I AM writing this as a matter of personal privilege.
I was informed by my lawyer Joan Baron of the JP Garcia Law office, the legal counsel of SunStar Publication, that the Cebu City Prosecutor has denied our motion for reconsideration and filed the four counts of libel against me in court last week. Two counts of libel in violation of Article 353 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) and another two counts in violation of Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, which punishes the crime of libel committed through the use of the internet and online.
These cases stemmed from the articles I wrote in this paper and in Superbalita about the alleged involvement of Ramon Miguel Osmeña, son of “has-been” mayor Tomas Osmeña, in the illegal butane canister refilling business a year ago. My SunStar Cebu and Superbalita columns are also published in online edition. Just in case warrants of arrest will be served, I need to post bail in the amount of P180,000. The bail for libel under the Revised Penal Code is usually set at P10,000 per count, but it is higher in the cyber- libel class, which is set at P80,000 per count. Even in penalty, cyber-libel is higher compared to libel case in the RPC.
Under the cyber-libel law, the penalty is imprisonment for a minimum period of four years and one day to maximum of eight years. While in the RPC, the penalty is prison correcional, that is, six months and one day to two years and four months minimum and from two years, four months and one day to four years and two months medium period.
I was informed that Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 11 Presiding Judge Ramon Daomilas, designated as cyber-court judge, handles cyber-libel cases, while RTC Branch 5 Presiding Judge Ricky Jones Macabaya handles the libel cases under the RPC. This is my 30th libel case in my entire 39 years in the broadcast-journalism profession. All the other cases were dismissed either at the prosecutor’s office and by the courts. My “would-be arrest” is timely when the Cebu broadcast industry is celebrating the Broadcasters’ Month and the Cebu media will be observing the annual Cebu Press Freedom Week on Sept. 15 to 21.
I am not saying that these cases constitute an attack on press freedom, but I can safely say without an iota of doubt and contradiction that facing these kinds of challenges are part of the so-called “hazards of the profession.” Sometimes, libel is being used as a tool to harass media people, as a way to silence them. Well, it is only the court that can determine if my articles were libelous or not. My previous libel case filed by “has-been” mayor Osmeña was dismissed by the court last year. But he is not yet contented with the decision. He questioned it before the higher court.
In the complaint, Miguel claimed he was maligned in my column published in this paper and sister publication Superbalita last Sept. 5 and 12 last year, respectively. The column was entitled “Projecting a poor image” and “Mikakak man diay.” I named him as a stakeholder of an alleged illegal butane canister refilling business owned by a former Osmeña ally.
This, after the mayor intervened in the arrest of three butane canister workers who were arrested by the police. He pressured and ordered the police to release the suspects, saying he sympathized with them because they were poor. But the truth of the matter was that the suspects worked for his son’s business. I was able to secure the affidavit of Miguel’s former business partner who named him as one of those behind the business.
Well, this is not to pre-empt the move of my lawyer, but we will file a motion for the consolidation of all the cases to one sala and at the same time file a petition for review before the Department of Justice, which I believe will suspend the procedure for arraignment and trial. I will face these cases squarely.