Prosecutor junks libel complaint vs Maria Ressa, reporter Rambo Talabong

MANILA, Philippines – The libel complaint of Agrarian Reform Secretary John Castriciones against Rappler executive editor Maria Ressa and reporter Rambo Talabong has been junked by the Quezon City's Office of the City Prosecutor for lack of probable cause. 

“The statements made by respondents in their online website are not in itself defamatory,” said Assistant City Prosector Arnel Pabellar in his resolution dated September 10, but received by Rappler only on Tuesday, November 19.

Castriciones filed the complaint in 2017, when he was undersecretary for operations at the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).

Pabellar quoted the Supreme Court in Yabut and Tamargo vs Office of the Ombudsman and Doran, saying “A public official, more especially an elected one, should not be onion-skinned…Always, he is expected to act and serve with the highest degree of responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency, and shall remain accountable for his counduct to the people.”

What complaint? When Castriciones was DILG undersecretary, he, along with two other undersecretaries were stripped of most of their powers by then-Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno in April 2017.

In May, DILG officials and employees sent a confidential memorandum to Malacañang, asking President Rodrigo Duterte to dismiss the officials. Duterte did not fire them but transferred them to different government agencies.

Rappler reported the developments through its sources and sought the comment of the undersecretaries. Only former undersecretary Jesus Hinlo replied, denying the allegations of the employees. The stories are:

In his resolution, Pabellar noted that Rappler did not commit libel because it "merely summarized the contents of the ‘Confidential Memo to the President’ without any remarks or comment.”

He added: “It is a fair and true report within the context of paragraph 2, Article 354 of the Revised Penal Code hence exempt.”

Suppression of speech? In his complaint, Castriciones alleged that Talabong made malicious imputations when he reported that all 3 undersecretaries were on “floating status” as if it was official; that they were the subject of a "corruption complaint” as if it was official; and that the complaint’s allegations were the reason for their status.

Castriciones singled out Talabong for reporting that he and the two other undersecretaries had been receiving P100,000 salaries despite being on floating status. Other news organizations had reported on the 3 officials' status at the DILG.

In the Philippines libel is a criminal offense that carries a penalty of 6-year imprisonment or fines or both. Libel also allows complainants to demand multi-million pesos in damages from journalists.Campaigns by media organizations and unions to have libel decriminalized have not prospered in Congress.

Read the full resolution below:

– Rappler.com