawyer, Francisco “Bong” Gacal who told the journalist he was not aware of reports Aquia had sought refuge in his client’s home.

Espejo said Gacal also promised to inform Pacquiao of the reports.

Citing Espejo’s efforts to get the side of Pacquiao, the NUJP said the reporter clearly did not have malice aforethought in writing the articles, “which is a requisite for libel.”

“Espejo clearly cited the source of his report as well as his efforts to get Pacquiao’s side and, failing that, sought out the boxing champion’s lawyer,” the group said.

The NUJP further noted that Espejo cited statements by ranking Philippine National Police about Akia’s alleged illegal activities.

“It would be a shame if Pacquiao should risk his well-deserved reputation by succumbing to the same urge that has seen abusive official after abusive official resorting to our draconian criminal libel law — or even worse measures — to stifle reasonable criticism and critical coverage,” it said.

The group renewed its call for the decriminalization of libel. (MindaNews)