GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/06 March) — For writing a story about the reported presence of an alleged dealer of stolen cars in the mansion of boxing icon and Sarangani Rep. Emmanuel “Manny” D. Pacquiao two weeks ago, a local reporter has been slapped with a multi-million peso libel complaint.
Called the “Pacman,” the boxing champion is seeking P75 million in damages against Edwin G. Espejo, chair of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines in South Cotabato, Sarangani and General Santos City.
Pacquiao’s complaint stemmed from the recent articles of Espejo, which appeared at online news outfits Asian Correspondent and MindaNews, where he maintains the columns “Pacquiao Watch” and “Southern Comfort.”
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.
An earlier press statement from the Philippine National Police said the suspect (whose surname was spelled Aquia) has been charged with violation of Republic Act 6539 or the Anti-Carnapping Act.
The case was filed against Aquia after the Highway Patrol Group arrested a village official here for possession of a stolen Hyundai Starex van. The village official identified Aquia as the source of the “hot car” that was carjacked from a businessman in Angeles City and replaced with a license plate registered to showbiz celebrity Luis Manzano, according to the PNP statement.
Pacquiao’s lawyers filed the libel suit late Monday afternoon at the city prosecutor’s office.
Espejo, former editor-in-chief of SunStar General Santos said he has yet to formally receive a copy of the complaint but that he was able to obtain a copy from a third party.
“I’ll stand by my story,” he told MindaNews, noting that he is still trying to find a lawyer to help him and that he is still waiting for the official copy of the complaint before issuing any more comments.
In the two articles that were the bases of Pacquiao’s complaint, Espejo wrote that Pacquiao could not be reached for comment at the time because he was in the United States promoting his upcoming fight with American Timothy Bradley.
Pacquiao’s lawyer, Francisco ‘Bong’ Gacal said he was not aware Akia was in his client’s residence, the article said.
Gacal, younger brother of long time Pacquiao lawyer Franklin ‘Jeng’ Gacal Jr, said he will have to confirm the reports with the eight-time world boxing champion, it added.
“Knowing Congressman (Pacquiao) and Jinky, they do not allow Gensan (General Santos) guests to stay in their mansion,” Gacal said even as he said he will inform Pacquiao about the rumor that Akia is still holed up inside the residence of the congressman, according to the articles.
In the MindaNews article, the piece continued by citing a report posted on www.journal.com.ph on February 26.
The Journal report said that police personnel were ready to arrest Akia at the General Santos City airport morning of February 11 but when Akia noticed the presence of policemen, he hurriedly went to see Pacquiao, who had just arrived on board a commercial plane from Manila and was walking on his way to his Hummer vehicle with “Pacman” special plate. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)