CITING the double jeopardy rule, a Cebu City court dismissed the two counts of cyber libel against veteran journalist Pablito “Bobby” Nalzaro for his two 2018 columns that talked about former mayor Tomas Osmeña’s son Ramon Miguel’s involvement in the butane refilling business.
Two similar counts of libel—violations of the Revised Penal Code’s (RPC) Article 353—are pending before Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 5.
The Philippine judicial system is observing the rule of double jeopardy—a person cannot be tried twice for the same crime based on the same conduct.
Nalzaro, a broadcast journalist, writes opinion columns for English-language SunStar Cebu and Cebuano daily Superbalita.
Supreme Court’s ruling
RTC Branch 11 Judge Ramon Daomilas Jr., in his joint order signed on Friday, Dec. 6, 2019, granted Nalzaro’s motion to quash the two cyber libel cases, citing the Supreme Court’s 2014 ruling on libel in the Jose Jesus M. Disini Jr. et al. vs. the Secretary of Justice et al.
“Online libel is different. There should be no question that if the published material on print, said to be libelous, is again posted online or vice versa, that identical material cannot be the subject of two separate libels,” according to the Supreme Court.
It further states: “The two offenses, one a violation of Article 353 of the Revised Penal Code and the other a violation of Section 4 (c)(4) of RA (Republic Act) 10175, involve essentially the same elements and are in fact one and the same offense.”
The Supreme Court also ruled that charging the offender under both laws would be a “blatant violation of the proscription against double jeopardy.”
Ramon Miguel filed before the Cebu City Prosecutor’s Office four counts of libel against Nalzaro in 2018 over the latter’s two columns that saw print in the Sept. 5 and Sept. 12, 2018 issues of SunStar Cebu. The former mayor’s son considered the opinion pieces “malicious and libelous.”
Nalzaro mentioned Miguel as the business partner of a butane refilling business busted by Cebu City police in both columns.
During preliminary investigation, Assistant City Prosecutor Russell Busico found probable cause to prosecute Nalzaro for the four counts of libel, and recommended the filing of information in court in violation of Republic Act 10175 (the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012) and Article 355 of the RPC.
The motion to quash was filed by Nalzaro’s legal counsel Joan Baron in September this year. He contends that the filing of two separate information per article violates his right against double jeopardy.
Ramon Miguel, through his lawyer, countered that there is no double jeopardy in the cases, citing a 2018 Supreme Court ruling in People of the Philippines vs. Alejandro.
He added that Nalzaro failed to state the legal grounds upon which the motion to quash is based as stated in the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure.
However, Daomilas favored the contention of Nalzaro’s camp.
“Clearly then, there can only be one type of libel that the prosecution can file, either libel under the (RPC) or cyber libel under RA 10175. While the Alejandro Case which prosecution cites is more recent, it does not directly rule on the peculiar circumstances attendant to these instant two cases; the Alejandro Case merely ruled on the principle of double jeopardy in general,” read a portion of Daomilas’s decision.
The judge’s joint order further states: “The Disini Case, on the other hand, is on all fours to these instant two cases because it seeks to prevent what is precisely happening: a person sued twice for publishing an article through print media as violation of the Revised Penal Code and through the world wide web as violation of RA 10175.”
According to Daomilas, “the Disini Case ruled on the constitutionality of RA 10175. It expressly proscribed the filing of two separate cases of libel under the (RPC) and at the same time under RA 10175. There is no necessity to subject an accused to go through an entire trial and wait for a conviction or acquittal before he can invoke his right against double jeopardy. Apropos, has the choice on which kind of libel it will file.”
Ramon Miguel’s legal counsel Amando Virgil Ligutan said his client’s remaining libel cases against Nalzaro are not affected by the dismissal of the cyber libel cases.
With the dismissal of the two cyber libel cases, Nalzaro still has to contend with the two remaining libel cases pending before RTC Branch 5. (JKV, PAC)