Leo should appeal his conviction-A A +A
Thursday, September 5, 2013
THE decisions of trial courts are based on evidence presented during trial.
Otherwise, a judgment that is not supported by evidence could be challenged as a palpable error amounting to grave abuse of discretion.
The court, as a rule, cannot act on evidence that is not presented, identified and formally offered. The judge, in penning a decision, works within the bounds of the admitted evidence.
Regional Trial Court (RTC) Judge Rafael Yrastorza explained that the conviction of columnist and broadcaster Leo Lastimosa of the crime of libel was based on evidence.
The judge’s explanation was unnecessary since he is entitled to the presumption of regularity.
Be that as it may, the conviction of Leo is not the end of the line for him. Leo has 15 days from promulgation to appeal his conviction with the Court of Appeals. If unlucky, so to speak, he can still raise the issue to the Supreme Court.
In upholding the right of every citizen (not only journalists) to free expression or speech, the Supreme Court, in several decided cases, reversed the convictions of libel against journalists or broadcasters.
Leo’s conviction was not the first. Radio commentator Choy Torralba was convicted of libel by the lower court but the Supreme Court reversed the conviction on the ground that the prosecution failed to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
Being charged with libel is among the hazards of the trade. In my 31 years as media practitioner (news reporter then and now as columnist), I was charged with libel only once--by an influential businessman.
On appeal, then Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales reversed the resolution of the Cebu City Prosecutor’s Office finding probable cause against me for libel. On my motion, then RTC Judge and now Justice Geraldine Econg immediately dismissed the libel charge.
No one can brag that being charged with a criminal offense, like libel, is not bothersome or inconvenient. If it is tedious for those in the law profession, how much more for those facing criminal charges?
I could understand the feeling of Leo even if the judgment did not carry imprisonment.
The guilty verdict is a blemish on his name. The P6,000 fine may be negligible but the P2million imposed for moral damages made the difference.
Atty. Cheking Seares, executive director of the Cebu Citizens Press Council (CCPC), and I, as president of Cebu Media Legal Aid (Cemla), issued a joint statement in support of Leo. His conviction saddened us but that he won’t be incarcerated lightened our thoughts.
Our statement of support, in part, reads: “Leo’s right to due process is not over. Let it be pursued freely, without the interference of political or economic power, in the higher courts. And let the decision not dissuade journalists from continuing to do their job courageously and responsibly.”
Even if Leo made a contrary statement, he should raise his conviction before the Court of Appeals to determine whether the judgment was erroneous or not and in the process enrich our jurisprudence on libel. He should heed his lawyer’s advice.
Janet Lim-Napoles is now the butt of jokes. But when shall we hear from the Department of Justice naming other persons equally liable as Napoles in the pork barrel scam involving billions of pesos in taxes?
While we don’t want a haphazard result of the investigation conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Commission on Audit (COA), the turtle pace is wearing out the public’s patience.
Worse, the credibility of the NBI and COA is on the line. Netizens have raised the possibility that some of COA personnel may have been involved in the scam and suspected that NBI personnel leaked to Napoles her pending arrest.
With the humungous amount of taxpayers’ money being stolen or misspent, I believe that a private independent commission named by President Noynoy Aquino would be the best body to investigate the scam.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on September 05, 2013.