Cebu News

Lastimosa asks CA to reverse libel ruling

Michael Vencynth H. Braga - Banat

CEBU, Philippines - Veteran tri-media personality Leo Lastimosa is seeking reconsideration from the Court of Appeals after the appellate court upheld his conviction on the libel case filed by former Cebu governor and now third district Representative Gwendolyn Garcia.

Lawyer Celso Espinosa, Lastimosa's legal counsel, said they have already filed a motion for reconsideration, maintaining that the character in the alleged libelous column does not refer to Garcia.

Espinosa contended that the identity of the defamed person must be clearly established as one of the requisites for an act to constitute libel, which was not present in the case filed by Garcia.

"I am sincerely hoping that the Court of Appeals can see beyond the might and influence of the complainant and the helplessness of the respondent, and consider the implication of curtailing the right to freedom of expression," he said in a text message sent to The FREEMAN.

"If they sustain the lower court, they will discourage citizens from challenging the powers by writing another Noli (Me Tangere) and (El) Fili (Filibusterismo)," he added.

In upholding the trial court's judgment, Associate Justice Edgardo Delos Santos said the identity of Garcia was sufficiently ascertained as the party in the article and that all the elements of libel actually exist.

 "By portraying Garcia, through the character of Doling, as a vindictive, mean and dishonest government officer who admitted plundering public funds, the accused had cast aspersions on the character, integrity and reputation of Garcia as the elected governor and exposed her to public ridicule or contempt," read part of the CA's decision.

In August 2013, Regional Trial Court Judge Raphael Yrastorza Sr. found Lastimosa guilty of libel for his column entitled "Si Doling Kawatan," which was published in The Freeman in 2007.

Yrastorza, in his 38-page decision, said that based on the evidence presented, he found sufficient grounds to hold the accused liable for the offense.

"While the authorship and publication of the article 'Si Doling Kawatan' has been admitted by the accused, he however, vehemently refused to admit that the name 'Doling' refers to the governor but, at the risk of undue repetition, the governor was cited by name in his previous attacks against the governor. Accused cannot now deny the obvious reference which is clearly apparent in the said article, just to escape the dire consequences of his act," the decision read.

The lower court imposed upon Lastimosa a penalty of P6,000 with subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency and ordered him to pay P2 million to Garcia for moral damages. But the appellate court reduced the amount for moral damages from P2 million to P500, 000.

 The case stemmed from the complaint of Garcia who alleged that the character refers to her. The column tells the story of a fish vendor who became rich after she entered politics.

Garcia alleged that prior to the article "Si Doling Kawatan," Lastimosa "assaulted" her personally in her policies and actions in manning the Province of Cebu in his column in The Freeman.

She said that in fact, she has filed criminal and civil cases against Lastimosa before the article 'Si Doling Kawatan' was published but it was dismissed after reaching a settlement.

For his defense, Lastimosa denied that "Doling" refers to Garcia. He said "Doling" was a fictitious name and refers to all, not in particular. He claimed "Si Doling Kawatan" is a work of fiction in the third person narrative. (FREEMAN)

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