Jagna municipal councilor cleared of libel

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Jagna municipal councilor cleared of libel

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An alleged derogatory post on Facebook portraying a municipal mayor as “a lazy and drunkard mayor” is neither defamatory nor malicious, according to the resolution issued by the Provincial Prosecution Office.

Mildred Maglajos, Assistant Provincial Prosecutor recommended that the criminal complaint filed by Jagna Mayor Fortunato Abrenilla against newly elected municipal councilor Anthony “Tonton” Aniscal be dismissed for lack of merit.

The four-page resolution approved by Provincial Prosecutor Macario Delusa agreed with Aniscal’s assertion that a public officer should not be too onion skinned and should be tolerant of criticism.

Abrenilla filed the criminal complaint on June 22, 2016, more than a month after the May, 2016 elections for Libel under Republic Act 10175 known as the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 against Aniscal for a post in his Facebook account stating “A lazy and drunkard mayor have been re-elected. I pity my hometown . .”

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According to Abrenilla’s affidavit, the “malicious” posted statement of Aniscal portraying him as a “lazy and drunkard mayor” had caused him and his family dishonor, discredit or contempt before the bar of public opinion.

The statement “lazy and drunkard mayor” is a product of pure malice on the part of Aniscal and is bereft of any factual basis with the sole intention to put him and my family in disrepute, dishonor and discredit, according to Abrenilla.

FREE SPEECH

But Maglajos disagreed citing United States vs Felipe Bustos, ET AL that “complete liberty to comment on the conduct of public men is a scalpel in the case of free speech.”

The resolution reminded Abrenilla that the law provides that criticism is considered constructive when aimed for the betterment of a public officer’s performance of his official duties.

The resolution also urged the general public “to make the necessary commentaries should they see any lapses on the part of the public officer”.

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The resolution also pointed out that they were inclined to believe that the usual manner of behavior of a certain individual especially public officials would greatly affect the performance of their official acts.

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PUBLIC BEHAVIOUR

In his affidavit, Aniscal described Abrenilla as one who “drinks liquor publicly” which endears him to his constituents who in return “favors him always during elections that cannot just be replicated by any of his political opponents”.

The mayor, according to Aniscal, should not be offended “when an honest observation is said about him” since his drinking in public, as shown in the pictures attached to his counter affidavit is in “utter disregard of his public office as the town mayor”.

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As a public official, Abrenilla is expected to conduct himself honorably in public and set an example as to how public officials should behave under pressure or attack, according to Aniscal’s affidavit.

The resolution gave weight to the political affiliations of Abrenilla and Aniscal as a contributory factor that triggered a high degree of emotion or enthusiasm even dismay on the part of Aniscal that cause the posting of the commentary in his Facebook account.

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Abrenilla, who is now on his third and last term as mayor of Jagna won over Joseph Ranola while Aniscal took the 6th spot among 18 candidates who vied for 8 slots in the Sangguniang Bayan of Jagna. Aniscal ran under the party of Ranola.

NO VIOLATION

In his defense, Aniscal cited the Supreme Court (SC) decision in Disini vs Secretary of Justice promulgated on February 21, 2014 that for libel to hold water in the case of public officials or public figures, “a higher standard of actual malice must be satisfied to attain conviction.”

Since the cybercrime law, mainly target libel against private persons, as such, the laws imply a stricter standard of malice to convict the author of a defamatory statement where the offended party is a public figure, according to Aniscal, quoting the SC decision.

The resolution done on July 29, 2016 stated that the alleged remark or statement of Aniscal does not constitute the crime of libel in relation to RA 10175 known as the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.

Aniscal was assisted by his counsel, Atty. Jan Michael Cagulada while Abrenilla was represented by Atty. Darryl Amante. (Chito M. Visarra)

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