By ALYSSA MAE CLARIN
MANILA – After two years, the local court junked the cyber libel case filed against Northern Dispatch Editor-in-chief Kimberlie Ngabit-Quitasol and reporter Khim Abalos due insufficient evidence.
Judge Jennifer Humiding of Branch 63 of the La Trinidad Regional Trial Court dismissed the complaint filed by B.Gen R’win Pagkalinawan, who was then the regional director of the Philippine National Police for the Cordillera region.
The charges stemmed from an article published by the Northern Dispatch about human rights alliance Karapatan’s reaction to Pagkalinawan’s order “to shoot communist organizers who unnecessarily organize people during the COVID-19 lockdown.”
According to the ruling, the court found that the evidence given by the prosecution is “insufficient to establish the offense of cyber libel.” It also stated that unless the prosecution is able to prove that the alleged defamatory statements being questioned are made with actual malice, the criminal case of libel “cannot prosper.”
The libel case was originally dismissed in 2020 for lack of jurisdiction in the Regional Trial Court of Baguio City, but was refiled by the provincial prosecutor before the La Trinidad Municipal Trial Court. The libel case was also elevated to cyber libel upon its refiling.
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Northern Dispatch welcomed this decision and said that the court’s decision only affirmed the media outfit’s commitment to truthful reporting.
“We reiterate our call for public officials to be more circumspect in their declarations and stop blaming the media whenever they receive flak for their irresponsible statements,” Northern Dispatch said in a statement.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) also showed support and commended Quitasol and Abalos for standing firm against the harassment complaint meant to silence and intimidate them.
“While the outdated and arguably unconstitutional law exists, media will need more journalists like Kim and Khim who will stand by stories that were reported ethically but that prompted backlash from those with influence and power.”
The group also commended Judge Jennifer Huminding “for upholding press freedom and free expression especially in these trying times.”
NUJP also reiterated their call for the decriminalization of libel. The Philippines is one of the few countries where libel is a criminal offense.
The Freedom for Media and Freedom for All (FMFA) coalition has recorded a total of 56 libel and cyber-libel cases since 2016. (RVO)