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"When in doubt, leave it out."-- Journalists' credo

JGL Eye
By JOSEPH G. LARIOSA
(© 2019 Journal GlobaLinks)

 

CHICAGO (JGL) — The common mistake Filipino journalists make is to mention the name of a police suspect in their reporting

which is very risky and tricky because a lot of times when the case is elevated to the city/municipal fiscal, the case against the suspect can still be dropped for trillions of reasons along the way before it reaches the court.

If the case were dismissed by the fiscal, then the suspect can easily file a libel case against the journalist for untruthful reporting. The journalist will be spending time in prison for a maximum of 12 years, pay a fine of at least two hundred thousand pesos (PhP200,000.000 or US$3,774.00) but not exceeding one million pesos (PhP l,000,000.00 or US$18,868.00) or both” in addition to the civil action which may be brought by the offended party, under the new Republic Act (RA) 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.

I don't know about you but why would Philippine Congress award the millions of pesos of fine to the Philippine government in a case that does not libel nor injure the government but a private individual? And the case is prosecuted by a private individual and defended by a private individual and the Philippine government has no role whatsoever in the case, not  even as a friend of court (amicus curiae), except to provide a judge as an arbitrator and the courtroom to settle the case. And the government will be laughing all the way to the bank after the case is settled. Masyado namang sinisuerte ang gobyerno. (Philippine government is very lucky.)

REPORTER:

MR. REYNALDO SANTOS, JR.
Reporter, Rappler


In pre-Revolutionary America, settlement of libel or seditious libel or defamation or crimes of honor was done thru gun duel. The survivor of the gun duel is believed to be the one who told the truth. Thanks to the 1734 case of John Peter Zenger that was defended by the greatest immigrant of all time and brilliant lawyer and Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, the case led to the inclusion of the First Amendment's freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition into the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution that turned gun-duel settlement into a relic. 

PHILIPPINE LIBEL LAW, PRO-DEFENDANT FRIENDLY 

Whereas in common-law countries, except the United States, like Canada, except Quebec Province, England and other Commonwealth countries, even if the suspect's name is mentioned in the court records, a conscientious journalist out of abundance of caution will still have to withhold mentioning the name of the suspect before the charges are heard by a jury so that any libelous publication cannot influence the jury anymore.

So, the safest course of action Filipino journalists have to take is to embrace the virtue of patience while the case is winding thru the court system – they should omit to mention the name of the suspect in their reporting.

In his article, CJ using SUVs of 'controversial' businessmen,” in Rappler, Mr. Reynaldo Santos, Jr. wrote/posted online among others that Mr. Wilfredo D. Keng has been accused of “human trafficking or drug smuggling, murder, fake cigarette smuggling and granting special investors residence visas to Chinese nationals.”

RAPPLER CEO

MS. MARIA RESSA, Chief Operating Officer, Rappler.


Among Mr. Santos' sources in his story are the National Security Council (NSC) and the Philippine Star. According to the Star, Mr. Keng was “accused of smuggling fake cigarettes and granting special investors residence visas to Chinese nationals for a fee. Keng has denied his involvement in this illegal transaction, saying it's easy to get visas to the Philippines.”

Perhaps, after realizing that there were no charges of smuggling fake cigarettes and usurpation of official duties of granting special investors residence visas to Chinese nationals for a fee that were ever filed or pending against Mr. Keng, the Star took the story down, leaving Rappler without any bases to stand on its allegations.

Mr. Santos article also alleged that “At the time we were tracing the registered owner of the Chevrolet in early 2011, we got hold of an intelligence report that detailed Keng's past. Prepared in 2002, it described Keng as a "naturalized Filipino citizen" whose exact birthdate is unknown. In the report, he was also identified as bearing the alias "Willy," using a surname also spelled as "Kheng."

The report stated that Keng had been under surveillance by the National Security Council for alleged involvement in illegal activities, namely "human trafficking and drug smuggling." He is supposedly close to lawmakers and had contacts with the US embassy at the time.

RAPPLER'S NEMESIS?

PRESIDENT RODRIGO DUTERTE


“The document also said Keng was involved in a murder case for which he was "never jailed." It could be referring to the death of Manila Councilor Chika Go in 2002 where Keng had been identified as a mastermind. Go was also the architect of Keng's Reina Regente condominium residence in Binondo, Manila.” 

Notice that the dossier was dated 2002 - stale or is a cold case or panis na panis na - and yet it was resurrected 10 years later in 2012 with no new information. A good reporter worth his salt should have checked the various courts if there were charges ever filed during the last 10 years. If none, he could have asked his employer to hire a private investigator to conduct an investigation if the reporter had exhausted to conduct his own investigation. If you don't find anything that validates the allegation, why write anything about it?

NSC, GOSSIP FACTORY 

It seems Mr. Santos is not familiar with the functions of NSC, the source of his article. The NSC may be part of the government but its functions are limited to managing, integrating and coordinating national security. At best, NSC is a monitoring agency. It does not have a mandate to investigate nor to validate specific crimes, which is the province of the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police or other investigating agencies.

So, if the NSC did not refer the above-alleged wrongdoings of Mr. Keng to the NBI, the police or other investigating agency for an investigation to validate the NSC's intelligence report, it just remains a pending report, no investigation and no validation.

The intelligence reports from the NSC that are not validated by any investigation are at best scuttlebutts or gossips, rumors or mga tsismis that only pollute Internet traffic when posted online. They have no redeeming values, so to speak.

And no charges can be filed with the police, the fiscal or the court against Mr. Keng if they are based on tsismis. Thus, rendering Santos' article as fake news!

According to the Philippine libel law, Revised Penal Code, Art. 353, libel is “a public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status, or circumstance tending to cause the dishonor, discredit, or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead.”

By identifying Mr. Keng in his article with the imputation of a crime/s without any bases from the NBI, police or other investigating agency, the fiscal or the courts, Mr. Santos, and by extension his superior officer, Rappler Chief Executive Officer Ms. Maria Angelita Ressa, are liable for libel for his sloppy reporting. Had Mr. Santos deleted the name of Mr. Keng from his story while he waited for the results of the investigation of his allegations to be validated, it would have been the more prudent thing to do because he has no leg to stand on in his story. Wala! Nada!

Mr. Santos had a golden opportunity to take down the article in 2012 after Mr. Keng requested him to do so. But he took a pass and even made his situation worse by reprinting and updating the same article in 2014 even without any substantial new information.

If Rappler article were removed in 2012 and 2014, then, there is no libel to speak of. 

TRUTHFUL ARTICLE CAN STAY ONLINE, NO LIBEL 

However, if the contents of the article are truthful, there is no need for Rappler to take down the article because truth is an absolute defense to libel.

If the contents of the article are falsehoods, Rappler cannot invoke the expiration of the prescription period (statute of limitation) in dismissing the libel case because the untruthful article is still a continuing offense as it is posted online for everybody to see. It is like coming to court with unclean hands. For instance, if the libelous posts were child pornography or unsolicited commercial communications that are also prohibited by RA 10175, anybody who posts them online continuously would be violating the same law and could not expect protection from the same law!

In hindsight, Mr. Santos and his superior Ms. Ressa might have forgotten it or might not have known about it that the New York Times issues erratum/a, if there is/are any, and apologizes almost every day if it spots a mistake/s. And this newspaper that publishes everything that is “fit to print” is still the undisputed and the greatest newspaper on the planet.

By deleting the whole article upon request by Mr. Keng, Rappler would have saved itself and Mr. Santos and Ms. Ressa from all these troubles that could backfire into a well-staged publicity stunt! Nobody can invoke dignity when you are violating the dignity of others without any evidence!

Now the Republic Act No. 10175 that amended the libel law's RA. 355 has imposed more punitive penalties of imprisonment from prision correccional (six [6] months and one [1] day to six [6)] years) to prision mayor (six [6] years and one [1] day) to six [6] years and one [1] day to 12 years and from a fine ranging from 200 (US$3.78) to 6,000 pesos (US$113.21) to at least two hundred thousand pesos (PhP200,000.000 or US$3,774.00) but not exceeding one million pesos (PhP l,000,000.00 or US$18,868.00) or both” in addition to the civil action which may be brought by the offended party.”

The civil action will be scarier because there is no cap on the amount the offended party can ask the court to award him.

With PHP 30,000.00 (US$566.00) monthly average salary of a Filipino reporter, it behooves any newspaper and online outlet in the Philippines to buy “error and omission or libel, liability or malpractice, copyright insurance” for their editors, reporters, photographers, videographers, etc. and/or free-lance contributors or "endos" offered by local insurance companies to protect their bottom line from the reckless and impatient reporters, instead of blaming the law on the Duterte government when this very harsh law that needs to be overhauled was the undoing of the Congress that preceded Mr. Duterte's. (Note to readers: this columnist did not vote for Mr. Duterte in 2016 presidential elections. This columnist voted for Sen. Grace Poe.)

Next topic: Why the libel information in the case of NBI and Wilfredo D. Keng, Complainants, v. Reynaldo Santos, Jr., Maria Angelita Ressa, et al., Respondents, for Violation of Sec. 4(c)(4) of R.A. No. 10175 needs to be withdrawn and amended. Stay tuned! (Contact columnist: @jogalar & This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

 

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