THE Taguig City Regional Trial Court (RTC) has thrown out two separate charges of cyber-libel filed last September 9, 2022 by the city prosecutors against former Cebu City councilor Prisca Niña O. Mabatid.

Based on a complaint of Richard Edison U. Yap, known as Richard "Sir Chief" Yap in entertainment and politics -- who ran for congressman of this city's north district in the 2019 and 2022 elections and lost -- the charges were dismissed or, more precisely, quashed because of "lack of jurisdiction." Yap picked the wrong venue for his complaint: Taguig City, instead of Cebu City.

On March 3, 2023, Taguig RTC Assisting Judge Jaime B. Santiago dismissed the two cases. Earlier, on January 28, Mabatid filed a motion to quash and on February 1 a motion to suspend arraignment. The dismissal aborted a rescheduled March 6 arraignment and pre-trial.

RELATED: Explainer: Richard Yap vs. Niña Mabatid case is not your ordinary cyber-libel. Venue is major takeaway. October 10, 2022.

THE ALLEGED LIBELIOUS STATEMENTS. Taguig City prosecutors found probable cause of cyber-libel in statements posted on Facebook in the run-up to the 2022 elections by then councilor Mabatid. According to Yap's complaint:

[1] Mabatid "imputed" that Yap took funds and rice from the government and "insinuated" that he "committed theft, robbery even conspiracy with government officials and employees in embezzling public funds and properties";

[2] The then councilor said Yap "has an illegitimate child whom he refused to recognize and support since birth."

Yap said they were "defamatory and libelous, false and malicious," which Yap alleged "exposed" him to "public hatred, contempt, ridicule and dishonor."

He didn't come close to proving them as the charges were dismissed before he could present evidence.

VENUE AND JURISDICTION became the crucial issue. As Mabatid argued, to which the court agreed, "venue is jurisdictional."

Wrong venue meant absence of jurisdiction, without which the court couldn't tackle the accusation that the councilor libeled digitally the entertainer-politician. Both Yap and Mabatid ran in the last election, against each other and against Representative Margaruerite "Cutie" del Mar, who won with 45.99 percent of the vote, compared to Mabatid's 25.22 percent and Yap's 20.73 percent).

DOUBLE RESIDENCES. Yap claimed he had two residences. One, which he stated in his complaint with the Taguig RTC, was 20 El Monte St., Mahogany Place 1, Acacia Estates, Barangay Bambang, Taguig City.

The other, which he stated in his reply to Mabatid's motion to quash, was Cebu City, which he also declared in his 2022 certificate of candidacy.

Yap made a difference between "domicile" and "residence," citing Imelda Marcos vs. Comelec (GR# 119976 of September 16, 1955), which ruled that a person may have multiple residences but only one domicile. Through his lawyer, Yap told the court that his domicile is in Cebu City but he "can also maintain a residence in Taguig City for a limited purpose ... in the exercise of his profession of business."

In sum, he claims Cebu City for election purpose and Taguig for his lawsuit.

WHAT INFLUENCED THE COURT'S RULING was apparently the nature of Mabatid's "libelous" statements: where both were residing when the remarks were made, what they were engaged in, to whom they were addressed, and, curiously, where they were first published/printed.

The decision pointed out that at the time Mabatid published the allegedly defamatory material: (a) she and Yap were residents of Cebu City and locked in an election battle for the same post, (b) her statements were addressed to the same constituents, the congressional district's voters, and (c) the remarks were "first published/printed in Cebu City."

ADVICE TO PROSECUTORS. The Taguig RTC cited Wonina M. Bonifacio vs. RTC (GR#194800 of May 5, 2010) as precaution of prosecutors to avoid controversy on venue for written defamation.

The complainant or prosecutors, the ruling said, must state (a) whether the offended party was a public officer or private individual; (b) where he was actually residing at the time; and (c) where the written defamation was printed and first published.

The court said in its conclusion: "It becomes clear that the venue of libel cases where the complainant is a private individual is limited only to either of the two places, namely: where the complainant actually resides at the time of the commission of the offense or where the alleged defamatory article was printed and first published."

Since a digital publication can be posted anywhere -- unlike in print or broadcast media, which has a fixed printing/publishing/broadcasting address -- the complainant's residence at the time the cyber-libel was allegedly committed seemed to be the remaining logical option.

Yap had a problem though: the court decided that Cebu City, not Taguig City, was his residence for the purpose of the lawsuit.