DOJ junks Osmeña’s libel plaint vs Nalzaro
Michael Vencynth H. Braga (The Freeman) - September 26, 2016 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines - The secretary of justice has reversed the findings of the local prosecutor's office indicting a veteran tri-media personality of the libel complaint filed by Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II found no malice in the article of Bobby Nalzaro which was published in Sunstar Cebu. In a seven-page order, Aguirre set aside the resolution of the Lapu-Lapu City Prosecutor's Office finding probable cause against Nalzaro and recommending the filing of the case in court.

Aguirre explained that malice, which is an important element of libel, was not established by Osmeña. On the contrary, the justice secretary found Nalzaro's column to be a fair comment on public figure like Osmeña.

"Actual malice is based on the knowledge of perpetrator that the statement is false or with reckless disregard that the statement is false or not," read part of Aguirre's order.

Nalzaro earlier filed a petition for review before the Department of Justice questioning his indictment by the local prosecutor's office. He maintained that his column was just a fair comment on a matter involving public interest and official.

Aguirre sustained Nalzaro saying that the latter has basis in his commentary so there could be no actual malice on his part to publish the assailed article.

Osmeña accused Nalzaro of libel for allegedly making defamatory statements against him in his column; "Jonas's Offensive Against Cebu City".

"Tomas is moving to sabotage Mike's administration. Unfortunately, because of his obsession to get back at Mike, many innocent people got caught in the political crossfire. An example is OIC city treasurer Diwa Cuevas. Tomas filed several administrative cases against her. Some of those cases were based on fabricated charges," Osmeña quoted in his complaint an excerpt of the alleged libelous article.

Osmeña said the article "unjustly imputes" that he fabricated charges against Cuevas. He contended that the administrative charges he filed against Cuevas were based on the 2012 and 2013 audit reports of the Commission on Audit.

But Aguirre said some of the audit reports did not directly impute any wrongdoings on the part of Cuevas which may hold him criminally or administratively liable, basing on the copies of the audit reports attached to the complaint.

"Thus, the respondent-apellant (Nalzaro) has basis in his commentary of saying that some of the charges filed against the said treasurer were fabricated," Aguirre said.

The DOJ secretary also acknowledged the protection granted by the Constitution on the rights of the press.

"It should be noted that respondent-appellant is a member of the press. As such, to guarantee his right to freedom of expression, he should have leeway for a misstatement of fact as well as for judgment," he added, citing a Supreme Court decision. (FREEMAN)

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