[NOTE: This story was first published on December 8, 2019 in The Bohol Chronicle’s Sunday print edition.]
The Php33.5 million online libel complaint filed by Dauis Mayor Marietta T. Sumaylo against Romulo Rowenlo Bayron the alleged web administrator/publisher/editor of online publication “The Bol-anon Chronicle” masquerading as The Bohol Chronicle was upgraded into a criminal case on three counts by the Provincial Prosecution Office of Bohol.
Three articles portrayed Sumaylo as involved in the illegal drugs trade and using her wealth to bribe mayors with a trip to Hongkong plus Php50,000.00 cash to win their votes for president of the League of Municipalities (LMP) – Bohol Chapter.
Provincial Prosecutor Macario I. Delusa approved a Joint Resolution on November 15, 2019, that evidence submitted by Sumaylo through her counsel Lord “Popot” R. Marapao IV “is sufficient to establish probable cause against Bayron for violation of section 4 (c) (4) of Republic Act (RA) 10175 known as the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.
Nilda P. Villatima, Associate Provincial Prosecutor, in a six-page joint resolution stated that “we have reason to believe that herein respondent (Bayron) is responsible for the articles appearing in The Bol-anon Chronicle webpage that was posted in Facebook, on three (3) separate occasions. . .”
Just as it mysteriously appeared on Facebook with a shamelessly aped version of the bold gothic print of The Bohol Chronicle months before the May 2019 elections, The Bol-anon Chronicle also mysteriously disappeared from Facebook two days after Sumaylo sought the assistance of the National Bureau of Investigation – Bohol District Office (NBI-BDO) which issued a subpoena to Bayron on September 13, 2019.
Apparently, the alleged author deviously rode on the credibility of the 64-year-old weekly newspaper to lure naive followers of Facebook.
Sumaylo filed an eight-page complaint-affidavit on September 20, 2019 demanding from Bayron to indemnify her of P30 million in moral damages, P3 million in exemplary damages and P500,000.00 for services of counsel.
Supporting her allegations were five witnesses including testimonies of three incumbent municipal mayors – Valencia Mayor Maria Katrina L. Lim, Catigbi-an Mayor Elizabeth M. Pace, and Clarin Mayor Ma. Fe A. Piezas.
The three mayors executed affidavits denouncing the article as false regarding the vote-buying accusations while Sumaylo presented certifications from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) clearing her from any involvement of drug-related activity.
Three damaging articles headlined in The Bol-anon Chronicle – “Sumaylo Bribes Bohol Mayors?”, “Kwarta O Kahon? Money Prevails,” and “Dauis Mayor Dragged Into The Drug Problem Leading To The Elections,” were allegedly written by Bayron, according to Sumaylo.
These articles came out on August 11, 18 and 21, 2019, before and after August 16, 2019, LMP election which Sumaylo handily won against San Miguel Mayor Atty. Virgilio L. Mendez, former National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Director.
Bayron, whose physical appearance remains a mystery since he was a no-show when summoned by the NBI-Bohol District Office on September 16, 2019, although the subpoena was reportedly received by his wife in his address at 0160 Lino Chatto Drive, Tagbilaran City.
Atty. Roque A. Amante, Jr., a Cebu-based lawyer and publicly identified as a close associate of former Tagbilaran City Mayor Atty. Dan Neri Lim appeared in behalf of Bayron at the NBI office.
Also, Bayron failed to appear during the preliminary investigation before Prosecutor Villatima but instead submitted a counter-affidavit beyond the period required by law “interposing a defense of denial” and admitting that he is a graphic designer and an undergraduate student of Bachelor of Fine Arts.
Unfazed by the complexity of confronting a tormentor hiding in the world wide web, Sumaylo unmasked the phantom writer behind a series of articles posted on Facebook account of The Bol-anon Chronicle that maligned, humiliated and shamed her as a public servant including her family.
Citing Supreme Court jurisprudence, Sumaylo’s counsel, Marapao IV portrayed the gravity of the complaint since “cybercriminals enjoy the advantage of anonymity, like wearing a mask during a heist.”
Prosecutor Villatima, in her evaluation, findings, and recommendation of both versions of the complainant and respondent believed that Bayron’s identity as the author of the three articles in the Bol-anon Chronicle was traced by witnesses of Sumaylo “who are knowledgeable in the field of information technology.”
The complicated, highly technical and tedious pursuit to unmask the identity of the person behind the alleged libelous publications found its mark when a Universal Resource Locator (URL) led to a blogger named “kagwang” and “littlecubilyaro”, according to the Prosecution’s joint resolution.
A URL is another name for a web address similar to a house address that indicates the location of a resource while a blog is a regularly updated website usually run by an individual or a small group.
Upon clicking “littlecubilyaro” a November 22, 2014 comment posted at 6:58 AM by a certain Rowenlo Bayron appeared with a greeting ‘Hello Everyone! Thanks for visiting my site !! – Aaiiyah-” together with the alleged picture of Bayron and his family.
But Bayron denied being the owner or creator of the blogs uncovered by Sumaylo’s IT witnesses through a URL even if his picture with members of his family appeared in blogs discovered by Sumaylo’s IT resource “the internet is not restricted, anybody can easily grab a picture and post it in that account, blog or post and post or publish anything without his knowledge.”
However, Associate Provincial Prosecutor Villatima cited jurisprudence dictating that “positive identification of the perpetrator and the absence of any ill-motive to testify against respondent prevail over the defense of denial.”
The Provincial Prosecution Office established that the three articles allegedly written by Baylon are libelous and the elements of the crime of libel were clearly present as detailed by Sumaylo. (Chito M. Visarra)