CMFR/ Philippines – The City Prosecution Office of General Santos City dismissed last June 29 a libel suit filed by a former public official against a journalist. General Santos City is approximately 1,049 kilometers south of Manila.
In an eight-page resolution, investigating prosecutor Jose Blanza Jr. dismissed the Php18-million libel suit filed by Mohammad “Bong” Aquia, former head of the Presidential Anti-Smuggling Group in Central Mindanao against freelance journalist Edwin Espejo for lack of “convincing proof” that Espejo was “actuated by the desire to impeach his (Aquia) integrity and reputation. “ Espejo writes for online news sites MindaNews and Asian Correspondent.
Aquia filed the 18-million libel suit after Espejo wrote in a February 2012 report that Aquia allegedly evaded arrest through the help of world boxing champion and Sarangani province Congressman Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquaio. Aquia was allegedly wanted for selling stolen vehicles. The report was published on the Asian Correspondent, Eurasia Review, and MindaNews . (See “Boxer-politician, former anti-smuggling official sue journalist for libel“, “Despite UN declaration, Pacquiao sues journalist for libel“)
Blanza said in his resolution that Aquia had a failed to prove that Espejo wrote the articles with malice even if there was defamatory imputation in naming Aquia as a “dealer of stolen car”. He pointed out that the article “merely restate(d) or report(ed) the pronouncements of the Highway Patrol Group about the complainant’s (Aquia) alleged involvement in a car syndicate.”
Boxer Pacquiao filed a separate P75-million complaint against Espejo that is still unresolved. The General Santos City Prosecution Office has forwarded the complaint to the National Prosecution Office in Manila.
Espejo welcomed the resolution. “I am glad the prosecutor agreed with me that there was no malice in the article. While I welcome it, I believe it should not have been filed in the first place,” Espejo said.
Libel is still a criminal offense in the Philippines despite calls for its decriminalization. In October 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Committee urged the Philippine government to decriminalize the 82-year old libel law, as the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility and other journalists’ groups have been urging for nearly two decades.