MANILA, Philippines—The Court of Appeals has dismissed the libel case filed by the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) against the Inquirer, which stemmed from a paid advertisement published in the newspaper in May 2008.
In a 22-page resolution dated July 29, the court’s 16th Division said former Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez committed grave abuse of discretion when he ordered the City Prosecutor’s Office to file a libel case against the then Inquirer publisher, the late Isagani Yambot, and Inquirer editor in chief Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc on May 20, 2009.
This resulted from a May 15, 2008, complaint filed by the INC and Hildebrand Cabrera, district minister of INC in Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur, against eight former Iglesia officials and members at the City Prosecutor’s Office in Marawi City. Also named respondents were officials of the Inquirer and the Philippine Star.
Cabrera claimed the advertisements in the two newspapers were libelous and malicious to every member of the INC. The advertisements were paid for by Marciano Manuyag, Ariel Sangle, Nedie Espanol, Lydiya Manuyag,Larry Erfilo, Jarelle de Jesus, Eliseo Soriano and Daniel Razon, all former INC members.
In its advertisement, the group had called on authorities to “enforce the law without fear or favor” in relation to complaints of acts committed against its members by “INC bullies” as a result of its “crusade” against the religious group.
The City Prosecutor’s Office of Marawi dismissed the complaint of Cabrera on Oct. 13, 2008, on grounds that he “failed to prove the essential elements of the crime of libel.” It also denied the motion for reconsideration filed by Cabrera.
Cabrera went to then Justice Secretary Gonzalez, who reversed and set aside the dismissal resolutions of the city prosecutor. He also ordered the prosecutor to file a libel case against the former INC officials as well as Yambot and Magsanoc and Star officials.
Gonzalez also denied on Sept. 14, 2009, a motion for reconsideration filed by the Inquirer and Star, prompting the two newspapers to go to the appeals court claiming grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction.
Star officials withdrew their petition after Cabrera executed an affidavit of desistance, rendering the Star petition in the appellate court moot and academic.
Resolving the petition for certiorari filed by the Inquirer, the appellate court’s 16th division, through Associate Justice Zenaida T. Galapate-Laguilles, said it found merit on the petition.
The appellate court agreed with Inquirer’s argument that Cabrera’s complaint-affidavit should have been filed in Quezon City where the INC holds its office, and not Marawi City, the place of residence of Cabrera.
The court said that Cabrera had claimed in his reply-affidavit that he was filing the complaint in behalf of the INC as shown by the certificate issued by INC Secretary General Benefrido Santiago.
“Even if the venue was properly laid, still the complaint-affidavit should have been dismissed for failure to prove the essential elements of the crime of libel to indict petitioners Yambot and Jimenez-Magsanoc of the said crime,” the court said.
The court held the statements made in the paid advertisement “are not defamatory, hence a libel charge will not prosper,” as it noted, among other things, that the statement, “taken in its entirety, … was an appeal to the government to enforce the law without fear or favor in order for the cessation of the mentioned acts of violence.”—Christine Avendaño