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BUTUAN CITY -- Branch 5 of the Regional Trail Court here has acquitted three journalists from a libel case filed against them by former Butuan City Mayor Daisy Plaza back in 2005.
Judge Augustus Calo cleared Maria Kristina E. Cassion, Franklin A. Caliguid, and Alberto Jun Endozo Jr. of the charges filed under Criminal Case Nos. 11482-11483 in an article published in the local paper Mindanao News Watch.
"To this end, the publication of the subject article by accused Cassion cannot be deemed by this Court to have been done with actual malice, as the intention is to let the public know about the status and nature” of the P28-million 3-kilometer road project,” the judge said in his ruling, noting that the project in Barangay Bonbon was not for a new road, but a rehabilitation of an existing road.
The article “can at best be subsumed under the mantle of having been done with good motives and for justifiable ends. The article in question falls squarely within the bounds of constitutionally protected expression under Section 4, Article III, and thus, acquittal is mandated,” the judge said in his ruling.
In 2002, Mindanao News Watch published a letter that accused former Mayor Plaza of receiving P8 million in kickbacks from the construction company Adfil Construction owned by Joseph Gorme.
The paper’s editor-in-chief said her and her colleagues’ acquittal proves that the complainants did not have any evidence.
“The last 10 years have been very hard. In fact, because of this case, I decided to study law to be able to learn how to protect myself. Even (co-accused) Franklin (Caliguid) decided to go to law school. It’s not easy because you are thinking of so many things regarding the case. You’re always distracted. I can’t say sleepless nights, it has been more than that,” said Cassion.
A certain Mario Abiso, sent the letter, the object of the case. Cassion said her predecessor received the letter, which was passed on to her when she assumed office.
She said that upon reading the letter, she went to the site and saw the rehabilitation of an existing road, not a new construction. “So, I thought that the letter really had some sense in it. So we decided to publish it since it is our duty for the public to know. It is our duty to hear what the letter sender was saying, that there has been an allegation of an P8-million kickback from the project,” she said.
Cassion further added that even after everything she has gone through with the case there have been no changes her views.
“Although I’m not a reporter anymore, I believe a reporter has that sacred duty. If the public has something to tell you, don’t be afraid. We have our colleagues in the media, the National Union of Journalist of the Philippines and others, who can help us…in paying the (lawyers’) bills. The media community did not leave us. So, we must not be afraid,” she said.
For her part, former mayor Plaza could not accept the court ruling.
“Is that the process now? All I want is to discipline them. What they did was so bad because [the information] was hearsay, given by someone who was not even in the records of the National Statistics Office. They destroyed my name. They said I received money,” said Plaza.