SC upholds guilty verdict vs Drilon critic

ILOILO City – The Supreme Court (SC) affirmed with finality the conviction and imprisonment of blogger Manuel Mejorada over libellous articles against Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon. 

Mejorada will serve an imprisonment of two years and four months and one day, as minimum, to four years and two months, as maximum, to be served simultaneously.

According to Mejorada, he felt sad upon knowing the Supreme Court Second Division’s denial with finality of the Motion for Reconsideration he filed on its June 10, 2019 ruling dismissing his Petition for Certiorari on his conviction for libel.

“If imprisonment be the price for courageously exposing the truth, I have prepared myself and my family to accept my fate,” stated Mejorada.

Also a former provincial administrator of Iloilo, Mejorada is expected to serve his sentence at the New Bilibid Prison pursuant to Republic Act 10575 or the Bureau of Corrections Act of 2013, which charged the Bureau of Corrections with custody and rehabilitation of national inmates or those sentenced by a court to serve a term of imprisonment of more than three years.

The libel case stemmed from a series of articles written by Mejorada accusing Drilon of overpricing the construction of the Iloilo Convention Center. 

“The Court resolves to deny the motion for reconsideration with finality, no substantial argument having been adduced to warrant the reconsideration sought,” the resolution, issued by the Supreme Court’s Second Division on Sept. 2, 2019, read. 

The high court, in its earlier ruling, stressed that “as correctly ruled by the Court of Appeals, the elements of libel were sufficiently established by the prosecution.” 

It further said that “it was not necessary to establish that the publication was motivated by any malice since the articles were not privileged communication or fair comments; thus, malice is presumed.”  

Mejorada warned that the Supreme Court decision would have “chilling effect” on the media profession.

It narrows the latitude for members of media in making criticism on the conduct of public officials and other accountable persons, he said.

“Having said that, I will bravely face the consequences of my actions,” he stressed.

With due respect to the Supreme Court, Mejorada further said, the high court’s ruling against him did not tackle two important issues he raised.

First, he said, he was deprived his constitutional right to confront his accuser.

Second, he claimed the injury or damage to Drilon’s reputation or honor was not established because the senator did not testify in court.

Mejorada noted that during his trial, the prosecution presented only two witnesses – Drilon’s Chief of Staff and the senator’s media liaison officer.

Neither could substitute for Drilon on the subject of injury or damage to his honor or reputation, according to Mejorada.

“It paves the way for individuals to file libel cases and not have to testify in court to be confronted on cross-examination,” he said.

Drilon, on the other hand, welcomed the high court’s decision.

Pursuant to the rules, the records of the case will be remanded to the Pasay Regional Trial Court, which will subsequently order Mejorada to serve his sentence.

Mejorada is facing five more libel charges.

Aside from his blogs against Drilon, Mejorada also filed a graft complaint against the senator before the Ombudsman but this was dismissed for lack of merit.

The Ombudsman stressed that contrary to the allegations of overpricing, the government was even able to save a huge amount of money allotted for the Iloilo Convention Center’s design. 

The Iloilo Convention Center, now a prime convention destination in Western Visayas, is credited for Iloilo’s rise as a premier MICE (Meeting, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions) hub in the country.

But “there’s more than meets the eye,” according to Mejorada in a statement yesterday.

“The DAP (Disbursement Acceleration Program) funds poured into Iloilo City’s infrastructure and beautification projects exceeded P3 billion. If asked by the national government to provide details, I will gladly do so,” according to Mejorada.

He was reacting to President Rodrigo Duterte’s Tuesday night statement (Nov. 19) questioning the Iloilo Convention Center’s cost after Drilon questioned the P50-million cost of the cauldron to be used in the upcoming Southeast Asian Games that the country is hosting beginning next week./PN


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