CA upholds earlier conviction, jail term for libel case vs Drilon critic
ILOILO CITY — Saying the imposition of imprisonment in libel cases is a matter of judicial discretion, the Court of Appeals (CA) affirmed its earlier resolution upholding the conviction and imprisonment of a critic of Sen. Franklin Drilon for libel.
In a three-page resolution promulgated on March 7 and made public on March 19, the CA’s Former Second Division dismissed the motion for reconsideration filed by former Iloilo provincial administrator Manuel “Boy” Mejorada.
The appellate court affirmed its September 18, 2018 decision which upheld a February 1, 2017 decision of the Pasay City Regional Trial Court (RTC) finding Mejorada guilty of four counts of libel and sentencing him to a jail term from a minimum of two years, four months and one day to a maximum of four years and two months.
Mejorada in a statement said he would bring the case to the Supreme Court.
“With due respect to the CA and the RTC, I believe there was no libel as the element of injury was not established with the failure of Senator Franklin Drilon to testify,” he said.
He said he was confident that Drilon’s failure to testify “will be given consideration.”
Mejorada also said the CA ruling would “send shivers down the spines of journalists.”
“Media will be cautious about stepping on the toes of powerful people, and this will result in more self-censorship. It raises the possibility of media being tamed,” he said.
The Pasay RTC Branch 118 had found Mejorada guilty of libel in relation to his social media and blog posts accusing Drilon of involvement in alleged irregularities in infrastructure projects in Iloilo.
The CA dismissed Mejorada’s argument that the RTC should have imposed a fine instead of imprisonment as a penalty as he is a first offender.
It pointed out that current court rules have not removed imprisonment as a penalty for those convicted of libel.
The court added that the RTC was correct in imposing the penalty of imprisonment based on the circumstances of the case, which include the “barrage of defamatory statements” and “baseless scurrilous personal attacks” in Mejorada’s articles against Drilon.
Various media groups and freedom of expression advocates have been pushing for the passage of pending bills to decriminalize libel in the Philippines.
They stressed that this was part of the global trend to repeal or remove harsh punishments and instead impose fines for the offense.
In 2008, then Chief Justice Renato Puno issued a circular encouraging judges to impose fines instead of prison terms on those found guilty of libel.
But Puno also stated that the circular did not remove imprisonment as a penalty for libel.
The CA resolution was penned by Associate Justice Ma. Luisa Quijano-Padilla and concurred with by Associate Justices Remedios Salazar-Fernando and Franchito Diamante./lzb
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