TOMAS Osmeña and Atan Guardo have been calling each other names. Tomas said Atan is "yabag" (nuts). Atan said Tomas is "talawan" (coward). Tomas accused Atan of "deception and lies." Atan accused Tomas of using "dirty tactics."

Both seek the House seat in Cebu City's south district and their word war has been anything but gentle or polite.

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Charges and counter-charges have been tossed back and forth: Atan on Tomas's health ("poor") and lifestyle ("rich"); Tomas on Atan's failure to account for Asian Games fund and a penchant for giving voters false promises.

Each would've enough to file against the other a ton of complaints with the prosecutor or judge.

But Tomas and Atan are both public persons who want to be elected congressman. Each is fair game to the other--and to the press, which is duty-bound to inform voters what kind of legislator they'll send to Congress.

The election season even strengthens the "privilege communication" nature of their statements and behavior. And there’s the sensible rule anytime that one must be able to take what one dishes out.

Thus, it's mind-boggling that Tomas decided to sue Atan for libel. And for what? Atan claimed that City Hall tried to prevent his gift-giving to fire victims-–a campaign issue but hardly libelous.

New weapon

Apparently, there's a new weapon in Tomas's arsenal to harass political foes: litigation.

What kind of debate will it be if Tomas, offended by his foe's comment, fires off a lawsuit in return?

And by lumping journalists with Atan in the complaint, Tomas is also bullying those who merely chronicle the trading of barbs in the debate.

(paseares@yahoo.com)