3 editors of weekly paper in Surigao sued for libel

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews / 02 December) – Three editors of a weekly newspaper were reported to have gone into hiding after learning a warrant of arrest had been issued against them for libel.

But Edito Mapayo, editor and publisher of Pinas Balita, a weekly publication in Surigao del Norte, told MindaNews in a telephone interview that he is raising funds for their temporary liberty in case they will be arrested. The bail bond has been pegged at P10,000 each.

Mapayo said he will exhaust all legal remedies to have the libel case against them dismissed, claiming the report they published was not libelous.

The warrant of arrest was issued by the Regional Trial Court Branch 29 here.

Businesswoman Elizabeth Matugas, who ran for mayor in the municipality of Dapa in Siargao Island, sued Mapayo, news editor Paul Boncaros and managing editor Jun Ramirez for libel.

Matugas, sister of incumbent Rep. Francisco Matugas (1st District, Surigao del Norte) and Surigao City Mayor Ernesto Matugas, lost in the election against Peter Boy Ruaya, a former mayor for Dapa, by a slim margin.

The case was based on a report in the weekly newspaper’s Feb. 8-14 issue which alleged that Matugas has not been paying the owners of several lots in Mt. Patag, Barangay Jubgan, San Francisco town in Surigao del Norte where she reportedly operated an illegal mining activity in 2014.

Matugas denied the allegations.

Matugas accused the three of allegedly “conspiring and confederating with each other, knowingly, intentionally, and feloniously, with intent to discredit or cause dishonor or contempt.”

She alleged that “the wicked article of the respondents portrayed me as a villain, a swindler and a cheat. … The ignominy of it all is the fact that I was not even involved in the supposed illegal transactions.”

The businesswoman also claimed that the report on a “trivialized alleged event” that transpired in 2014 was obviously meant to discredit her in the coming elections.

But Mapayo said the complaint filed by Matugas should not have gone to court because their story was “not libelous.”

He said the article, “based on interview with a public official involves matters of public concern. It was newsworthy and thus it was only proper and appropriate for us to disclose the story to the public. And there was no malice in our article,” he said.

Matugas filed a separate complaint for a civil case and demanded 5 million pesos for the libel suit against Mapayo and company. (Roel Catoto / MindaNews)