53 counts of libel vs Rappler in 5 Mindanao cities all dismissed for “lack of probable cause” 

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 26 June) – The City Prosecutor’s Office of Davao City dismissed, for lack of probable cause,  28 counts of cyber libel filed by officials of Pastor Apollo Quiboloy’s Kingdom of Jesus Christ (KJC) against Rappler, bringing to 53 the total dismissed by prosecutors in five Mindanao cities where similar complaints were filed. 

“A vindication of free expression and the rights of a free press,” Rappler’s lawyer, Theodore Te, said. 

“That it came from the city prosecutor of Davao City, the bailiwick of Mr. Quiboloy, is a pleasant surprise, for which kudos should be given to the prosecutors of Davao City,” Rappler quoted Te as saying. 

Fifty three counts of libel filed against Rapper in five Mindanao cities were all dismissed for lack of probable cause. Map courtesy of Google Maps

Since January,  53 counts of cyber libel were filed against Rappler, article writers, and sources before the City Prosecutor’s offices in the cities of Cagayan de Oro, Davao, General Santos, Ozamiz and Panabo for a series of articles published late last year on cases involving Quiboloy, the self-proclaimed “appointed Son of God” who is wanted by the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for sex trafficking and fraud, among other charges. 

Received by the Davao counsel, Ateneo Legal Aid Services Office, on June 22,  the May 23, 2002 joint resolution of the Office of the City Prosecutor here dismissed “for lack of probable cause” the complaints filed by KJC officials. 

Penned by Davao City Prosecutor Jose Charito Cortez II and approved by City Prosecutor Jhopee Avancena, the Joint Resolution noted that a perusal of the articles and video interviews shows that the complainants  “were the not the ones being accused of the crime of seduction and acts of lasciviousness.”

6 complaints, 28 counts

Four complainants — KJC officials Fahad Murphy Ocampo Sangkula, Audrey Madrid Pelera, Rose Gorgonio Corda and Elias Quinlog Bolanio Jr. —  filed before the Davao City Prosecutor’s Office,  seven complaints each for a total of 28 counts of cyber libel against Rappler regional head Inday Espina Varona, Mindanao bureau coordinator Herbie Gomez, former researcher Vernise Tantuco; Jayeel Cornelio, sociologist of religion at the Ateneo de Manila University and one of the awardees of The Outstanding Young Men in 2021; and former KJC members Arlene Caminong Stone, Faith Killion and Reynita Fernandez. 

The Joint Resolution acknowledged that Quiboloy is a known public figure not just in Davao City but at the national and even international level but the complainants “failed to show proof of actual malice in these cases.”

“The general allegations that the subject news articles and online videos were made purposely to malign, discredit, dishonor and vilify their church pastor, ministry and congregation “are not enough proof of actual malice,” it said. 

The Joint Resolution also stressed that the complainants cannot be considered as the offended parties since they were “never named nor identified”  in the news articles or videos. 

Similar resolutions were issued by the Office of the City Prosecutors in Cagayan de Oro, General Santos, Ozamiz and Panabo. 

On February 18, 2022, a joint resolution by a three-member panel of the City Prosecutor’s Office in Cagayan de Oro dismissed for insuffiency of evidence the complaint for seven counts of libel filed by Cherry Seguiro Cabrillos, Quiboloy’s cluster coordinator for Northern Mindanao. 

On March 15, the prosecution in Ozamiz City also dismissed motu propio the complaint of another KJC coordinator, Virginia Menoza Villanueva, alleging seven counts of cyber libel.

On March 22, the City Prosecutor’s Office of Panabo City dismissed the four complaints for four counts of cyber libel filed by Sistine Grace Cardona, KJC Evangelism Kingdom Leader for 2020 in the Davao del Norte Cluster, against the same respondents. 

The Resolution signed by Deputy City Prosecutor Albert Bulseco, Assistant City Prosecutor Jennifer Grace Aquiatan-Ruiz and City Prosecutor Jennifer Namoc-Yasol noted that there is no need for the office to make a finding as to whether or not the articles published online are libelous in nature because the complainant “failed to establish her right” to file the complaints. 

The resolution also noted that the complaints were “loaded with conjectures and speculations” and the complainant failed to substantiate her allegations as victim of the articles published online. “The evidences adduced by the complainant in its totality cannot support the finding of probable cause.”

On March 31, the City Prosecutor’s Office of General Santos City in an omnibus resolution, dismissed “for lack of probable cause,” seven complaints alleging seven counts of cyber libel against Rappler. 

Gemma Completo Sanchez, Southern Mindanao Cluster Coordinator of the Executive Pastor alleged in her General Santos City complaints, that Rappler, its Espina-Varona, Gomez,  reporter Pia Ranada, Tantuco; Cornelio, Stone, Killon, and Fernandez “maliciously published several articles and documentary videos” on the Rappler website allegedly “attacking, discrediting, maligning and destroying the name of” Quiboloy and the KJC itself. 

“Wanted by the FBI”

Quiboloy, a spiritual adviser and friend of President Rodrigo Duterte, is presently “wanted” by the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation for “conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking by force, fraud and coercion, and sex trafficking of children; sex trafficking by force, fraud, and coercion; conspiracy; and bulk cash smuggling.”

Quiboloy was indicted by a federal grand jury in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, Santa Ana, California, for these charges and a federal warrant was issued for his arrest on November 10, 2021.

The “wanted by the FBI” posters of Quiboloy, Teresita Tolibas Dandan, and Helen Panilag, were posted on the FBI’s website on January 31, 2022.

Quiboloy, Dandan and Panilag  are wanted for their alleged participation in a “labor trafficking scheme that brought church members to the US, via fraudulently obtained visas, and forced the members to solicit donations for a bogus charity, donations that actually were used to finance church operations and the lavish lifestyles of its leaders,” the FBI said. 

The poster noted that that females allegedly “were recruited to work as personal assistants, or ‘pastorals,’ for Quiboloy and that victims prepared his meals, cleaned his residences, gave him massages and were required to have sex with Quiboloy in what the pastorals called ‘night duty.’”

Quiboloy’s lawyer, Ferdinand Topacio, in an online press briefing on February 6, said the charges against Quiboloy were part of an “orchestrated effort” to destroy him and “indirectly, the present administration.”

Quiboloy’s church coordinators filed the libel complaints against Rappler in five Mindanao cities, all 53 counts dismissed for lack of probable cause. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)