CEBU City Council authorized Mayor Tomas Osmeña to sue Atan Guardo, his rival for the House seat in the south district. But it didn't authorize him to sue also the editor and a reporter of this paper.
Atan's accusation that City Hall tried to stop him from distributing relief goods to fire victims in Calamba was a complaint against public officials. That and the news reports about it are well protected by "privileged communication."
Was it false? Probably, but it wasn't libelous. More so because it was said in an election season when Tomas and Atan have been engaged in a running debate.
They've been hurling accusations at one another, some even worse than what Tomas is suing about. For example: the mayor's "unexplained" wealth, as Atan charged,
and Atan's failure to liquidate Asian Games money, as Tomas charged, are more damaging than stopping a freaking aid program.
Assuming Atan was malicious (aren't the politicians all, especially when they try to get elected?), that shouldn't apply to us journalists. We reported what both sides said.
We're just the messengers, hello.
Then there's the unwritten rule of libel taking a holiday during elections, as each combatant has means of reply and leeway is given for people to learn as much as they can about candidates asking for their vote. And Tomas knows that what he says, even the inane, gets published.
The legal aspect aside, there's a disturbing impact of libel during elections: Debate is cramped or fettered and reporting by the bullied press is tamed.
That's more worrisome than the hassle of litigation.