Editor calls libel case vs him 'ridiculous’

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014


FILING a libel case against a media practitioner has just reached a new low lately.

Calling it “ridiculous,” Herbie Gomez, editor in chief of Gold Star Daily, is facing a libel case not because of a news story that was published but of a series of advertisements.

“Freedom of expression or of the press are not even issues because I NEVER expressed, wrote, or edited anything that concerns complaints or the co-accused,” Gomez, in his Facebook message to this writer Wednesday, said.

The case stemmed from a series of public notices advertised in said paper between two factions of a company which were in conflict against each other in 2012.

Gomez is one of the accused persons in the libel case being handled by Judge Gil Bollozos, Branch 21 of the Regional Trial Court.

Gomez said he doesn’t know any of the co-accused or any of those who sued him, adding that “I completely have no concern or interest, whatsoever, about their internal bickering.”

“The warring factions placed ads/notices with my paper without my knowledge, and even if I knew about it, there was nothing I can do about it because that’s none of my business. It was not journalism work. It was outside my ‘territory,’” he said.

Gomez said editing ads is not part of a journalist’s job description.

“That they dragged an innocent journalist into their mess and caused the issuance of a warrant of arrest against me is truly deplorable,” he said.

Gomez, who received the arrest warrant Wednesday, posted a bail bond of P10,000 on Tuesday.

Decriminalize libel

In a statement, the Cagayan de Oro Press Club (COPC) has condemned the libel case against Gomez dubbing it as “archaic” and “medieval.”

“The COPC is convinced that the Gomez case highlights the need to decriminalize libel which, time and again, has been used as tool to inconvenience, scare, intimidate, suppress and even harass journalists,” it said.

“Now, we are seeing how a journalist is being made to answer for advertising spaces that are not his handiwork. That is simply absurd!” the statement added.

The club said Gomez’s libel case has gone too far, adding that journalists should not be held responsible for advertisements.

Gomez said: “Do we send journalists to jail in this country now over ads? That’s just crazy! Obviously, they were barking up the wrong tree. It’s time to decriminalize libel!”

‘Ugly head’

Rowena Paraan, chair of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), said that libel has once again reared its ugly head.

“The incident just goes to show how criminal libel can be used by the powerful to target whoever they want especially people who criticize or provide platforms for criticism,” Paraan said in a text message.

“Herbie’s case also further illustrates the danger of recent SC decision expanding criminal libel to cyberspace and pushing backward the liberal attitude of the High Court when it comes to freedom of expression issues,” she said.

JB Deveza, coordinator of the NUJP Media Safety Office in Mindanao, said that based on a United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) findings, libel is already “antiquated” and that it is no longer compatible in a country that practices the democratic form of government such as the Philippines.

Further, libel is in conflict with Article XIX, paragraph 3 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which states that the application of the criminal law “should only be countenanced in the most serious of cases and imprisonment is never an appropriate penalty.”

“It is impermissible for a State party to indict a person for criminal defamation but then not to proceed to trial expeditiously—such a practice has a chilling effect that may unduly restrict the exercise of freedom of expression of the person concerned and others,” it added.

In 2011, UNHRC has declared the libel in the country as “excessive” and in violation of the ICCPR in which the Philippines is a signatory.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on February 27, 2014.

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