CONGRESSIONAL aspirant Jonathan Guardo is insisting that no government prosecutor receiving allowances from Cebu City Hall should handle the libel complaint the city mayor lodged against him.
In a four-page pleading, he asked City Prosecutor Nicolas Sellon to push through with his earlier plan to inhibit, arguing that Sellon’s orders need the approval of the Regional State Prosecutor (RSP).
“The RSP cannot overturn the decision of the city prosecutor until an appeal is taken from the order or resolution sought to be reversed,” he said through lawyer Alvin Butch Cañares.
Instead, Guardo wants all action on the charge suspended until after the elections, alleging that this was to protect the Office of the Cebu City Prosecutor from further
“brazen acts of financial terror upon its employees.”
“The issuance of the Feb. 19, 2010 order of this Honorable Office (reasserting cognizance over the complaint) is already, by itself, a manifestation of its inability to ward off the undue influence of the complainant upon its office,” Guardo said.
He said the order was issued a day after the complainant, Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña, was quoted by newspapers as saying he plans to increase the allowances judges receive, making these equal to what they get from the Supreme Court, but not the prosecutors.
“(This) all the more leads respondent Guardo to conclude that he cannot get a fair investigation of the above-entitled case,” he said.
And it is only going to get worse, Guardo said.
“The Cebu City prosecutor sits as a member of the Board of Canvassers for the May 2010 elections. Complainant-mayor is a candidate for the same congressional
position being vied for by respondent Guardo. The continuation of the preliminary investigation will only serve to increase the pressure being brought upon this Honorable Office by the complainant,” he said.
Osmeña sued Guardo for libel over the latter’s remark that the City prevented him from distributing aid to a group of fire victims and that it barred him from entering barangay gyms.
The mayor impleaded Sun.Star Cebu in the complaint although, Cañares said, the City Council resolution authorizing him to file the charge specified Guardo only.
Guardo asked the Office of the Cebu City Prosecutor to inhibit from the case, citing how prosecutors receive a substantial amount as allowance from City Hall, a move that City Prosecutor Sellon granted.
But RSP Fernando Gubalane, who also receives allowance from the Cebu City Government, issued a memorandum that, in effect, reversed Sellon’s inhibition.
Two Sun. Star Cebu journalists sought the outright dismissal of the libel suit, saying the articles were “reports of the verbal exchanges” between two rival politicians.
The articles merely “informed the public about issues raised in the campaign” and are not libelous.
Lawyer Pachico Seares, Sun.Star Cebu editor-in-chief, and reporter Rene Martel, through lawyer Lelany Reso-or, submitted their counter-affidavits to Cebu City Assistant Prosecutor Liceria Lofranco-Rabillas last Feb. 19.
Seares and Martel said the articles, published in this paper last Jan. 10 and Jan. 11, did not contain any defamatory imputation.
Reso-or also filed a motion asking Rabillas to defer the resolution of the complaint after the May 2010 elections.
Doing that, said Reso-or, “will provide a cooling-off period for the complainant to realize that what is alleged as libel is actually just a political outburst from his opponent.”
Martel, in his counter-affidavit, said the libel suit should be dismissed for lack of factual and legal basis.
“I wrote the news articles with the sole intent of informing the public of the contention of each political candidate,” said Martel, adding that printed information was sourced both from Osmeña and Guardo.
“There is no denying that the questioned articles dealt with matters of public interest. These are matters about which the public has the right to be informed, taking into account the very public character of the election itself,” said Martel.
“The news articles are not libelous because they constitute true and fair reports on a matter of public interest and concern, hence, are privileged in nature and are constitutionally protected. The publication of the impugned news articles was done with utmost good faith, as it was solely geared towards informing the general public on matters of public concern.”