The Supreme Court (SC) upheld the dismissal of a libel suit filed by former senator Juan Ponce Enrile against newspaper columnist Yoly Villanueva Ong, a piece of good news for the Philippine press.
In a ruling issued on February 19 but sent to Ong on Monday, July 6, the SC denied Enrile's petition, saying his camp failed to show the Court of Appeals was wrong in affirming the dismissal of his libel suit in 2019 by the Pasay City Regional Trial Court.
Ong's lawyer, Jose Manuel "Chel" Diokno, said he is "very happy" about the High Court's resolution.
"It upholds the right of journalists to write on matters of public concern, particularly for columnists to express their opinion on matters that affect the people," he told Rappler on Tuesday, July 7.
What libel suit? In 2012, Enrile filed a P31-million libel suit against Ong over the column "Like Father, Like Son" published in The Philippine Star in October of that year. The column was published months before the 2013 national elections where Enrile's son, Jack, was running for senator.
In her opinion column, Ong recalled controversies involving Enrile during Martial Law under dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Enrile, in his complaint, claimed that the article characterized him as a "liar, fraud, and manipulator" and that it caused him mental distress and humiliation.
The SC decision is not yet final. Enrile's camp can still file a motion for reconsideration.
"Ultimately, all of these cases involving freedom of expression will reach the courts and it is my fervent hope that the courts will remain as guardians of free expression because, really, they are the last resort as far as freedom of expression and freedom of the press is concerned," said Diokno.
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at email@example.com.