CITY OF SAN FERNANDO—The Court of Appeals (CA) has affirmed two orders dismissing a libel case filed by six officials of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) against architect and urban planner Felino Palafox Jr. in 2009.
The SBMA officials filed a libel complaint against Palafox after the architect claimed in the Philippine Daily Inquirer story that “an executive of the state-controlled SBMA had asked his firm for an 18-percent commission in exchange for the official getting them on the shortlist of bidders for a previous project updating the free port’s master development plan.”
Palafox gave this information while being interviewed for a story about his opposition to a plan by the SBMA to cut trees for a hotel project in the free port.
The SBMA officials who sued Palafox for libel were Von Rodriguez, Ferdinand Hernandez, Ramon Agregado, Ruel John Kabigting, Marcelino Sanqui and Amethya dela Llana-Koval. They called Palafox’s claim to be “highly derogatory,” saying it was a “false accusation.”
The appellate court, in a decision on Feb. 20, affirmed the orders of the Olongapo regional trial court (RTC) because the SBMA officials did not join the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) in the libel suit.
“We stress that the omission was fatal and already enough cause for the summary dismissal of their (SBMA officials’) appeal,” said the CA in a decision penned by Associate Justice Rodil Zalameda. Presiding Justice Andres Reyes Jr. and Associate Justice Ramon Bato Jr. concurred.
It called the noninvolvement of the OSG in the case as a “gross procedural misstep.”
It said the SBMA officials violated Executive Order No. 292 (Administrative Code of 1987), which mandates the OSG to represent the government in the Supreme Court and CA in all criminal proceeding.
“The people are the real party in interest in a criminal case and only the OSG can represent the people in criminal proceedings pending in this court or in the Supreme Court,” it said.
The SBMA officials, the decision said, did not get the consent of the OSG or furnished a copy of an appeal to the OSG when they questioned the Oct. 23, 2009 and Aug. 20, 2010 orders of Judge Richard Paradeza of the Olongapo RTC Branch 72.
In May 2009, the city prosecutor found probable cause to charge Palafox with libel. Seeking to stop the serving of an arrest warrant, Palafox filed a motion for judicial determination of probable cause before Paradeza’s sala.
Paradeza dismissed the libel case for lack of probable cause. He also dismissed a motion for reconsideration. Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon