CCPC lauds broadcaster’s acquittal of libel


The Cebu Citizens-Press Council (CCPC) commends the Supreme Court decision finding as not libelous the June 29, 2007 column of Leo Lastimosa in The FREEMAN.

Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia charged that the newspaper article libeled her, with the ABS-CBN broadcaster using a supposed fish vendor named “Doling” as the object of slander. Lastimosa called “Doling” “a thief, corrupt, arrogant,” in a clutch of defamatory words. The governor alleged that “Doling” was Gwendolyn. The SC ruling said the victim of defamation was not named or otherwise identified, thus acquitting the journalist.

CCPC has always advocated for public officials to respond in kind to media criticism; with the printed or broadcast word. The aggrieved person has the right of reply. More than that, in the case of high officials such as the governor or mayor, there’s no compelling need to sue because each has the equivalent of a “bully pulpit” and an extensive media apparatus to present one’s side or refute any accusation.

The final decision -- promulgated December 5, 2022 but posted in the internet only this week -- took a total of almost 16 years to reach. In 2013, Cebu Regional Trial Court Branch 14 convicted Lastimosa. In 2016 Court of Appeals Nineteenth Division affirmed the conviction, modifying only the damages. In 2022, acting on Lastimosa’s petition for review, the SC reversed the lower courts’ ruling. Or a total of almost 16 years since the year the newspaper column was published and Governor Garcia sued.

The long wait for the high court’s decision produced something new, at least in jurisprudence on libel cases involving Cebu journalists. The court questioned and struck down the claim of the witness, the “third person,” presented to prove that “Doling” was indeed Gwen.

The SC, unlike the RTC and the CA, didn’t just accept the “say-so” of the witness who identified the victim. “It is material,” the ruling said -- for the governor to win her claim and Lastimosa to get convicted --“to establish how such third person was able” to identify “Doling” as Gwen.

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