Court orders PDI to pay Enrile P1.3M for libel
The Court of Appeals has halved to P1.3 million the damages the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) has been ordered to pay former Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile in connection with a 2001 news report that tagged him as among those who “plundered the coco levy fund.”
In a decision dated Aug. 22, the appellate court’s Fifteenth Division affirmed the Oct. 30, 2013, ruling of Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 139 that granted Enrile’s suit, but reduced the damages to “reasonable” amounts.
The Inquirer is now ordered to “jointly and severally” pay P1 million in moral damages, P200,000 in exemplary damages and P100,000 in attorney’s fees—down from the respective amounts of P2,000,000, P500,000 and P250,000 ordered by the Makati court.
Likewise, the Court of Appeals (CA) affirmed the denial of the Inquirer’s counterclaim against Enrile, a former defense minister of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos.
The damages “should not be palpably and scandalously excessive,” said Associate Justice Jhosep Y. Lopez, noting it was meant only to penalize the wrongdoer and not enrich the claimant.
Associate Justices Ramon R. Garcia and Leoncia R. Dimagiba concurred with the decision.
The Inquirer has not been officially served a copy of the decision and is awaiting instructions from its lawyers on the next course of action.
Aside from the Inquirer, Enrile also impleaded then reporter Donna Cueto, late publisher Isagani Yambot, the late editor in chief Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc, and editors Artemio T. Engracia Jr. and Abelardo S. Ulanday.
The allegedly offending news report, dated Dec. 4, 2001, attributed to the late Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) Chair Haydee Yorac the statement that a compromise agreement on the coco levy fund cases would allow Enrile and the other respondents to keep their plundered loot. Yorac denied making the statement.
Yorac said she was not interviewed by the Inquirer’s reporter and later added that the PCGG did not issue an official statement that was cited as the news article’s source.
The coco levy refers to the taxes or contributions collected during the martial law years from coconut farmers, planters and millers. The coco levy was used to purchase the United Coconut Planters Bank, six coconut oil mills, 14 holding companies and San Miguel Corp.
The CA said the news report contained statements that were “serious criminal imputations and highly defamatory to the character, name and reputation” of Enrile.
It cited the statements “Marcos crony,” “benefited from the coco levy fund,” “keep their plundered loot” and “helped them plunder the coco levy fund.”
The CA rejected the Inquirer’s defense that the mention of Enrile’s name was only incidental and that the report only narrated the PCGG’s explanation.
“No amount of explanation can hide, much less erase, the negative impression already created in the minds of the readers towards him who at that time was neither charged nor convicted for any crime involving the coco levy fund,” the decision read.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.