Gwen testifies in 2007 libel case vs LeoBy Ador Vincent Mayol
Cebu Daily News
Cebu Gov.Gwendolyn Garcia yesterday took the witness stand for the first time to testify in a libel case against veteran broadcaster and columnist Leo Lastimosa.
In the hearing, the governor said she was certain she was the one alluded to in the 2007 column of Lastimosa in the Freeman titled “Si Doleng Kawatan” (Doleng the thief)
“I feel that what Mr. Lastimosa did ruined my name, my children, and grandchildren,” Garcia told reporters later.
The article, which Lastimosa called a work of “literary fiction,” was written in Cebuano and described Doleng as a “fishmonger, thief, vindictive, ill-tempered, foulmouthed and cruel.”
Garcia identified some documents presented as evidence in the case filed before Regional Trial Court (RTC) Judge Raphael Yrastoza of Branch 14.
Garcia was represented by lawyers Rory Jon Sepulveda and Lito Astillero, both Capitol consultants.
“My name is quite difficult to pronounce by children. There were instances when they make fun and then say Doleng because my name is Gwendolyn,” said Garcia, who appeared in court in slacks, a white jacket and pearls.
On cross examination, defense lawyer Celso Espinosa asked how she was certain that she was the one being written about.
“I think with absolute certainty that this column refers to me,” she replied.
The lawyer said the column may be referring to other individuals, since they described the subject as a fishmonger, a vendor and barangay captain.
“I may not have been a fishmonger or a fish vendor but if we talk of allegories, the fish-monger and fish vendor vendor in “Doleng Kawatan” is obviously “Doleng” which is me,” Garcia said.
The governor also testified that she never ran as a barangay captain.
“No, I have never run as barangay captain. That is a matter of fact and a fact is different from allegory,” said Garcia who addressed Espinosa as “sir” during her testimonies.
She said she decided to file the libel complaint “based on all of the other columns that Mr. Lastimosa has written, based on the allegorical trend of his columns, based on the play of words.”
Asked, if she too has a “fleet of vehicles” as Lastimosa “Doleng” was said to have, Garcia said yes because before she was elected governor, she had a trucking business with a a fleet of more than 20 dump trucks, and had a car rental business with fleet of several Mitsubishi Pajeros, Nissan Pathfinders, and Kias.
On cross-examination, Lastimosa’s lawyer also asked about the governor’s choice of lawyers.
He said the governor may end up using government funds in paying legal fees of P500,000 to Capitol consultants.
Garica said she filed the case in her personal capacity and would pay her lawyers “with my own funds.”
Garcia originally filed two libel suits against Lastimosa.
The other complaint stemmed from another column titled “Paugat Ni Gwen.”
The case was dismissed in February 2009 after the governor and Lastimosa reached a mutual agreement during a chamber conference with RTC Judge Geraldine Faith Econg.
Garcia said Lastimosa admitted that the reason for all the animosity was due to the broadcaster’s “lack of access to the governor.”
Lastimosa sought copies of documents from the governor regarding the controversial construction of the Cebu International Convention Center in Mandaue City.
“And I said you can call me anytime, this is my number, you have been asking for the documents of the CICC, I am compiling all of that. In fact you can sent someone to get these documents,” Garcia said in her testimony.
“I wish to state for the record that I have not misunderstood a single word that he has written.
It is he who misunderstood,” she added.
At one point in the hearing, the governor was asked asked to identify Lastimosa and stood up to point at the columnist.
In an interview later , Garcia said she desired to settle the differences between her and Lastimosa.
“I would say that the first case, there was a chance that we could start anew. Let’s move forward but he continued his attacks against me.
“In fact he texted me and said ‘Mabuhay ka Gov. Gwen.’ But after that, he continued attacking me, accusing me of corruption,” she said.
In a separate interview, Lastimosa denied trying to destroy the reputation of the governor.
“I explained to her that ‘I criticized you but I also criticized you political opponents. That is really my role. If a government official deserves to be criticized, I will really critizie you.
“But that is not libel. I was just doing my job,” said Lastimosa, who was a recipient of the provincial government’s Pasigarbo sa Sugbo Award in 2006.
“I don’t have any personal agenda against her. The same zeal for transparency, and honesty in governnace drove me to write those things,” he added.
Garcia is the last witness for the prosecution. The defense is set to present at least three witnesses.
The libel case filed by Garcia was earlier dismissed by a panel of three prosecutors. It was reversed and filed in court by the reviewing prosecutor Fernando Gubalane, who is now the Regional State Prosecutor.