Cebu Citizens-Press Council

Being accountable comes with being free

CCPC  lauds  Supreme Court for acquitting  broadcaster Leo  Lastimosa of libel. Took courts almost 16 years to resolve but SC has clarified the rule on identifying libel victim.  

April 9th, 2023 · No Comments

Statement, April 8, 2023

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 acquittingthe 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 presentone’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 C.A., 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. 

Atty. Pachico A.  Seares

CCPC executive  director

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