A P1-MILLION libel suit was filed by Supreme Court (SC) associate justice Presbitero Velasco Jr. against veteran journalist Marites Danguilan-Vitug for an online article alleging that he tried to interfere in partisan politics to bolster his son’s congressional bid in Marinduque province.

Vitug is the editor-in-chief of the online news agency Newsbreak and a known critic of the court.

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Subject of the complaint was Vitug’s article that came out in the website abs-cbnnews.com/newsbreak for 13 consecutive days, starting on December 3, 2009.

The assailed article, titled “SC justice in Partisan Politics,” alleged that he had tried to wield his influence over some local Marinduque officials to support the candidacy of his son, Lord Allan.

In his 10-page complaint filed on Friday before the Office of the City Prosecutor in Manila, Velasco said Vitug is liable for libel, for public and alleged malicious imputations of violations of the provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct against him.

“Ms. Vitug publicly accused me in her article and portrayed me as an unethical person without "delicadeza" who has wantonly violated the Code of Judicial Conduct and existing laws. Said malicious imputations were plainly directed at me and had cause me, my wife and children, especially Allan, irreparable dishonor, discredit and contempt,” he said.

Velasco further said the fact that Vitug continuously posted said article for 13 days “could only mean that she was indulging in a vicious smear campaign,” that he had to call up Charo Santos-Concio, president of ABS-CBN, for the network to remove the article.

Such bespoke of Vitug having violated the Journalists’ Code of Ethics herself when she failed to present fairly and honestly and set aside personal motives and interests in performing her duties as journalist, said the magistrate.

“Ms. Vitug’s deportment is highly unethical and improper as, with ill-designs, she tried to obtain information from me and yet did not give me the sporting opportunity to refute or explain the allegations which became subject of her December 3, 2009 article,” he said.

In Vitug’s article, she claimed that some residents in Marinduque had said that Velasco is actively helping his son in organizing his ticket by inviting local officials to run with his son as councilors with a promise to fund their campaign expenses.

His son, Lord Allan, is running against Edmudo Reyes Jr., scion of a political family, for the lone congressional seat in Marinduque. He used to be the provincial administrator but resigned when he filed his certificate of candidacy (COC) on December 1, 2009.

A barangay captain identified as Marife Pastrana was quoted in the article as saying Velasco called her up to offer her to run for councilor with his son and to attend a meeting in his resident.

“I couldn’t attend the meeting and I declined his offer. He said I shouldn’t worry about campaign expenses, and that he’ll take care of the funds,” Pastrana was quoted by Vitug as saying.

The article added that another barangay captain, Norma Villar, got the same call from Velasco but declined the offer.

But Velasco belied Vitug’s article and Pastrana’s claim that she saw the justice talking to some of the leaders, shaking their hands and asking their support for his son’s political bid.

The justice also took exception to the fact that Vitug’s story made reference to his having voted with the majority in the SC decision in the Quinto case that allowed appointive officials to stay in their posts even after the filing of their COCs, which was beneficial to his son.

Velasco noted that his voting with the majority in coming out with the SC ruling on the Quinto case last February 22 could not have benefited his son as he already resigned when the voting took place.

The decision of the high court in the Quinto case has already been reversed and abandoned in a new resolution promulgated last March 2.

“The insinuation that I concurred with the majority in the Quinto case to benefit Allan reeks with malice. Ms. Vitug made it appear that my vote in the case was not predicated on the obtaining factual and legal premises, as required by law and the Rules of Court, but to favor particularly my son, a situation which if true, is unethical and a breach of the Code of Judicial Conduct,” Velasco said.

As to the claim of Villar, Velasco noted that the barangay captain has already denied being offered by him to run as municipal council under his son’s ticket in her sworn statement.

Velasco also denied Pastrana’s claim that he solicited her support for Allan since he is aware that such solicitation “constitutes a prohibited partisan political activity.”

“This is a lie, an absolute falsehood. I have never invited Ms. Pastrana to any meeting, let alone a political one, as I make it a point not to involve myself in any activity which may be perceived, even remotely, as political to promote the candidacy of a son, relative or friend,” Velasco said.

The publication of the said article, according to Velasco, was attended by malice considering that it was Reyes who referred Pastrana to Vitug.

“It may thus be safely deduced that Edmund Reyes, Jr., engaged the services of Ms. Vitug purposely to write derogatory matters against me,” the magistrate said.

Velasco further said he granted the persistent requests of Vitug to interview him on December 2, 2009, a day before the article was posted online but the journalist did not confront him on the claims of Pastrana and Villar concerning politics in Marinduque. (ECV/Sunnex)