Tungols file P5M libel on ‘treasure’ story

Tungols file P5M libel on ‘treasure’ story

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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 alleged “treasure-hunting” 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 “malicious” news article published through 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 “Cybercrime Prevention Act of 1012, in relation to Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code, stemmed from an article posted on inquirer.net saying that the Tungols are behind an alleged “gold-digging” at the Sta. Monica Parish church, using the authority and influence of the Office of the Mayor.

The article, entitled, “Bohol church cries foul over US treasure hunting in Alburquerque town,” said that “an American engineering firm that was allegedly contracted by the Albur Mayor have dug 1,000 kilograms of gold bullion” which was allegedly found by a “village idiot at the church complex.”

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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 “masterminds” of the alleged “treasure hunting” at the church premises.

“The 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 people” of Albur, the complaint stated.

In their complaint, the Tungols said that the article was “without factual basis, highly speculative and malicious” as it even carried a photograph of them (father and son) with a caption that said, “ALBURQUERQUE 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.”

Sembrano, the writer of the article, and his editors “[were] clearly motivated by bad faith” since they did not even bother to check their facts, “completely disregarding the time-honored principles of fairness and responsibility in journalism.”

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 “knew of the existence of MicroRadian Engineering, the so-called US-based engineering firm allegedly contracted by the Tungols to carry out the “treasure-hunting” at the centuries-old church.

In fact, Mayor Tungol said he provided Sembrano with the report of MicroRadian to “provide him with a clearer picture of the rehabilitation and restoration works” at the church which sustained some damage after the October 2013 earthquake that hit the province.

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However, according to the mayor, “Sembrano chose to use as premise of his article anallegory 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 “treasure-hunting” activities in the church.

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Since it was posted on inquirer.net, the article generated 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 PDI’s national reach and its reputation of being “the country’s most credible and influential newspaper” while its website, inquirer.net is ranked among the world’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)

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