Pangasinan publisher, 7 staffers face libel
DAGUPAN CITY—The city prosecutor of Pasig City has recommended the filing of two counts of libel each against The Sunday Punch publisher Ermin Garcia Jr. and seven of his staff members and employees.
In a resolution issued on April 28, Pasig City Assistant Prosecutor Michael Robles reversed and set aside an earlier resolution that dismissed the libel complaint of CityState Savings Bank Inc. against Garcia and his staff members and employees.
Also charged were Marifi Jara, associate editor; Jun Velasco, contributing editor and columnist; Jesus Garcia Jr., correspondent and sports columnist; Johanne Macob, correspondent; Julie Ann Arrogante, online administrator; Jocelyn de la Cruz, production manager; and Virgilio Biagtan, cartoonist.
“This [is] harassment, particularly the inclusion of the seven Punch staff in the case. This is unprecedented. Personally, I don’t mind being charged for I am accountable for my writing but the others by virtue of their own functions, by law, should not be included,” said Garcia in an e-mail to the Inquirer.
A bail of P10,000 for each count of the libel cases was recommended for each respondent, except for Biagtan, whose cartoon appeared only in one issue of the paper.
The complaint against Dominador Liwag Jr., retail services manager of Dagupan Electric Corp., was dismissed for lack of evidence.
The complaint stemmed from the Punch’s banner story in its Aug. 24, 2013, issue titled, “CityState Bank’s electric bills charged to City Hall,” which CityState Bank claimed was “utterly false and glaringly defamatory.”
In its succeeding issue on Sept. 1, 2013, the paper also said: “The problem over electric bills has been worsened by the discovery that the city government is paying for the consumption of a privately owned bank operating in the ground floor of MC Adore building.”
“That the respondents are determined to inflict serious damage on and ruin the corporate name and business of CityState is further shown by their temerity to reiterate the same baseless and defamatory statements,” said CityState Bank in its complaint.
On Dec. 27, 2013, the libel complaint against all respondents were dismissed in a resolution issued by Pasig City assistant prosecutor Rodney Magbanua, investigating prosecutor, and approved by city prosecutor Jacinto Ang.
In granting the motion for reconsideration that CityState later filed, Robles supported CityState’s assertion that Magbanua erred in his determination that CityState should have filed the complaint in Dagupan City, not in Pasig City.
He also supported CityState’s position that the seven staff members listed in the paper’s editorial box are equally liable as Garcia.
He cited Article 360 of the Revised Penal Code that states: “The author or editor … or business manager … shall be responsible for the defamations contained therein.”
Garcia said the resolution is perplexing because “not one of the seven staffers is listed as business manager, unless the prosecutor has a book that says they are all one and the same, and I’d like him to share it with the honorable judge.”
He said he welcomed the libel charge because it would serve as a public forum on the alleged illegal operation of the bank in Dagupan and the tainted ownership of the MC Adore building.
Garcia said lawyers Harry Roque, head of Center for International Law, and Romel Bagares, a former journalist, would defend the Punch staff pro bono. Lawyer Ferdinand Topacio will represent CityState Bank. Gabriel Cardinoza, Inquirer Northern Luzon
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