GenSan prosecutors junk ex-solon’s P100-M libel case vs broadcasters

GENERAL SANTOS CITY  (MindaNews / 10 July) — A former lawmaker who lost in the May 9 elections failed in her bid to get a broadcast outfit here and three of its on-air personnel to pay 100-million pesos in libel and cyber libel damages.

In a resolution, the City Prosecutor’s Office here trashed the complaint for libel and cyber libel filed by former South Cotabato Representative Shirlyn Bañas-Nograles, in a resolution dated June 29 but received by the respondents on July 7,  noting that “not all of the elements of the crime of libel or cyber libel are present in this case.” 

The resolution was signed by prosecutors Kayugenn Mato Kuda Jr., Richard Dale V. Escolano and Gilbert B. Bandiola. 

The respondents in the case include Brigada News FM Gensan news and public affairs anchors Abner Francisco, Carlo Dugaduga, radio station manager Ruel Ampatin and the Brigada Mass Media Corporation, represented by its owner Elmer Catulpos.

CORDIAL. Fierce rivals for mayor of General Santos City — business leader Elmer V Catulpos and South Cotabato Rep. Shirlyn Nograles – are cordial during candidates’ forum organized by the academe in General Santos City. Conspicuously absent is candidate Lorelie Pacquiao, sister in law of Senator and presidential aspirant Emmanuel Pacquiao. Pacquiao, a no-show in public debates in the May 2022 elections and previous elections, is now mayor of General Santos City. Photo courtesy of Genesis Fernandez

The case stemmed from a commentary in the March 30, 2022 episode of the high-rating morning program “Tira Brigada” of Brigada News FM Gensan, when the two anchors tackled an issue on alleged kickbacks in some local government projects.

At that time, Bañas-Nograles was in the thick of her campaign to become General Santos City mayor, a post also being sought then by Catulpos and now mayor Lorelie Pacquiao and two other candidates.

In her complaint, Bañas-Nograles, then 1st district Representative of South Cotabato, alleged that Dugaduga claimed during the radio program that Banas was notorious in asking for payola from contractors, that she would do the same if elected as mayor and that her husband also asks for payola.  

The prosecutors noted that Bañas-Nograles was certain she was the same person referred to by Dugaduga as she is the only Banas running for mayor. The complainant alleged that what Dugagduga said was “false and baseless and the same caused dishonor and discredit to her reputation.”

In their affidavit, the respondents claimed that “the statements are too general to be defamatory.” They also said they were charged separately “which violates their right against double jeopardy,” that the contents of a compact disc submitted by the complainant was obtained without court warrant, and that the moral damages claimed is “not supported with evidences.”

The respondents also argued that “for an imputation to be libelous, it must have four elements – it must be defamatory, it must be malicious, it must be given publicly, and the victim must be identifiable.”

All these elements are not present in the case, the respondents noted. “Absent one of these elements, a case of libel will not prosper,” they pointed out.

Bañas-Nograles filed the case before the prosecutors’ office on June 10, about a month after the May 9 elections. 

Catulpos said he was surprised to learn that Bañas-Nograles sued them for P100-million, at a time when he and Pacquiao, the winner in the mayoralty race,  were already talking about how they can collaborate to bring better opportunities for the city and its residents.

Catulpos and Bañas-Nograles lost to Pacquiao in the mayoralty race in May. 

Catulpos, a former broadcast reporter, said in Cebuano that the dismissal of the case is a victory of freedom-loving people, of the listeners of Brigada who believe in freedom of the press. He stressed that the Brigada anchors and reporters were only doing their job as journalists.

“Is it destructive to make sure the interests of the people are protected from corruption by those in power?” asked Catulpos, who owns a network of broadcast stations in the country.

“This is a vindication for all the lies and unfounded claims they have thrown against us,” Ampatin said, adding this is one of the proofs that they are not lying about the issues they are discussing.  

Three months earlier, a complaint for seven counts of cyber libel filed against Rappler by followers of Pastor Apollo Quiboloy, were dismissed by the City Prosecutor’s Office in General Santos City for lack of probable cause. (Rommel G. Rebollido / MindaNews)