Judge says he based ruling on evidence-A A +A
Tuesday, September 3, 2013
JUDGE Raphael Yras-torza Sr. yesterday hit back at broadcaster Leo Lastimosa for insinuating that he was biased in his judgment convicting the media man of libel last Friday.
Yrastorza, of the Regional Trial Court Branch 14, denied being approached by former Cebu governor Gwendolyn Garcia nor her representatives for a favorable ruling.
“That’s one thing that I can say no because I don’t want to be approached if the person has a case with me. As long as you have a case with me, (only a) courtesy call is okay,” Yrastorza told Sun. Star Cebu in an interview.
The judge said he studied the case “very carefully.”
“I have nothing against (Leo) Lastimosa personally. (But) he is using the media to tell lies,” he said.
Yrastorza found Lastimosa guilty of libel for his “Si Doling Kawatan (Doling the thief)” column published in The Freeman on June 29, 2007.
Lastimosa, station manager of radio dyAB and anchorman of TV Patrol Central Visayas, was fined P6,000 “with subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency.”
He was also ordered to pay Garcia P2 million in moral damages.
Lastimosa’s lawyer Celso Espinosa said they will appeal Yrastorza’s judgment before the Court of Appeals.
Lastimosa said the decision was “made in a vacuum.”
But Garcia’s lawyer Lito Astillero said the ruling was “a clear vindication” of Garcia.
Elements of libel
In his 38-page judgment, Yrastorza said four elements of libel exist in Lastimosa’s column, which talks about a fishmonger who illegally amasses wealth and a fleet of vehicles, then wins an election for barangay captain.
Garcia complained Lastimosa depicted her in his column as a “thief, corrupt, arrogant, vindictive, ill-tempered, foul-mouthed and cruel.”
In his testimony, Lastimosa denied the character Doling refers to Garcia’s first name and argued the article was a “work of fiction.”
In an interview, Judge Yrastorza said that before he joined the judiciary, he helped a
relative in politics.
He recalled he was one of the campaign managers of his uncle, the late Emeterio “Terry” Larrazabal, who ran against former Ormoc City mayor Eufrocino “Dodong” Codilla in 1995.
Garcia was the campaign manager of Codilla, her father-in-law. Codilla is now representative of Leyte Province’s Fourth District.
“I even came to blows with the lawyers of Gwendolyn,” Yrastorza recalled.
Yrastorza was later appointed judge of the Municipal Trial Court in Cities after the elections in Ormoc City in the same year.
He was promoted judge of the RTC in Cebu City in December 1999.
When Codilla was mayor, Yrastorza said he even made a courtesy call to his office.
“I am not that kind of guy who has ill-feelings for anybody. I don’t like to have enemies. Why should I quarrel with anybody?” he said.
As an RTC judge in Cebu City, Yrastorza said, he always maintained his judicial independence, especially from politicians.
Yrastorza said his judgment in Lastimosa’s case was based on “merits of the case.”
“I have a clear conscience. My softest pillow is my clear conscience,” he said.
Before the promulgation, Yrastorza said Lastimosa never raised his supposed bias in
his handling of the case.
“I have nothing against Leo. It’s a pity that the evidence is against him,” he said.
The judge admitted he was hurt by the accusations he is partial.
“That’s wrong. It’s not only Leo, (but) all newspaper men should investigate the fact.
That is precisely why I cited it in my decision the Code of Ethics of Journalists.”
Asked on his alleged bias against Lastimosa since he received monthly allowance from Capitol during Garcia’s term, Yrastorza replied: “So what? Until now.”
While other judges are also receiving same stipend from Capitol, he said it does not
mean they cannot rule against the Province.
“It’s the merits of the case that I acted upon,” he said.
The judge said some litigants and lawyers accused him of being biased but “never pointed it out specifically.”
“You cannot just generally accuse a person of bias. You have to point out where he is being biased. Media should investigate,” he said.
Yrastorza, 66, has been in the judiciary for 14 years. He was born in Manila but grew up in Ormoc City. He said it was his first time to convict a journalist for libel.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on September 03, 2013.