The Provincial Prosecution Office dismissed a PhP5 million libel lawsuit brought against theÂ Philippine Daily InquirerÂ (PDI) and a block time commentator for linking incumbent Alburquerque Mayor Elpren Charles Tungol and his father, former Mayor EfrenTungol to an alleged “gold treasure hunting” at the town church.
Associate Provincial Prosecutor Meriam Garrote-Alcantara found the complaint lacking probable cause to pursue a case for trial against Edgar Allan Sembrano, PDI news contributor, Thelma San Juan, PDI Lifestyle Editor, Abelardo Ulanday, PDI Associate Editor for Online and Nestor Daarol,Â radio block timeÂ commentator of the top-ratedÂ “SilabÂ saUdtongTutok”Â aired over DYRD-AM.
The complainants have fifteen days to file their motion for reconsideration upon receipt of the resolution.
The Tungols sued the PDI for allegedly instilling “in the minds of its readers that they are thieves and crooks and were the masterminds behind the alleged “gold digging activities” in the parish church complex.
Daarol was also impleaded in the libel complaint forÂ reading the PDI news article on the alleged church gold digging by lacing his commentaries with malice putting the TungolsÂ to “public ridicule, public contempt, and public hatred.”Â
The Tungols filed a complaint on September 27, 2016, before the Provincial Prosecution Office against the PDI over an article that appeared in their website,Â inquirer.netÂ breaking news sectionÂ entitled “Bohol Church cries foul over US treasure hunting in Alburquerque town.”
The article written by PDI correspondent Sembrano and authorized for publication by the editor and associate editor was an “attack on their good names and good standing as former and incumbent mayor and allegedly a conspiracy to malign their person, character, and honor without observing the ethical standards of journalism.
While only one complaint was filed by the Tungols against the four respondents, the Prosecution Office resolved to conduct separate findings and recommendations for the three PDI respondents and Daarol.
But according to Associate Prosecutor Alcantara, in a 27-page resolution issued on December 7, 2016 on the PDI complaint, the questioned article was a fair and true report of the official acts of public officials which are legitimate subjects of comments and criticisms.
Prosecutor Alcantara found that the PDI article was “merely intended to innocently and fairly present the alarm expressed by Bohol church authorities as regards the activities being undertaken by the US-based firm, MicroRadian Engineering within the Sta. Monica Parish Church.”
Fr. Ted Milan Torralba, representing the Permanent Committee for the Cultural Heritage of the Church under the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), currently the parish priest of Alburquerque and then parish priest Fr. Andres “Andy” Ayco showed a growing alarm over the digging activities of the US firm which Sembrano based his report.
The resolution also agreed with the PDI that the article pertains to the “official acts” of the former mayor which the public has the right to know while Sembrano’s attempt to clarify the US firm special report with the incumbent mayor as a “gesture of good faith” that even allowed the TungolsÂ the opportunity to suggest “corrections, denials or explanations” and to “set the records straight.”
The resolution also pointed out there was no attempt to sensationalize the discovery of 1,000 kg. of gold in the church complex by a village idiot as reported by the US engineering firm, as alleged by the complainants.
“The tone is both neutral and objective,” the resolution further stated referring to a part of the report by Daniel “Dan” McNames, Managing Director of MicroRadian Engineering sent to the Mayor’s Office which was meant as an allegory.
The resolution admonished the complainants that the test of libelous meanings is not the analysis of a sentence into component phrases but depends upon the scope, spirit, and motive of the publication taken it its entirety.
On the part of Daarol who was accused by the TungolsÂ of making hurtful commentaries by reading during his program the PDI article identifying them as masterminds behind the illegal digging and treasure hunting.
The resolution found Daarol’s utterances during his radio program as “fair remarks or comments” and as these are matters of public interest “it is everyone’s business to know what’s going on there and every interested person has the prerogative to express or not to express his fair comments and opinions on such matter.”
Prosecutor Alcantara did not agree with the claim of the complainants that only the incumbent Mayor is a public official while the former mayor is now a private person.
Alcantara stressed that both complainants are public officials or public figures making their acts official including policies that are legitimate subjects of comments and criticisms, though they may be unfair.
The prosecution concluded that the complainants failed to show actual malice on the part of the PDI and Daarol.
The resolution cited extensively the Supreme Court jurisprudence in Ciriaco Boy Guingguing v. Court of Appeals that quoted Benjamin Franklin, one of the founders of the United States “The liberty of the press is indeed essential. Whoever would throw the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.”Â (Chito M. Visarra)Â