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Opinion

Libel

SENTINEL - Ramon T. Tulfo - The Philippine Star

Rappler chief executive officer (CEO) and Nobel laureate Maria Ressa’s woes are not over yet, even after her conviction by a Manila court for libel.

Rappler’s mistake was in believing an “intelligence” report that the complainant, billionaire businessman Wilfredo Keng, was a drug trafficker. The report is hogwash, as I know that Keng, my compadre, is a law-abiding citizen.

For that, Ressa’s conviction was valid.

But the penalty imposed by the Court of Appeals on her – increasing her incarceration by more than six months – leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

The Manila court’s jail sentence on Ressa was six years, but the appellate court increased it to six years, eight months and 20 days.

Whoa, whoa! Why did the Court of Appeals do that?

Those CA justices who affirmed Ressa’s conviction are idiots. They didn’t consider the consequences of their decision.

The CA’s act of increasing the penalty for Ressa, a darling of the free world for winning the Nobel peace prize, would give the impression that freedom of the press and of speech in the Philippines is just a myth.

It would further make the country a pariah among the democratic nations of the world.

One of the justices who affirmed the decision is notorious for allegedly accepting bribes from appellees or appellants. The concerned justice knows who I’m referring to. Huwag kang patay-malisya, baka mapilitan akong ilabas ang baho mo, justice. (Don’t pretend not to know who I’m referring to, because I might be compelled to expose your stink).

Ressa’s consolation is that the Supreme Court, the final arbiter, will most likely acquit her. But that’s a long way down the road.

It took 21 years of legal battles before my brother Raffy Tulfo was finally acquitted by the high tribunal for six counts of libel filed by a lawyer of the Bureau of Customs.

Raffy exposed the alleged demands for bribes from importers and brokers by the customs official, who has since retired and laughed all the way to the bank.

I urge Raffy, now a senator of the republic, to file a bill to decriminalize libel and make it only a civil case.

Only a former journalist like him would know the angst of appealing a conviction which, in the first place, should not have been meted at all.

That’s a lasting legacy he will leave to the broadcast and print media, just like the Press Freedom Law filed by Sen. Vicente Sotto I.

The law, now called The Sotto Law, provides that journalists should not be compelled to reveal the identities of their news sources.

Incidentally, Vicente Sotto is the grandfather of former Senate president Vicente “Tito” Sotto III.

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Lucky Me!, a local brand of instant noodles, has gained notoriety in some European countries and Taiwan for reportedly containing ethylene oxide. Ethylene oxide is a processing aid used to disinfect herbs and spices. The use of ethylene oxide is not allowed in European countries.

Lucky Me! instant noodles are deadly. Yes, deadly!

I remember years ago, my friend, a coach of the national judo team, was hospitalized for several weeks for a kidney problem.

His kidney problem was caused by having too much Lucky Me! instant noodles. He died of the illness several years later.

The coach, who was from Zamboanga City, had to send part of his meager salary to his family in the Mindanao city. Since he couldn’t afford to buy rice and viand dishes to go with the staple food, my friend subsisted on Lucky Me! instant noodles. He did this every single day!

The poor guy’s condition and death speaks volumes of how we treat our national coaches and athletes, who compete abroad to bring honor to the country.

Despite the pittance he received monthly for training the country’s judo players, my friend the coach stayed on because he was dedicated to the sport.

My friend the coach had a physique to be envied. He had bulging muscles he got not from lifting weights but from playing judo’s “ground works.” He wrestled with his wards on the mats.

The guy didn’t know that he was sick inside until he suffered from unbearable pain.

Why did I know about the judo coach? Upon learning of his condition, I appealed to the Philippine Sports Commission headed by William “Butch” Ramirez to bail him out of the hospital.

*      *      *

The mass recall of Lucky Me! instant noodles from grocery store shelves in Europe and Taiwan is a slap on the face for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

FDA leaders, especially the immediate past ones, didn’t care about looking into the health of consumers or end-users, just as long as their pockets are full.

There was no way our FDA couldn’t not have known about the unhealthy ingredients of Lucky Me! instant noodles.

Reports have reached this columnist about the shameless corruption at the FDA. Leaders and examiners of food and medicines for approval didn’t give their nod unless the applicants came out with oodles and oodles of money (no pun intended).

Manufacturers who didn’t give grease money to FDA personnel had to wait years for their applications to be approved.

“Kelangan ginagastusan mo ang mga trips abroad at luho nila para ma-approve ang application mo (You have to pay for their trips abroad and their vices for them to approve your application),” said an official of a drug manufacturer.

If the new administration wants world-quality medicines and food coming from the Philippines, it should clean up the Augean stable that is the FDA.

MARIA RESSA

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