State prosecutor cleared of libel by CABy Christine O. Avendaño
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—The Court of Appeals has acquitted a former prosecutor of the Department of Justice of the crime of libel nine years after he was found guilty of defaming a judge whom he had charged of multiple counts of child abuse.
At a news conference at the DOJ, Emmanuel Velasco, a former DOJ prosecutor and son of former National Bureau of Investigation chief Epimaco Velasco, thanked the CA, on Thursday for acquitting him.
“This is a big triumph for press freedom. Likewise, for upright government officials who would only like to tread the right path,” said Velasco, who used to be a reporter for Malaya.
Velasco urged partylist Representative Angelo Palmones to fast track “on behalf of journalists and whistle blowers” facing libel suits the passage of a bill seeking to decriminalize libel, noting that the country’s libel law was “outmoded.”
In a 36-page decision, the 11th division of the CA reversed and set aside the September 11, 2009, ruling of branch 17 the Manila regional trial court and acquitted Velasco of libel. Velasco had been meted a prison sentence of six months to one year and a fine of P51,000 by the trial court.
The Manila RTC court had found Velasco guilty of libel stemming from statements he made against then Caloocan RTC Judge Adoracion Adonis in an interview he gave to the then National Broadcasting Network station on July 25, 2002, which was aired on television.
In that interview, Velasco indicated he feared that Justice Secretary Arturo Tuquero had duly interfered in the case he had filed against Angeles for 21 counts of child abuse before the DOJ in May 1999.
At that time of the interview, Angeles had been cleared by DOJ of the charges and had asked the Office of the President to review the DoJ’s dismissal of her administrative complaint against Velasco. Velasco, on the other hand, had been asked by the OP to comment on Angeles’ complaint and upon doing so, had discovered a letter of Tuquero asking then Justice Undersecretary Antonio Llorente to act on the case against Angeles whom he said was a former colleague.
In its ruling, the CA said that it did not agree with the trial court’s acceptance of the NBN videotape of Velasco’s interview because it was not duly certified. It said Angeles also failed to explain why she moved for the production of the original tape of the interview only three years after she filed the complaint against Velasco.
“This, to our mind, constitutes gross negligence amounting to bad faith on her part,” the CA said.
The appelate court also said that the admissibility of the videotape “takes an even greater import when we consider the fact that (Velasco) was able to cast doubt on the genuineness and nature of the same.”
“It is very important that nowhere in the records was it clearly and explicitly shown that the accused-appellant actually uttered the exact words imputed against him as stated in the criminal information,” it said.
Velasco earlier said in the interview that Angeles’ action was tantamount to case fixing and violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
But the appellate court said that even if the videotape was admissible, it ruled that the remarks made by Velasco “(do) not show that the imputation was defamatory, designed to malign, discredit or ridicule private complainant.”
“While private complainant’s name was mentioned in the alleged utterance, we find nothing in the imputed words that would place her in a bad light so as to cause her undue shame and ridicule,” the court said.
It also said that it did not find any sufficient proof that Velasco was prompted by ill-will against Angeles and on the contrary found him “to be in good faith when he answered the questions propounded to him during the interview.”
To reporters, Velasco said the appellate court did not find anything libelous about his statements, noting that what he had discussed with newsmen then was “with respect to the affairs of government officials. ”
Velasco said he was still waiting for the Court of Appeals to act on his appeal for the DOJ to reopen his case against Angeles.