Pasig court throws out libel suit by bank against Dagupan’s Sunday Punch


Dear media friends, please see below our media release on a libel case we have successfully defended. Kindly refer to the attached 5-page copy of the court’s order dismissing the case.

Media Release from CenterLaw
For reference : Professor H. Harry L. Roque, Jr. 09175398096 and Atty. Romel R. Bagares, 09328798422

The Pasig City Regional Trial Court has dismissed a two-count libel suit filed by a publicly-listed thrift bank Citystate Savings against the entire staff of the multi-awarded Dagupan City-based Sunday Punch newsweekly, having found no probable cause to try the case.

“There being no malice in the subject articles, a reasonably discreet and prudent person would find it difficult to charge the accused for libel,” said Branch 167 presiding judge Rolando G. Mislang in his five-page order dated August 27, 2014.

The suit arose from two articles published last year by the Sunday Punch in its print and online issues for August 25-31 and September 1-7 detailing the Pasig City-based bank’s alleged use of public funds to pay for the electricity consumption of one of its branches in the city.

The articles – vigorously disputed by the bank for allegedly being false – were based on comments made by an officer of the local electric cooperative and Dagupan City mayor Belen Fernandez herself. Both officials did not retract their statements even after the filing of the libel suit against the Sunday Punch, a pioneering community paper that has won many journalism awards over the years.

But as the judge could not find probable cause against eight Sunday Punch editorial staff members – namely, editor-in-chief and publisher Ermin Garcia Jr., associate editor Marifi Jara, contributing editor Jun Velasco, correspondents Jesus A. Garcia and Johanne R. Macob, online administrator Julie Ann Arrogante, production manager Jocelyn F. De La Cruz, and cartoonist Virgilio Biagtan – he granted their motion for judicial determination of probable cause and recalled arrest warrants issued against them.

Lawyers for the newsweekly – Attorneys Harry Roque, Romel Regalado Bagares and Zharmai Garcia of the Center for International Law – had argued for the application to the case of the public figure exception in Philippine jurisprudence on libel, which requires a complainant who is a public figure to prove “actual malice” in the allegedly libelous article.

The actual malice standard provides that any falsity in a news report is not liable for liable unless the public figure concerned proves that the report was made with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.

Professor Harry L. Roque Jr., Chair of Centerlaw that defended the Sunday Punch, hailed the dismissal as a triumph for freedom of expression and stated that, “The dismissal recognizes that a discussion on how public property is managed is imbued with the public interest”.

Judge Mislang agreed with the Sunday Punch’s lawyers.

“The two articles in question merely referred to or quoted the statements of officials, thus establishing the fact that the accused did not write the articles and publish them with reckless disregard for truth,” wrote the judge in his order.

He brushed aside the argument made by the bank’s counsel — lawyer Ferdinand Topacio — that the actual malice standard should not apply to it as it is not a public figure, saying that Citystate after all “operates a business that is imbued with public interest.”

Citystate is a bank owned by investors led by Mr. Antonio Cabangon-Chua, who also owns interests in print, broadcast and television outfits, among them the Business Mirror newspaper, Aliw Broadcasting Network AM Radio Station DWIZ, Solar Television Network and Radio Philippines Network.

The judge said: “[c]learly, private complainant Citystate failed to prove not only that the charges made by accused in the subject articles were false but also that accused made them with knowledge of their falsity or with reckless disregard of whether they were false or not.”

Judge Mislang also took issue with Citystate’s wholesale filing of the libel suits against the entire staff of the Sunday Punch. Noting that it was the paper’s editor-in-chief who took responsibility for the articles in question, he said that the bank failed “to specify how each of [the other Accused] could have actively participated in the publication of the subject articles.”

The Office of the City Prosecutor earlier dismissed the bank’s libel complaints. However, it reinstated the case on the latter’s motion for reconsideration and filed two counts of libel against the Sunday Punch news staff with the regional trial court.

-30-

Click here for a copy of the ORDER PP v E Garcia

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