PDI editors, reporters plead not guilty to libel
Editors and reporters of the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Wednesday pleaded not guilty to the libel case filed against them by anchorman Melo del Prado of dzBB Radio.
The Inquirer editorial staff was arraigned on Wednesday before the sala of Quezon City Regional Trial Court branch 87 Judge Aurora Hernandez-Calledo.
Melo sued the Philippine Daily Inquirer in 2014 for libel for a series of articles that said he had received payoffs allegedly disguised as advertising expenses from one of the conduits in the P10-billion pork barrel scam.
Named respondents in his libel complaint were PDI publisher Raul Pangalangan, executive editor Jose Ma. Nolasco, associate editor for online Abelardo Ulanday, news editor Artemio Engracia Jr. and reporters Nancy Carvajal and Christine O. Avendaño.
Pangalangan was the only one who did not attend the arraignment since he was now based in The Hague, Netherlands, where he is serving as a judge of the International Criminal Court.
The Inquirer editors and reporters came with their lawyer, Fortunato Pagdanganan.
Interviewed by reporters after the arraignment, Nolasco maintained the Inquirer had documents to back up its story on Del Prado.
“In other words, the very freedom that protects his rights to criticize others is the very same freedom that protects our right to criticize him,” Nolasco said, adding he believed the case against them by Del Prado had no basis as well.
In a series of articles on the pork barrel scam published in March, the Inquirer reported that several media personalities, including Del Prado, had benefited from the diversion of the lawmakers’ pork barrel, officially called the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), that was coursed through the state-owned National Agribusiness Corp. (Nabcor).
The Inquirer reported that Del Prado, a hard-hitting broadcast host whose show specializes in giving assistance to aggrieved listeners, was a recipient of three checks issued separately by Nabcor—on April 27, May 14 and July 6, 2009—totaling P245,535, all drawn from a Nabcor account at the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) Tektite branch, PSE Center, Ortigas, Pasig.
Copies of the checks, which were described in the accompanying vouchers as “advertising expenses,” and accompanying documents were made available to the Inquirer by former Nabcor employees Rhodora Mendoza and Vic Cacal who have applied to become state witnesses.
Del Prado’s lawyer had said the payments received by Del Prado from Nabcor were for a legitimate advertising plan of the Department of Agriculture’s Barangay Bagsakan project.
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