The Office of the City Prosecutor in Quezon City dismissed a P5-million libel complaint filed by 1st District Congressman Rene Relampagos against aÂ longtime critic, former Officer in Charge, (OIC) Governor Atty. Victor De La Serna and Johnny Orioque, editor and publisher of the Bohol Daily News.
The three pageÂ resolution found “no probable cause” to put on trial for libel De La Serna and Orioque for publishing an alleged malicious article on the front page of the Bohol Daily News and showing the photograph of Relampagos with the label “Technically at large”.
But the Office of the City Prosecutor in Quezon City agreed with Relampagos that their office has jurisdiction because the complainant is a public official who holds office at the House of Representatives at Batasan Hills, Quezon City.
Senior Assistant City Prosecutor Fabinda Delos Santos upheld the right of De La Serna to express his legal opinion that Relampagos was “technically at large” because he was in the United States despite a pending criminal case.
Relampagos flew to the United States with his wife on official business to attend the Dive Equipment and Marketing Association Show in Orlando, Florida upon the invitation of the Department of Tourism.
Relampagos took umbrage at the term “Technically at large” as a public and malicious imputation that he is defying the law and processes of the court or has fled the country to avoid prosecution.
The words “At large”, Relampagos pointed out, connotes that the whereabouts of an accused are unknown or that the accused fled or a warrant of arrest has been returned unserved.
But the prosecutor believed that the statement of De La Serna was “engendered by his sense of justice and duty” and was expressingÂ his concern that the Sandiganbayan may not be able to acquire jurisdiction over the person of Relampagos since he was out of the country.
The resolution stressed that the press should not be held to account, to a point of suppression, for honest mistakes or imperfections in the choice of language. There must be some room for misstatement of fact or misjudgment.
The prosecutor also reminded Relampagos that he is a public figure and the published statement of De La Serna and Orioque falls under the ambit of qualified privileged communication.
De La Serna led a group of concerned Tagbilaranons who filed a graft case against then Governor Relampagos and fourteen top provincial government officials and a private businessman over a power and water deal that they alleged was grossly disadvantageous to the government.
The case has dragged for fifteen years and is now before the 1st Division of the Sandiganbayan awaiting a ruling from the Supreme Court on a motion for review filed by De La Serna. (Chito M. Visarra)