Libel case dismissed vs Inquirer, Taguig cop behind drug exposé
MANILA, Philippines–The Makati Prosecutor’s Office has dismissed for lack of merit the libel charges filed by a group of policemen against a former colleague, the Inquirer editor in chief and three reporters.
Cleared of the charges against them were Taguig policeman PO3 Alexander Saez, Inquirer editor in chief Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc and reporters Jerry Esplanada, Nancy C. Carvajal and Jaymee Gamil.
The case filed in February 2013 were based on two articles that came out in the Inquirer on Dec. 4 and 5, 2012, on Saez’s expose that Taguig police chief Senior Supt. Tomas Apolinario and nine of his men were involved in “drug recycling” or the reselling of confiscated illegal drugs to pushers in the city.
Saez had claimed that as an investigator with the Taguig police station’s Anti-Illegal Drugs Special Operations Task Group in 2011, he took part in the “drug recycling activities” along with Apolinario, Chief Insp. Jerry Amindalan, SPO2 Ernesto Sanchez, PO3 Noel Antillon Jr., PO3 Christopher Bonifacio, PO3 Joseph More, PO3 Elric Valle, SPO1 Jowel Briones, SPO1 Marvin Zata and PO1 Jerry Balbin.
He added that he and the others made at least P5 million with his take totaling around P200,000. According to him, he exposed the scheme because it was “the only right thing to do as a police officer, soldier of Christ and citizen.”
The complainants, however, said that the news items, which according to them were full of falsehoods, consisted of unlawful and malicious imputations that caused them dishonor and discredit.
In a seven-page resolution dated Aug. 11, Assistant City Prosecutor Leilia Llanes said that while the words in the published news articles were “calculated to [create a] wrong impression [about] the character and integrity of the complainants,” they must “still be accorded the mantle of qualified privilege for immunity” since they figured in articles that were of “public interest.”
“Illegal drug problem is a public concern or interest that expressions of personal beliefs, comments and/or opinions are prevalent. Such expressions or comments, although (they) happen to be mistaken, partake [of] the nature of qualified privileged communication,” she added.
Llanes said that “no action for libel may be founded against” Magsanoc as she did “not appear to have knowledge of the malicious character of the information presented by their sources.”
For this, Llanes cited the cases of Webb vs Secretary of Justice, United States vs Taylor and United States vs Ocampo where she said the US Supreme Court held that the board of directors, manager or chief editor of a newspaper could not be held responsible for libel if he had “no control” over the “writing, editing or publishing” of an article.
“Henceforth, it can also hardly be shown that the element of malice is attendant in the manner Magsanoc allowed the publication of the questioned articles,” she said.
As for reporters Esplanada, Carvajal and Gamil, Llanes said the three had “reason to believe the credibility of the matter furnished to them by Saez.”
Saez, after all, “confirmed the truthfulness of the information relayed to them,” she added.
“While they may be mistaken in believing (Saez’s) report to be true, nonetheless the same is not sufficient to warrant their indictment for the crime of libel,” Llanes said, citing the case of Santiago vs Calvo.
In that case, the Supreme Court held that “even when the statements are found to be false, if there is probable cause for belief in their truthfulness and the charge is made in good faith, the mantle of privilege may still cover the mistake of the individual,” she pointed out.
With respect to Saez, Llanes debunked the complainants’ statements that there was malice, an element of libel, in his statements.
She said it was “dangerous” to assume that Saez—who was reportedly relieved from duty or suspended from service a year before his exposé—still harbored an “intense hatred” against his former colleagues as they alleged.
Llanes’ resolution was approved by Makati City Prosecutor Jorge Catalan Jr.
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