Man sued for libelous Facebook comment
posted 3-Feb-2017  ·  
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A seaman scheduled to leave soon has been effectively marooned in the island after he was charged with libel over a comment on the provincial governor’s Facebook page that claimed Governor Joseph Cua is a protector of illegal drugs.

R-Jay Padilla Torreña, 23, a resident of Buhu, San Miguel, pleaded not guilty when arraigned last week before the sala of Acting Presiding Judge Lelu P. Contreras at the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 42.

Torreña’s court appearance came after the Provincial Prosecution Office issued a resolution in December 2016 on the libel complaint filed by the governor

According to Gov. Cua’s affidavit, the seaman made a comment on Aug. 11, 2016 in the official Facebook page of the provincial government that he (Cua) is a coddler or protector of illegal drugs in the province.

The alleged comment was made as follows:

Arlene Alcantara: Noon islang tahimik ngayon islang may mga drug addict!!! So sad..

Padilla RJ: Cua protector ng droga Jn

Manuel Abundo: Sisay man na Cua manoy?

Padilla RJ: Gobernador

Manuel Abundo: Iso? Hamaki mo yan, sigurado ka?

Cua’s witnesses who read the comments claimed that it affected the credibility and integrity of the private complainant. Sources said the witnesses were able to prove that Facebook commenter Padilla RJ was in fact the respondent Torreña.

In his resolution, Prosecutor II Emmanuel Pelea found probable cause against Torreña for libel, believing that all the elements of a libelous imputation are present.

The comment that the complainant is a drug protector is an imputation of a crime, which is punishable by law, Pelea stated, adding that malice is presumed in a defamatory imputation injurious to the reputation of the person defamed.

“The publication of the comments was also shown, considering that the said comments have actually resulted in reactions from other facebook users,” he stressed.

The resolution pointed out that when the respondent made the comments in the public wall of the account of the provincial government of Catanduanes, he caused the publication of the defamatory comments and made it known to all facebook users who might get to open the particular comments.

“As to the identifiability of the victim, the comments made by the respondent were clear that he was referring to the incumbent governor of the province of Catanduanes,” Prosecutor Pelea underscored. “He made it in the wall of the account of the provincial government of Catanduanes and he actually gave the position and surname of the private complainant as the one to whom he referred.”

In an article published on Facebook in 2014, noted defense lawyer Raymond Fortun warned cyber-bullies to be aware of the greater penalty for online libel following the Supreme Court’s ruling in “Disini Jr. et al, vs. The Secretary of Justice” promulgated in February that year.

The High Court had upheld the constitutionality of an increased penalty for online libel, specifically one degree higher than for printed or ‘paper’ libel, Fortun said.

According to the article, a person convicted of online libel shall be imposed a penalty of imprisonment ranging from six years and one day to a maximum of 10 years, compared to the six months and one day to four years and two months for printed libel.

“He cannot apply for probation, meaning, tiyak na makukulong and at the National Penitentiary in Muntinlupa even while the case is on appeal,” Atty. Fortun stressed. The SC ruling also increased the prescriptive period for the offence to 10 years, meaning a victim can sue for cyberlibel in February 2027 for an online libel committed today.

The article also disclosed that a person convicted of online libel is imposed the accessory penalty of “temporary absolute perpetual disqualification.” This means he shall be removed from public office immediately, lose his right to vote during the period of his imprisonment, and be disqualified from running for public office during the same period, Fortun noted.

“Online bloggers should have no fear about criticizing public officials and public figures,” he said. “The only way that you can be convicted for cyberlibel against the latter is if it is proven that the defamatory statement was made with actual malice, i.e. with knowledge that it was false or with a reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.”

He also counseled social media users to be careful about destroying the reputation of private individuals like their friends, relatives, classmates, co-employees and the like.

“Freedom of speech is not an absolute right and payback is a b*tch,” Fortun emphasized in his Fb post.

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