Court convicts 3 journalists of libel

December 11, 2009 at 5:38 pm Leave a comment

URDANETA CITY – A local court here has ordered three journalists to pay a fine of P6,000 each after they were convicted of libel filed by a mayoralty candidate from Asingan town five years ago.

In a 17-page decision, Regional Trial Court acting presiding judge Teodorico Alfonso Bauzon also sentenced Victor Corpuz Jr., Daniel Calixto Custodio and J.D. Villafuerte to pay P500,000 in moral damages to the complainant, Abraham Divina Jr., a retired government official, who ran and lost in the mayoralty race in Asingan in 2004.

Corpuz was the publisher-editor of the defunct Headline Balita, a weekly newspaper in Pangasinan, while Custodio and Villafuerte were its associate publisher and executive editor, respectively.

The paper ceased publication after Villafuerte’s death in Dagupan City in 2005.

Divina, who retired as director of the Department of Public Works and Highways’ Bureau of Equipment, had accused Corpuz, Custodio and Villafuerte of libel after publishing an article that described Divina as a corrupt DPWH official.

During the trial, Divina admitted that during his employment with the DPWH, he was he was among those charged in a “vehicle repair scam” under the doctrine of command responsibility.

But he was eventually cleared of the criminal and administrative charges by the Ombudsman and by the Office of the President, respectively.

“Certainly, when the … article was written and published in the May 3-10, 2004 issue of Headline Balita, there was no factual basis in calling [Divina] as a ‘corrupt DWPH official’ or one who steal[s] from the coffer[s] of the government,” Bauzon said in his decision.

The judge also noted that copies of the newspaper and photocopies of the article were distributed in various polling places in Asingan town during the May 2004 elections.

“This being the case, it was obvious that the writing and publication of the libelous article was not meant to be in response to a duty to educate or guide the electorate during the 2004 elections… but was actuated by a desire to impeach or injure the reputation , integrity and honesty of the [complainant],” Bauzon said.

“Clearly, the presence of malice attending the libelous imputation is evident in this case,” he said.

In their defense, Corpuz and Custodio told the court that they did not know their names were in the paper’s editorial box as publisher-editor and associate publsiher, respectively.

Corpuz said that his only participation in the newspaper was to solicit adverstisement “and nothing more.”

Custodio, for his part, said the he only learned that he was the paper’s associate publisher when he saw the issue where the article about Divina was published. He claimed he was connected with another local paper at that time.

But Bauzon said that Corpuz’s and Custodio’s defense were “untenable” and “unconvincing,” saying the two failed to present evidence to corroborate their claims.

Reached for comment, Divina said he was happy with the court’s decision because he has been vindicated.

Entry filed under: News.

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