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CA affirms libel rap vs Drilon critic

By Benjamin Pulta

MANILA --- A former Iloilo provincial administrator who accused Sen. Franklin Drilon of involvement in irregularities in government projects in his province has lost his plea before the Court of Appeals (CA) questioning his conviction on libel charges.

In a 27-page decision, the appellate court’s Second Division through Associate Justice Ma. Luisa Quijano Padilla denied the appeal of Manuel “Boy” Mejorada found guilty beyond reasonable doubt by the Pasay City Regional Trial Court RTC Branch 118 last year.

“Unfounded and malicious statements made by one against another are not per se constitutionally protected speech. Our laws on defamation provide for sanctions against unjustified and malicious injury to a person’s reputation and honor. Although wider latitude is given to defamatory utterances against public officials in connection with or relevant to their performance of official duties, or against public figures in relation to matters of public interest involving them, such defamatory utterances do not automatically fall within the ambit of constitutionally protected speech,” the CA said in its decision.

Two magistrates, Associate Justices Remedios Salazar-Fernando and Franchito N. Diamante concurred and modified the sentence against Mejorada to a prison term of two to four years for each of the four counts of libel “to be served simultaneously”.

In a 33-page decision last year, Judge Rowena Nieves Tan found Mejorada guilty of four counts of libel in relation to his social media and blog posts accusing Drilon of involvement in alleged irregularities in infrastructure projects in Iloilo.

The projects include the Iloilo Circumferential Road in Barangay Ungka in Pavia town, the Iloilo Convention Center and the Guimaras Iloilo Ferry Terminal project.

The Pasay court originally meted Mejorada a jail term from a minimum of two years, four months and one day to a maximum of four years and two months. (PNA)

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