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Dumaguete City, Philippines Monday, July 3, 2017
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Radioman wins libel vs. guv

A Regional Trial Court has acquitted a Dumaguete broadcaster of two counts of libel filed by Negros Oriental Gov. Roel Degamo in 2015.

In a 14-page decision June 30, Presiding Judge Arlene Catherine Dato of RTC Branch 39 acquitted Cornelio Pepino, known as Rex Cornelio to his listeners over DYMD Energy FM in Dumaguete.

Degamo filed a complaint for libel against Pepino on May 20, 2015, over the broadcaster's comments in his radio programs of Nov. 6 and Nov. 7, 2014.

In his complaint, Degamo said Pepino maliciously imputed that Gov. Roel R. Degamo is a corrupt public official when Pepino mentioned on air that Degamo was against the Negros One-Island Region concept because “his share will diminish...”

In his program, Pepino also said the Governor failed to act on the problem of residents of Bankolino in San Francisco, Sta. Catalina, who wanted to stop the illegal gold mining activity in their barangay. He said the Governor is responsible for overpricing government projects, and that he forcefully took the Intelligence Fund of the provincial government of Negros Oriental.

Public prosecutor Manolito Tiuseco filed the two libel cases after determining that the statements maliciously imputed the Governor as a corrupt official.

Assisted by counsel Michael Maxino Bandal, Pepino told the Court that when he said the Governor's share will diminish under a One-Island Region, he said he was actually reading a listener's text message on air, which he said he even had to censor to avoid insulting and libeling the Governor.

As to the comment on the gold mining activity in Sta. Catalina, Pepino provided the court with a letter from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, requesting the Governor to stop the gold mining activity.

On the issue of the Intelligence Fund, Pepino also provided a report of the Department of Budget and Management, declaring the province's Appropriations Ordinance as inoperative.

On the issue of overpricing of government projects, Pepino showed a report from the Commission on Audit which deemed the projects of the province as excessive.

Pepino also showed the Court a copy of the decision of the COA denying the appeal of the Governor, and affirming the Notices of Disallowance.

Judge Dato said there was nothing untruthful about what the accused had discussed in his radio program. She said the court carefully examined word for word the utterances or remarks made by Pepino in his radio program but it did not find the utterances to be defamatory.

In her decision, Dato said the libel charges must fail because the private complainant is a public officer, and that the indictment had no leg to stand on because the prosecution miserably failed to prove any motive on the part of the accused to malign the good name and reputation of the private complainant.

There was also no proof that Pepino was used by the opposition to advance their agenda of putting the complainant into pubic contempt or ridicule in order to ruin his political career, and to unseat him from public office, or that his statements were calculated and orchestrated by an opposing political party to drum up a so-called “hate” campaign against the complainant.

On the contrary, by Degamo's own admission, he said he only met Pepino for the first time during the preliminary investigation of these cases before the Prosecutor's Office.

Dato said Pepino acted in good faith. She said that as a broadcast journalist, Pepino was just prodded by his responsibility to apprise his radio listeners on matters of public concern, more particularly on the fiscal policies and programs of the Governor.

Dato cited several Supreme Court decisions which quoted the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark case of New York Times vs. Sullivan which ruled that “we have adopted the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide open and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.”

The Philippine Supreme Court, in the case of Vasquez vs. Court of Appeals, also ruled that even if the defamatory statement is false, no liability can attach if it relates to official conduct, unless the public official concerned proves that the statement was made with actual malice.

“Malice cannot be implied or inferred from the mere fact of the publication of the said utterances over the airwaves.”

The judge also admonished government officials and employees that they must not be too onion-skinned when questions are raised as to the manner by which they manage the affairs of their office.*IFP


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