Editorial: Lessons from a conviction-A A +A
Thursday, September 5, 2013
YESTERDAY, the office was crowded with fellow journalists who wanted to interview us for the conviction of Sun.Star Davao editor-in-chief Stella A. Estremera and its former publisher Antonio M. Ajero for libel with regards a police story that was published in July 2003.
The promulgation was read with just Estremera present and the lawyer at the Regional Trial Court Branch 18 in Digos City in the sala of Judge Carmelita Sarno-Davin.
It was with gratitude that we accepted the conviction, mainly because finally, there is one judge who rendered her decision. The case has been passed on from one judge to another, the ten-year period it took for the case to be promulgated has seen one judge after another being assigned and re-assigned to other salas. We may not agree with the decision, but it is one decision that will allow us to move forward with the corresponding steps we are legally privileged to take. The case lingering around in court for ten years was like ten years in limbo; during which you cannot discuss the merits of the case otherwise be cited for contempt, the case being sub judice, nor can you do anything else beyond waiting for what the court says as other remedies were exhausted and denied.
In the many interviews made yesterday, Sun.Star Davao had this to say:
It is a case we welcome because it puts a face on the long struggle to decriminalize libel. For so long we have stereotyped journalists who are sued and convicted and even those killed as journalists who test the bounds of freedom of speech and expression by being hard-hitting, at times even insulting. Now there is this police story from which a libel conviction sprung from. It’s telling the people and warning journalists that conviction is not just for the hard-hitting and those who go beyond the accepted level of decent speech. For as long as there is someone determined to gag you, the law is there that can be used against you. It’s also telling us that there is a legal way to gag journalists.
We’re not saying we’re holier than anyone, we’re not even saying we’re better than the rest. We are just saying that there is a law that can be used on anyone, including clueless cub reporters of a tiny media establishment, simply because the criminal provision for libel exists like Damocles’ sword over everyone who dares enter the field of journalism and communication.
The complainant is not even of importance here, the man can be anyone who wants you gagged.
Now, they even tried to throw to us a libel law that covers online postings, with a higher degree of criminal liability. How’s that for the constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of expression?
Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on September 05, 2013.