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Libel charges against publisher and columnist dismissed

(CMFR/IFEX) - A local court in Metro Manila dismissed a libel case against a columnist and the publisher of a national daily on 31 March 2011. The decision was publicised on 15 April.

Libel, a criminal offense in the Philippines, has often been used to harass journalists and media workers.

According to an order penned by Judge Rosa Samson, Branch 104 of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court decided to reverse its earlier decision, which had denied a motion to quash the libel charges filed by a National Press Club (NPC) member against "Daily Tribune" publisher Ninez Cacho-Olivares and columnist Louie Logarta.

The court said, "The information did not specifically allege, and the court cannot thus conclude, that at the time the supposed offending article was first printed and published, that the private complainant was residing in Quezon City."

In his motion for reconsideration, Logarta said the court lacked jurisdiction, citing Article 360 of the Revised Penal Code. Article 360 reads: "The criminal and civil action for damages in cases of written defamation, as provided for in this chapter, shall be filed simultaneously or separately with the court of first instance of the province or city where the libelous article is printed and first published or where any of the offended parties actually resides at the time of the commission of the offense."

Lysander Garcia, NPC member and writer for the "NPC Digest", filed the libel case in 2007 one year after the allegedly libelous article was published in the "Daily Tribune". Logarta, in his 8 June 2006 column "Blurbal Thrust", identified Garcia as one of those who raided the executive offices of the NPC "with the objective of stealing cash, checks, documents and other valuables . . ."

The raid was allegedly instigated by "paid goons" of a group that lost in the NPC elections on 24 February 2006.

Lawyer Romel Bagares, executive director of the Center for International Law, said in a press statement that "The information against my client merely stated that the complainant, Garcia, was resident of Quezon City but did not specifically state that at the time of the publication of the allegedly offending article, that he was already residing in the city."

On 19 October 2009, the court denied the motion to quash, saying that these were "mere reiterations of the arguments which were already adequately passed upon and discussed in the assailed order, and the court finds no cogent reason to reverse its ruling."

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