By ARTEMIO A. DUMLAO
BAGUIO CITY — The libel case filed against the publisher and the editor in chief of Baguio Midland Courier was recently dismissed.
In a 13-page decision Tuesday morning, Regional Trial Court branch 61 Judge Antonio Reyes acquitted Cecil C. Afable, editor in chief and Charles Hamada, publisher of libel by Baguio Budget Officer Leticia Clemente.
Clemente sued the 94-year old Afable and Hamada for a January 29, 2006 editorial of the paper. Clemente claimed she was imputed to be the one referred to as the lady finance officer who “could accommodate two romances at the same time.”
The editorial read: “the people of Baguio are not just carabaos whose nose rings make them easy to lead. If there is no Panagbenga that caused the dissension and division in Baguio, this would be a dead city. The dissension brought out such interesting gossip and funny stories like: the finance officer who sign’s for (mayor Mauricio) Domogan’s monthly allowances; that this finance lady accommodate two romances at the same time. This can be a dirty joke.”
Reyes dismissed all charges against Afable and Hamada on the grounds that the statement is not libelous since it is not defamatory, it has no malice and the supposed victim is not identified or identifiable.
Reyes noted that it was not Clemente being alluded to. He ruled that said excerpt was an “allusion to Atty. Clemente was elaborated on by her because of her job description as the City Budget Officer and concurrently, the chairperson of the Local Finance Committee of the Baguio City Government, where she prepares the city budget and acts as the chief fiscal adviser of the City Mayor and the City Council.”
The ruling added that Clemente is also assigned “from time to time and in cases when there and where there are special events conducted by the city government, especially tourism related events where the finance committee is automatically involved like the Christmas festivities, Independence Day and Baguio Day Celebrations and the Pangbenga, the yearly flower festival hosted by the city.”
In deciding in favor of Afable, Reyes cited the New York Times versus Sullivan case, landmark decision wherein the former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Walter Brennan safeguarded freedom of speech and press.
Saying that it is not defamatory, Reyes said that “the words used are to be construed in their entirety and should be taken in their plain, natural, and ordinary meaning as they would naturally be understood by the persons reading them, unless it appears that they were used and understood in other sense.”
In explaining why it is not defamatory, Reyes said “the alleged defamatory statement must not be disjoined from the paragraph from which it is abstracted.” “For it to interpret it, as it is, will definitely negate the writer’s ultimate objective of imparting the message he wants to send across to his readers,” he added.
He added that the prosecution “truncated the subject paragraph, leaving obviously, to the subject statement that allegedly discredits Clemente.”
Finally, on the element of malice, the court said that since it is not defamatory then “logically, the presumption of malice was overcome.”
Veteran human rights lawyer Pablito Sanidad, who represented Afable, convinced the court that the “finance officer” or “finance lady” alluded to is not Clemente.