John Hay libel case vs BCDA, Inquirer junked
BAGUIO CITY—The city prosecutor’s office has dismissed a P100-million libel suit filed by the developer of Camp John Hay against the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) for notices it published in newspapers that warned the public against investing in John Hay projects.
Acting Baguio Prosecutor Elmer Surot ruled that the notices were neither defamatory nor malicious.
These advertisements were published on April 10 by the Inquirer, which was cited by the Camp John Hay Development Corp. (CJHDevco) as a nominal respondent to the suit.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer’s business pages also ran a set of BCDA press releases about CJHDevco’s legal issues.
BCDA and CJHDevco have been engaged in a public feud over the John Hay projects and have been compelled by a Baguio court to submit to arbitration. CJHDevco is chaired by businessman Robert John Sobrepeña.
At the height of the feud in June, Sobrepeña sued BCDA president Arnel Paciano Casanova and the agency’s officials for posting the two-page advertisement which alerted unit owners of the John Hay Manor, the John Hay Suites as well as John Hay log homes and cottages, that BCDA had sued CJHDevco for “estafa” after it released to the government what it believed to be a previously sold luxury cabin to partially settle its P2.9-billion debt.
The advertisement also said that CJHDevco had been sanctioned by the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board for marketing and selling John Hay properties “without securing the required permits.”
The advertisement also alluded to allegedly “questionable business practices” being undertaken at Camp John Hay.
CJHDevco said the phrases and details of the advertisement were designed to “induce in the minds of the reading public the belief that CJHDevco and its officers engage in fraudulent business practices.”
It said that these “imputations were made publicly because the [advertisement] and articles were published in the [Inquirer].”
But “after meticulous evaluation of the allegations and voluminous documents presented by the contending parties,” Surot said in his resolution that neither the advertisement nor articles about the John Hay feud were libelous.
He said the advertisement was composed of facts “based on public records and communications [and] as such, malice could hardly be attributed to the respondents as the publication could not be described or considered as having been done with the knowledge that they are false…”
Surot also ruled that the articles published by the Inquirer were fair and true reports of the legal issues affecting CJHDevco. Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer Northern Luzon