GenSan prosecutors thrash libel case vs. reporter

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/19 July) – The city prosecutor’s office here has recommended the dismissal of the P18-million libel case filed by a former official of the Presidential Anti-Smuggling Group in Mindanao against a local journalist.

In an eight-page resolution, state prosecutors Jose Blanza Jr. and Edilberto L. Jamora thrashed the libel case lodged by Mohamad “Bong” Aquia against Edwin Espejo for lack of probable cause.

It was dated June 29 but a copy of the resolution was only obtained on Thursday through the Center for International Law (CenterLaw).

Espejo writes for the Asian Correspondent and is a contributor for MindaNews, the online news portals that carried the story that was the basis of Aquia’s complaint.

The same articles were used separately by world boxing icon and Sarangani Rep. Emmanuel D. Pacquiao to also sue Espejo for libel at the city prosecution’s office last March.

Pacquiao was reportedly seeking P75 million against Espejo.

Espejo said on Thursday that he still did not receive an official copy of the Pacquiao libel complaint nor summoned by the city prosecutor’s office to answer the case.

Romel R. Bagares, CenterLaw executive director, has offered to defend Espejo against the libel case by Pacquiao.

CenterLaw is a human rights organization dedicated to the promotion of free expression and a charter member of the Southeast Asia Media Defense Network, an alliance of regional lawyers and media advocacy groups providing legal support to journalists facing legal persecution for the work they do.

Bagares earlier urged Pacquaio to withdraw the complaint he filed against the journalist.

Pacquiao’s case stemmed from the articles of Espejo, which appeared at online news outfits Asian Correspondent and MindaNews.

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.”

“The suit comes on the heels of a view released by the UN Human Rights Committee finding that criminal libel in the Philippines violates its obligations to protect free expression under Article 19 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which it is a signatory,” Bagares said in an earlier statement.

“It would do well for Pacquiao in his job as a legislator to support calls for the decriminalization of libel in the country by recalling the suit he filed against Espejo,” he added.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines  (NUJP) has also urged Pacquiao to withdraw his complaint, saying he is in a good position to set an example for other politicians to emulate.

“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,” NUJP said.

Espejo heads the NUJP chapter for South Cotabato, Sarangani and General Santos City. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)