ILOILO City — The Court of Appeals (CA) upheld its Sept. 18, 2018 ruling affirming the conviction of Manuel “Boy” Mejorada and sentencing him to a maximum of four years and two months in prison for libeling Ilonggo senator Franklin Drilon.
The former Iloilo provincial administrator was found guilty of four counts of libel by the Pasay City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 188 in 2017.
In its resolution promulgated on March 7, 2019, the CA Former Second Division through Associate Justice Ma. Luisa Quijano-Padilla thumbed down Mejorada’s Motion for Reconsideration.
According to the CA, “there was no compelling reason to arrive at a different decision from what was assessed by this Court.”
“We hasten to add that, with regard to the imposition of imprisonment instead of a fine on the argument that herein accused-appellant is a first-time offender, it must be understood that the present rules do not altogether remove imprisonment as a penalty for the crime of libel,” CA said.
The appellate court further added that, “…by insisting that the trial court gravely erred in imposing imprisonment instead of a fine, accused-appellant is in effect clipping the trial court’s discretion.”
Drilon hauled Mejorada to court in 2014 for four social media and blog posts accusing the legislator of irregularities in three construction projects:
* circumferential road in Pavia, Iloilo
* Iloilo Convention Center in Mandurriao district
* Guimaras-Iloilo Ferry Terminal
The RTC sentenced Mejorada with imprisonment of from two to four years.
According to the CA’s September 2018 ruling, following the so-called multiple publication rule, accused-appellant should be penalized distinctly for each count considering that each libelous article constituted a distinct offense where separate penalties should be imposed.
The appellate court agreed with the RTC that Mejorada, in four articles, committed libel “by making it appear that Senator Drilon took advantage of his position in government and suggesting that he meddled in the various projects in Iloilo City for financial gain…”
“No amount of sophistical explanation on the part of the appellant can hide, much less erase, the negative impression already created in the minds of the readers of the libelous materials towards Senator Drilon,” it added.
The CA upheld the trial court’s finding that the subject articles were defamatory, that they explicitly identified Drilon, and said there was a presumption of malice in cases of defamatory imputation in the absence of a showing of “good intention or justifiable motive.”
“They provide no details of the acts supposedly committed by Senator Drilon but repeatedly accused him instead of manipulating the procurement process of the several projects,” the ruling said.
“They are, truth be told, plain and simple baseless accusations,” it added, adding that Mejorada “never presented any proof of his claims.”
NOT GIVING UP
On Facebook, Mejorada posted he would bring his case to the Supreme Court.
“With due respect to the CA and the RTC, I believe there was no libel as the element of injury was not established with the failure of Senator Drilon to testify,” Mejorada posted.
He added that injury in libel is personal and nobody but the complainant can tell the court on how he felt about the alleged libelous publications.
“I am confident this issue on the failure of Senator Drilon (to testify) will be given due consideration. Still, this ruling is certain to send shivers down the spines of journalists. Media will be cautious about stepping on the toes of powerful people, and this will result in more self-censorship. It raises the possibility of media being tamed,” he added./PN