I AM writing this as a matter of personal privilege.
So, the Cebu City Prosecutor’s Office has found probable cause to charge me with four counts of libel—two counts for violation of Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code and another two counts for violation of the Cyber Prevention Act of 2012, or Republic Act 10175. This is my 30th libel case in my entire 39 years in broadcast-journalism. All the other cases were dismissed at the fiscal’s level and in the court.
These cases stemmed from my columns in SunStar Cebu and its sister-publication Superbalita Cebu, which were also published in the newspapers’ online edition. The cases were filed by Ramon Miguel Osmeña, the only son of outgoing mayor Tomas Osmeña, who just lost the mayoralty race to Vice Mayor Edgardo Labella in the recently concluded elections.
This, after I mentioned in my columns that father and son were allegedly involved in the illegal butane canister refilling business. I got the information from a very reliable source, who was their former “business partner” but later quit after they had disagreements. It was the father and son and their new partner, Peter Osmeña Visitacion, who took over the business.
I wrote the columns after the mayor intervened in the arrest of three butane workers by the police. He went to the police station to demand their release. He said he was defending them because they were poor and they were just making a living. He was criminally and administratively charged by the police before the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas. Sometime last April, their former partner, Douglas Labra, came out in the open and executed an affidavit naming the father and son as engaged in the illegal butane business.
Miguel claimed that my columns caused him embarrassment, prompting him to file the complaint. Prosecutor 1 Russel Busico, in his resolution, said all the elements of libel are present in my columns. Busico disregarded my argument that it was a privileged communication and that Miguel is a “public figure” as he is a well known person, being the son of a mayor and a city councilor. He also figured in several controversies in the past, which made him popular.
What is a public figure? According to Wikipedia, “A public figure is a person such as politician, celebrity, social media personality or business leader, who has a certain social position within a certain scope and significant influence and so is often widely concerned by public can benefit enormously from society and closely related to public interest.” Does Miguel fall under this classification?
Busico said, “Assuming arguendo the complainant to be a ‘public figure,’ the respondent fails to present evidence in support of his claim regarding his imputation of complainant’s involvement in a crime. The imputation regarding complainant’s complicity in the illegal butane refilling business is not based upon proven facts. In the absence of proof, the same may be construed as false.”
Did Busico expect me to present documentary evidence or proof like permits from the Department of Energy and the Department of Trade and Industry? How can I produce evidence when the business is illegal? It’s an underground operation. I was merely relying on the credibility of my source who was their former partner. Now that Labra has come out in the open and has spilled the beans, shouldn’t this convince the prosecutor’s office about the veracity of my story?
I will file a motion for reconsideration and I will attach the affidavit of Labra. Let us see if they will not reverse their resolution.