THE Department of Justice has junked the libel case that Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña filed against broadcaster and columnist Pablito “Bobby” Nalzaro in 2014.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II granted Nalzaro’s petition for review and reversed the prosecutor’s resolution indicting the journalist for libel.
In a statement, Nalzaro said he was happy about the DOJ’s resolution.
He said the resolution was handed down while Cebu media was celebrating press freedom last week.
“Even before this ruling, I firmly believed that my article was not libelous. Sometimes, libel is being used by some quarters, especially politicians, to harass, intimidate and silence journalists. And I view the complainant’s move as purely harassment. But the truth always prevails,” said Nalzaro.
In his complaint filed on Dec. 14, 2014, Osmeña said Nalzaro besmirched his reputation when the broadcaster accused him of fabricating charges when the former filed multiple administrative complaints against Cebu City Treasurer Diwa Cuevas before the Civil Service Commission.
Nalzaro, a Sun.Star Cebu and Sun.Star Superbalita columnist, denied he maligned Osmeña. He argued that his column was written solely in response to his “journalistic duty.”
Nalzaro pointed out that he used the phrase “fabricated charges” in his column after he read the Commission on Audit report, which he said would show that Cuevas could not be criminally or administratively held liable for the City’s fiscal management.
Prosecutor Jesus Rodrigo Taga-an last year found evidence to charge Nalzaro with libel (Article 353 of the Revised Penal Code) when the broadcaster alleged in his column, which saw print in this paper in October last year, that some of the cases that Osmeña filed against Cuevas were based on “fabricated charges.”
“Respondent (Nalzaro) probably knew that the phrase “fabricated charges” in relation to (Tomas) Osmeña’s administrative cases against (Diwa) Cuevas is false, or that respondent probably must have been recklessly indifferent to its truth or falsity,” read Taga-an’s resolution.
Nalzaro’s lawyers, Joan Baron and Barbara Anne Ocaba of J.P. Garcia Associates, later filed a petition for review with the justice department.
They argued that Taga-an erred when he did not dismiss the libel complaint against Nalzaro when the prosecutor did not even rule that there was malice in the journalist’s column.
The defense said Nalzaro had no ill will or hatred against Osmeña and that there was no evidence the accused “was animated by the desire to inflict unjustifiable harm” on the complainant.
In the resolution, dated Sept. 2, Justice Secretary Aguirre said Nalzaro had basis in commenting that some of the charges filed against Cuevas were fabricated after the mayor indeed charged the treasurer before the CSC and the Department of Finance.
The justice secretary reminded Osmeña that as a public official, he can be subjected to “fair commentaries on matters of public interest.”
Aguirre also gave credence to the profession of Nalzaro being a member of the press.
“As such, to guarantee his right to freedom of expression, he should have a leeway for a misstatement of fact as well as for misjudgment,” said Aguirre.
The DOJ also cited a Supreme Court ruling, which states that “there must be some room for misstate of fact as well as for misjudgment. Only by giving them much leeway and tolerance can they courageously and effectively function as critical agencies in our democracy.”
The DOJ also directed the Office of the Lapu-Lapu City Prosecutor to withdraw the charge sheet in court and submit a compliance report in 10 days.