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Newsman dodges cyber libel charge

By BOBBY Q. LABALAN


SORSOGON CITY --- Public figures need to prove a higher degree of malice if they are to file libel charge against their critics.


This was the essence of the resolution issued by the Sorsogon City Prosecutor’s Office in dismissing the cyber libel case filed by a Sorsogon provincial board member against a member of the local media here last year.


In a six-page resolution issued by Assistant City Prosecutor Ferdinand Tena, the fiscal’s office dismissed the complaint filed by Roland Añonuevo against Theopane “Bobot” Laguna for lack of “prima facie case to sustain a reasonable degree of conviction if respondent is indicted in court for trial of the crime charged”.


The resolution, dated December 6, 2023 but made public only recently, approved by City Prosecutor Alma Zacarias, stressed that the complainant “failed to show the existence of actual malice on the part of respondent Laguna in making or posting the alleged defamatory statements”.


It also stated that that there was an “absence of any evidence of ill-will or spite on the part of the respondent, nor does the evidence suggest that he harbored serious doubts regarding the truth of the statement he published”, rather “Laguna was able to present pieces of evidence purportedly supporting his statements”.


Añonuevo’s complaint stemmed from a series of Facebook posts of Laguna repeatedly calling the complainant a liar and asking Añonuevo why he is being called “Bokal Jalosjos.”


In his complaint-affidavit, Añonuevo, who also used to be a member of the local media though he still hosts a radio program, said that Laguna’s FB posts “caused him shame and dishonor, resulting in damage to his reputation”.


In his counter-affidavit, Laguna argued that there was no probable cause to charge him with libel saying his posts were considered privilege communication stressing that Añonuevo is a public figure.


He further stated that as member of the press, he has a moral and legal duty to call the attention of Añonuevo on his actions as a public official, not as a broadcaster and that the complainant failed to show that there was actual malice on his part.


Laguna also cited instances wherein the complainant “was not forthcoming or have provided misleading information in his dealings or transactions” among them were Añonuevo’s claims in many official documents that he is single when in fact he is already married since June 3, 1992 as shown by a certification from the Philippines Statistics Authority.


He also showed that Anonuevo issued two checks to a certain individual but were dishonored by the bank upon presentation as the complainant did not have an account with the bank. The complainant then issued an authorization to the same person to withdraw funds from the Land Bank of the Philippines but, again, was rejected as Anonuevo did not have an account with the bank.


In resolving the complaint, the prosecution office cited Article 354 of the Revised Penal Code which states that “Every defamatory imputation is presumed to be malicious, even if it be true, if no good intention and justifiable motive for making it is shown except in privilege communication or if it is a fair and true report of any judicial, legislative or other official proceedings.


The resolution stated that Laguna’s posts did not fall under these exemptions. However, the prosecutor cited Laguna’s defense that he made the remarks as a journalist and that his comments were directed at Anonuevo as a public official in which case the requirement of malice is seen in a different light as cited in various Supreme Court decisions.


“With Anonuevo being a public figure, the application of the Actual Malice Test is warranted. The Supreme Court considers this test as an addition to the exceptions outlined in Article 354 of the Revised Penal Code. The Actual Malice Test implies that, to justify a conviction for libel against a public figure, it must be demonstrated that the libelous statements were made or published with actual malice. In this context, it means that respondent Laguna had knowledge that the statements were false or acted with reckless disregard as to whether or not the statements were true”, part of the resolution read.


The prosecution said that public figures are “required to present evidence that would overcome the Actual Malice Test and that the imputation was made out of ill-will or spite.


With the dismissal of the complaint, Laguna said he is mulling of filing a counter-charge against Anonuevo soon though he did not mention the specific charge he intends to file.

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