June 21, 2024

A Benguet Regional Trial Court has dismissed the cyber libel case filed by a former police general against staff members of the Baguio-based community paper Northern Dispatch (Nordis) for lack of evidence.

In a 30-page decision dated April 22, Benguet RTC Branch 63 Judge Jennifer Humiding has granted the motion to dismiss on the ground of insufficiency of evidence filed by Nordis editor-in-chief Kimberlie Quitasol and reporter Khim Russel Abalos on the cyber libel filed against them by former Police Regional Office-Cordillera Director, B/Gen. R’win Pagkalinawan.

The case stemmed from the online news reports of Quitasol and Abalos published in 2020, citing Pagkalinawan’s order for police snipers to shoot communist organizers who will unnecessarily organize the masses during the pandemic.

Pagkalinawan had accused the two of deliberately omitting the phrase “kapag nanlaban lang” (if they resisted) in their reports which “caused dishonor and discredit to his image”.

“The evidence of the prosecution is bereft of any showing to support a conclusion that Quitasol and Abalos have written the articles with the sole purpose of injuring the reputation of B/Gen. Pagkalinawan. The absence of personal ill will of Quitasol and Abalos against Pagkalinawan disavows actual malice,” the court decision stated. 

The court cited Pagkalinawan’s testimony that had it not been for the directive of President Rodrigo Duterte, he would not have made the statement. Duterte was earlier quoted in previous reports to have issued a “shoot to kill” on those who violate quarantine rules during the pandemic. 

“This court finds that the awareness of probable falsity is extinguished since such is the commander-in-chief’s previous statement and B/Gen Pagkalinawan was merely echoing this, thus while the effects of the report is defamatory, actual malice cannot be attached,” the court decision added.

Nordis based its report from then conversation via Viber between Pagkalinawan and former PNP Press Corps President Jonathan Llanes who also came out with an earlier report on the former’s statement.

“The prosecution however failed to prove the existence of all the elements of libel. The imputation of a statement he actually made, also in a manner bearing the same import with the one made by Jonathan Llanes of Sun.Star, which bears his stamp of approval – dismisses actual malice and knowledge of any falsehood and which the truth of the statement made was actually established by the evidence and during the trial,” the court stated.

The Nordis staffers welcomed the dismissal of the case.  

“We reiterate our call to public officials to be more circumspect in their declarations and stop blaming the media whenever they receive flak for their statements,” Nordis stated. – Ofelia C. Empian