Newspaper loses to Enrile in libel suit

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Friday, December 6, 2013

SENATOR Juan Ponce Enrile may get P2.75 million from the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) for winning a libel case before a Makati court in relation to an article 12 years ago that accused him of having plundered the controversial coconut levy fund.

Found guilty by the Makati Regional Trial Court branch 129 of making defamatory allegations were PDI reporter Donna Cueto, editor-in-chief Letty Jimenez Magsanoc, news editor Artemio Engracia Jr. and associate editor Abelardo Ulanday.

The article published on December 4, 2001 stated that the proposed compromise deal between the Arroyo administration and businessman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr. would allow alleged cronies of the late President Ferdinand Marcos including Enrile to “keep their plundered loot.”

The proposal, which never took off, aims to monetize the sequestered 27 percent-share in San Miguel Corp. (SMC) for the benefit of coconut farmers and the industry. The shares were purchased using levy money.

Enrile, who recently called out the PDI for tagging him as the alleged mastermind of the pork barrel scam, slammed the news report in court for lack of basis.

He called up then Chairperson Haydee Yorac of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) who told him she never mentioned him in any of the interviews she gave in connection with the coco levy agreement.

The senator said Yorac wrote a letter to PDI to protest the use of her name to attack him but received no response.

Cueto told the court that the assailed statements were taken from a press release given to her by former PCGG Ruben Carranza.

That piece of paper, however, did not bear the official letterhead of the PCGG, which is tasked by the Constitution to recover money stolen from state coffers during the 20-year Marcos regime.

The reporter said she asked Carranza if she could use the name of Yorac in the article and the latter told her she can because they (he and Yorac) had already talked about it. Carranza was speaking for the PCGG in past cases.

Cueto also said that she did not interview Yorac or Enrile for the story.

The editors said they did not persuade Cueto and fellow reporter Dona Pazzibugan, who was cleared of the charge, to write the report. They added that they have no participation in writing and editing the article.

But Judge Benjamin Pozon said lack of participation is not a defense for libel, citing Supreme Court decisions stating that the editors are liable as they were the author.

“Clearly, the subject articles contain defamatory imputations as they all exposed plaintiff (Enrile) to public contempt and ridicule, for they imputed to him a discreditable act (the act of plundering or benefiting from plunder of the coco levy fund) and condition (him labeled as a Marcos crony),” read the decision dated October 30.

Coco levy was imposed on coconut farmers from 1973 to 1982. However, the farmers reportedly did not benefit from their contribution because it was used to prop up the businesses of Marcos allies.

SC rulings indicate that the funds were used to buy shares of stock in United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) and SMC, a diversifying conglomerate known for its beer and food products.

A separate decision in 2011, however, said Cojuangco’s 20-percent equity in SMC was legally acquired, denying the government’s claim that it was also bought with levy funds. (Sunnex)

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