THE Supreme Court (SC) affirmed with finality the conviction and imprisonment of an Ilonggo blogger and local opinion writer Manuel Mejorada over libelous articles against Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon.
Mejorada will serve an imprisonment of two years and four months and one day, as a minimum, to four years and two months, as maximum, to be served simultaneously.
The libel case arose from a series of articles written by Mejorada accusing Drilon of overpricing the construction of the Iloilo Convention Center (ICC), which the court found libelous.
It was also Mejorada who filed a graft case against Drilon before the Ombudsman, which was later dismissed for lack of merit. The Ombudsman even stressed that contrary to the allegations of overpricing, the government was even able to save a huge amount of money allotted for the ICC’s design.
The ICC, now a prime convention destination in Western Visayas, is credited for Iloilo’s rise as a premier Mice (Meeting, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions) hub in the country.
Drilon in his press statement Thursday, November 21, thanked the High Court for its decision.
In a statement from the Senate, Drilon welcomed the decision of the court against Mejorada. “We welcome the High Court’s decision. I have nothing else to leave behind except my reputation, so I am grateful for this favorable decision,” Drilon said.
“Acting on petitioner’s motion for reconsideration of the Resolution dated 10 June 2019 which denied the petition for review on certiorari, the Court resolves to DENY the motion for reconsideration with FINALITY, no substantial argument having been adduced to warrant the reconsideration sought,” according to the resolution issued by the Supreme Court’s Second Division last September 2, 2019.
Last September 2018, the CA affirmed with modification the RTC decision finding Mejorada guilty of the offense of libel charged in each of the four cases, and sentenced him in each of the cases to suffer imprisonment of two years and four months and one day, as minimum, to four years and two months, as maximum, to be served simultaneously.
“After a judicious study of the case, the Court resolves to deny the instant petition and affirm the September 18, 2018 decision and the March 7, 2019 resolution of the Court of Appeals,” the resolution states.
“As correctly ruled by the CA, the elements of libel were sufficiently established by the prosecution,” it adds.
The High Court further said that “it was not necessary to establish that the publication was motivated by any malice since the articles were not privileged communication or fair comments; thus, malice is presumed.”
The High Court also agreed with the CA in affirming the penalty of imprisonment rather than a fine.
“The Court did not remove the discretion of the trial courts to impose imprisonment if, under the circumstances, a fine was insufficient to meet the demands of substantial justice or would depreciate the seriousness of the offense,” the court said.
Mejorada is facing five more libel charges in Iloilo.
In a press statement Mejorada sent to the members of the media he said he feels deeply sad upon knowing that the Supreme Court Second Division denied with finality the Motion for Reconsideration (MR) that he filed on its June 10, 2019, ruling dismissing my Petition for Certiorari on my conviction for libel.
“With due respect to the Supreme Court, the ruling did not tackle two important issues I raised: a) I was deprived my constitutional right to confront my accuser, and b) injury or damage to his reputation or honor was not established because he did not testify in court,” Mejorada said.
During the trial, Mejorada said, the prosecution presented only two witnesses, Drilon’s chief of staff and media liaison officer. Neither could substitute for Drilon on the subject of injury or damage to his honor or reputation.
Mejorada who is a columnist for a local newspaper in Iloilo added that this decision has chilling effects on the media profession.
“It paves the way for individuals to file libel cases and not have to testify in court to be confronted on cross-examination,” Mejorada said. “It also narrows the latitude for members of media in making a criticism on the conduct of public officials and other accountable persons.”
“Having said that, I will bravely face the consequences of my actions,” Mejorada said.
Mejorda added, if asked by the national government to provide details, he will gladly do so.
“If imprisonment be the price for courageously exposing the truth, I have prepared myself and my family to accept my fate,” Majorada said.
In 2014, Iloilo City Council during the regular session on November 18 declared Mejorada as “persona non grata” or unwelcome for his malicious imputations of corruption that “caused dishonor to public officials in the city.”
In a resolution filed, Councilor Eduardo Penaredondo said that Mejorada’s unfounded allegations of overpricing of the ICC and calling Iloilo City as a bird’s nest of corruption in the Philippines is a serious affront on the collective honor and dignity of the Ilonggos.