Less than a month after a crushing defeat in his reelection bid, outgoing Governor Art Yap suffered another loss as the Makati City Prosecutor’s Office dismissed the inciting to sedition complaint he filed against two of his critics and a Bohol Chronicle Radio Corporation (BCRC) editor.
In a 10-page resolution issued on May 31, 2022, the Makati City Prosecutor’s Office said Yap’s complaint against Chronicle associate editor and DYRD station manager Peter Dejaresco, former Tagbilaran City Mayor Dan Lim and Makati-based businessman Willy Ramasola lacked probable cause.
Makati City Prosecutor Dindo Venturanza approved the resolution of Assistant City Prosecutor Nicu Dela Merced recommending the dismissal of the case.
“After a judicious review of the complaint and pieces of evidence attached thereto, this office finds that complainant failed to establish probable cause to warrant the indictment of respondents for the crime of inciting to sedition,” the resolution said.
In his over 150-page complaint affidavit dated September 23, 2021, Yap accused Lim, Dejaresco and Ramasola of conspiring in “incessantly, viciously and consistently” publishing “scurrilous libel” against him and the provincial government and its officials.
The governor also alleged that the BCRC exhibited “a pattern” of placing him and the provincial government in “a bad light” through the Chronicle and station DYRD.
Yap, in a radio interview after filing the complaint, said the three respondents peddled “fake news” and “lies” against him which he believed may drive the public to “lose respect” for him and his office.
However, the prosecutor cited six elements of inciting to sedition and all of which were absent in Yap’s complaint.
“There is no proof that the specific act or acts made by the respondents Ramasola, Lim and Dejaresco incited the people of Bohol to the accomplishment of any acts which constitutes Sedition, specifically to prevent the Provincial Government of Bohol or Gov. Yap from freely exercising its or his functions and inflict any act of hate, anger, resentment, discontent, disdain or revenge upon complainant,” the resolution added.
In dismissing the governor’s complaint, the prosecutor noted that Yap also failed to establish conspiracy among or between any two of the respondents.
The resolution specifically highlighted that Lim’s request for an investigation by the Office of the Ombudsman on Yap’s alleged commission of plunder and the subsequent posting and reporting of the event on Facebook by Ramasola and Dejaresco in his media outlets, respectively, did not constitute conspiracy.
“Criminal conspiracy must always be founded on facts, not on mere inferences, conjectures and presumptions. Conspiracy cannot be presumed,” the resolution said.
In highlighting that public officials should be held accountable in the performance of their duties, the Makati City Prosecutor’s office quoted jurisprudence in Manila Bulletin Publishing Corporation vs. Domingo:
“The conduct, moral fitness, and ability of public official to discharge his duties are undoubtedly matters of public interest for he is, after all, legally required to be at all times accountable to the people and is expected to discharge his duties with utmost responsibility, integrity, competence, and loyalty.”
The prosecutors’ office also used strong words in laying out the importance of press freedom and the public’s right to raise criticism.
It noted that restriction of free speech should only follow after thorough examination determines that the act indeed presents “clear and present” danger.
“Freedom of the press is crucial and so inextricably woven into the right to free speech and free expression, that any attempt to restrict it must be met with an examination so critical that only a danger that is clear and present would be allowed to curtail it,” the resolution said.
In his complaint, Yap laid out dozens of instances in which he believed that the three respondents conspired to commit inciting to sedition but the governor pointed out “one glaring example.”
Yap cited an article published by the Chronicle online on July 14, 2021 which reported on unresolved cases filed against him for alleged anomalies committed while he was still secretary of the Department of Agriculture.
The governor said the article was shared by Ramasola with the caption “Abangan” on the same day as the publication date.
The series of events further raised Yap’s suspicion as Ramasola, a day after the publication, filed on behalf of Lim a request for investigation on the governor for allegedly engaging in anomalous transactions including rice procurement which amounted to P53 million from two “non-operational” suppliers.
He further used as proof of conspiracy that Dejaresco’s Chronicle published news on Ramasola’s filing of the request before the Office of the Ombudsman.
Dejaresco denied Yap’s “ridiculous” allegations noting that the July 14, 2021 article titled “Expecting more cases? Yap takes defensive stance against corruption allegations” was based on a statement issued by Yap on his Facebook page earlier on the same day as the publication date.
“What Mr. Ramasola or any other netizen does to our news, be it sharing it or commenting against it, is out of our hands,” Dejaresco previously said.
In publishing the news on the plunder complaint against Yap, Dejaresco stressed that he did not need to contact Lim or Ramasola as the news was based on actual documents lodged before the Office of the Ombudsman.
However, he noted that even if he or anyone in his media outlets contacted Ramasola or Lim, it would have been to fulfill their duty to get firsthand information from the concerned sources.
“If the governor’s complaint is used as precedence, then every journalist would be guilty of being in conspiracy with their sources,” said Dejaresco.
The three respondents faced the charges separately, with each getting legal representation from different law firms.
Ramasola, Dejaresco and Lim were represented by GD Anino and Associates, Esguerra & Blanco Law Offices and lawyer Doni Piquero, respectively.
Threat to media
Previously, the Bohol Tri-Media Association (BTMA) condemned Yap’s filing of the case calling it a “whacking assault” to freedom of expression.
In a statement, the BTMA said the complaint was a “veiled threat to press freedom and free expression enshrined under the 1987 Philippine Constitution.”
Yap downplayed the BTMA’s stand saying that he only filed the case against Dejaresco who is also the chairman of the BCRC and not against journalists who work for the media outfit.
In the May 9 gubernatorial race, Yap who is in his first term as provincial chief executive lost to Rep. Aris Aumentado by 185,833 votes, the largest losing margin in recent history.
Aumentado tallied 469,736 votes while Yap garnered 283,903 votes.
Immediately after the polls, Yap who also served as congressman representing the third district from 2010 to 2019 announced his retirement from local politics.