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Ex-DILG exec’s libel case vs. Rappler CEO, reporter junked

/ 10:46 PM November 19, 2019

MANILA, Philippines — The Quezon City Prosecutor’s Office has junked the libel case filed by a former official of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) against Rappler Chief Executive Officer Maria Ressa and reporter Rambo Talabong.

In a resolution dated September 10,  copies of which were made availabel Tuesday, Assistant City Prosecutor Arnel Pabellar dismissed for lack of probable cause the libel case filed by former DILG Undersecretary, now Agrarian Reform Secretary John Castriciones.

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In August 2017, Talabong published an article entitled, “DILG asks Malacanang to decide the fate of 3 ‘floating’ execs soon.”

The said article stated that “Undersecretaries Emily Padilla, Jesus Hinlo, and Jon Castriciones have been placed on ‘floating status’ ever since April 2017, after the Palace received a letter from DILG officials and employees, alleging corruption committed by the three.”

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These contents, Castriciones argued, conveyed “malicious imputations.

Castriciones also cited two other articles which he said contained the same allegations. The two other articles were published in June 2017.

“These articles of respondent Talabong, which complainant (Castriciones) recently took notice of, are deceitful, inaccurate and full of inconsistencies and misrepresentations and are clearly written and designed to tarnish the honor and reputation and expose him to embarrassment, public ridicule, and contempt,” the complainant’s affidavit read.

According to the respondents’ joint counter-affidavit, an article written by Talabong published on June 20, 2017 first reported about the issues raised against the three undersecretaries, as well as the existence of a “confidential memo” that was allegedly given to the president.

Another report published on June 23, 2017 reported that Castriciones was placed on floating status by former Secretary Ismael Sueno.

The prosecutor, however, said that the reports Talabong made were “factually accurate”.

“To be liable for libel, they were informed that all the elements thereof must be present. Libel expressly excludes fair and true reports in relation to the exercise of a public officer of his functions as stated in Article 354 of the Revised Penal Code,” the Pabellar said.

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“Fair and true reports on the complainant, as a high ranking public official, certainly fall within Article 354(2),” he added.

The prosecutor said that the contents of the article published June 20 did not come from the respondents (Ressa and Talabong) but rather from the “Confidential Memo to the President”, saying that the respondents “merely summarised the contents of the alleged libelous remarks.”

“The statements made by respondents in their online website are not in itself defamatory,” the prosecutor said.

Further, the prosecutor added that it is “ludicrous” for Castriciones to question the use of the term “floating status” in the articles, given that he admitted being “stripped of his powers” by Sueno.

The prosecutor then cited the case of Yabut and Tamargo vs Office of the Ombudsman and Doran: “A public official, more especially an elected one, should not be onion skinned. Strict personal discipline is expected of an occupant of a public office because a public official is a propriety of the public.”

“He is looked upon to set an example of how public official should conduct themselves even in the face of extreme provocation. Always, he is expected to act and serve with the highest degree of responsibility, integrant, loyalty and efficiency and shall remain accountable for his conduct to the people.”

Rappler, libel,

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