Albur Mayor Elpren Charles Tungol and his father, former mayor Efren Tungol filed on Wednesday a P5-million online libel suit against the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) for publishing a story linking them to allegedÂ â€œtreasure-huntingâ€Â at the town church.
The 5-page libel complaint was filed by the Tungols before the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor against Edgar Allan Sembrano, a contributor of PDI, and his two editors, Thelma San Juan and Abelardo Ulanday, in connection with a â€œmaliciousâ€ news article published throughÂ inquirer.net, the online news platform of PDI.
Lodged at the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor, the criminal complaint for violation of Republic Act 10175, or the â€œCybercrime Prevention Act of 1012, in relation to Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code, stemmed from an article posted onÂ inquirer.netÂ saying that the Tungols are behind an alleged â€œgold-diggingâ€ at the Sta. Monica Parish church, using the authority and influence of the Office of the Mayor.
The article, entitled, â€œBohol church cries foul over US treasure hunting in Alburquerque town,â€ said that â€œan American engineering firm that was allegedly contracted by the Albur Mayor have dug 1,000 kilograms of gold bullionâ€ which was allegedly found by a â€œvillage idiot at the church complex.â€
In their joint complaint affidavit, the Tungols said that the article was published by PDI without observing the ethical standards of journalism as it contained malicious imputations that the incumbent mayor and the former mayor are the â€œmastermindsâ€ of the alleged â€œtreasure huntingâ€ at the church premises.
â€œThe publication of which was purposely done to malign, dishonor, discredit, insult and assassinate our character and good reputation to the public as well as to the peopleâ€ of Albur, the complaint stated.
In their complaint, the Tungols said that the article was â€œwithout factual basis, highly speculative and maliciousâ€ as it even carried a photograph of them (father and son) with a caption that said,Â â€œALBURQUERQUE Mayor Elpren Charles Tungol and his father, former Mayor Efren Tungol has contracted the US-based MicroRadian Engineering, which has dug a pit in the church complex.â€
Sembrano, the writer of the article, and his editors â€œ[were] clearly motivated by bad faithâ€ since they did not even bother to check their facts, â€œcompletely disregarding the time-honored principles of fairness and responsibility in journalism.â€
According to Mayor Tungol, Sembrano only sent him a private message over Facebook hours before publishing the article online. Even in that private message, it was clear to the mayor that the writer already â€œknew of the existence of MicroRadian Engineering, the so-called US-based engineering firm allegedly contracted by the Tungols to carry out the â€œtreasure-huntingâ€ at the centuries-old church.
In fact, Mayor Tungol said he provided Sembrano with the report of MicroRadian to â€œprovide him with a clearer picture of the rehabilitation and restoration worksâ€ at the church which sustained some damage after the October 2013 earthquake that hit the province.
However, according to the mayor, â€œSembrano chose to use as premise of his article anallegoryÂ written as a footnote in said letter-report from MicroRadian. The footnote was clearly intended by the letter-writer (Daniel McNames) to infuse humor with regards the circulating rumors of â€œtreasure-huntingâ€ activities in the church.
Since it was posted onÂ inquirer.net, the article generatedÂ over 3,200 shares in social media in a span of seven (7) days and drew all sorts of negative comments from readers, which added hurtful and malicious attacks against the mayor and the former mayor.
Considering the PDIâ€™s national reach and its reputation of beingÂ â€œthe countryâ€™s most credible and influential newspaperâ€Â while its website,Â inquirer.netÂ is ranked among the worldâ€™s most visited news sites, averaging one million page views a day, the Tungols said they suffered and continue to suffer anxiety, mental anguish, sleepless nights, not to mention the damage to their honor and reputation.
The Tungols are asking for a total of P5-million in actual, moral and exemplary damages.(Chito M. Visarra)