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Tuesday, October 26, 2021

CA affirms Leo’s libel conviction

THE Court of Appeals (CA) has affirmed the trial court’s judgment convicting broadcaster and columnist Leo Lastimosa of libel in 2013.

The CA’s Special 19th Division upheld the ruling of retired Regional Trial Court Judge Raphael Yrastorza Sr., who found Lastimosa guilty of maligning the reputation of former governor and now Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia (Cebu, third district).

“The court is persuaded that Garcia’s identity was sufficiently ascertained as the libeled party in the defamatory article,” read the CA decision penned by Associate Justice Edgardo Delos Santos.

Lastimosa’s lawyer, Celso Espinosa, filed a motion for reconsideration and argued that the appeals court erred in upholding Yrastorza’s ruling that Garcia is the one whom Lastimosa alluded to in his column.

“We maintain the view that the character portrayed in the article of the accused does not refer to (ex-govenor Gwendolyn) Garcia,” the pleading read.

“Understandably, there is no libel if the alleged person defamed is not specifically mentioned or not accurately described, sufficient, clear and convincing evidence must be presented to establish the identity of the person purportedly referred to by the alleged defamatory imputation.”

Last Aug. 30, 2013, Yrastorza found Lastimosa guilty of libel for his “Si Doling Kawatan (Doling the thief)” column published in The Freeman on June 29, 2007.

Fishmonger

In his 38-page judgment, Yrastorza said all 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 lamented that Lastimosa depicted her in his column as a “thief, corrupt, arrogant, vindictive, ill-tempered, foul-mouthed and cruel.”

In his testimony in court, Lastimosa denied the character Doling refers to Garcia’s first name and argued the article was a “work of fiction.”

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, through his lawyer, appealed Yrastorza’s judgment before the CA and argued that Doling is not Garcia in his column.

He said the character is merely an “emblematic synthesis of his observation on people’s peculiarities and idiosyncrasies without reference to a particular session.”

In the decision, the appeals court ruled that the four elements of libel exist in Lastimosa’s column.

It said that Lastimosa libeled Garcia when he depicted her in Doling’s character as a thief and corrupt public official who abused her power.

“By portraying Garcia, through the character of Doling, as a vindictive, mean and dishonest government officer who admitted plundering public funds, the accused had cast aspersions on the character, integrity and reputation of Garcia as the elected governor and exposed her to public ridicule or contempt,” the CA said.

On the other hand, the appellate court reduced Lastimosa’s fine of moral damages from P2 million to P500,000.
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