Manila RTC dismisses FG libel suit
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2007-09-13
The Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) has dismissed the libel case filed against me by First Gentleman (FG) Mike Arroyo. The decision, which was penned on August 31, 2007 by Judge Romulo Lopez, referred to a column I wrote titled "How do you solve a problem like Mike Arroyo?" which was posted on INQ7 on July 5, 2004.

My libel case was the first of 43 libel cases filed by FG Mike Arroyo against journalists to be dismissed for lack of merit. In dismissing FG's libel case against me, Judge Lopez sustained the position of the defense lawyers (headed by Attorneys David Narvasa, Aldrin Cabiles and Kristine Catindig of the Suarez and Narvasa Law Firm) which argued the following:

1. That the First Gentleman is a public figure and the doctrine of fair commentaries applies to him. The defense stated that being the husband of the President of the Republic of the Philippines the First Gentleman is in a position to influence the social, economic and political affairs of the Filipino people.

2. That the claimed defamatory character of the article was not established by the prosecution.

In handing the decision, Judge Lopez wrote that: "We find the accused's motion to be impressed with merit."

FG Mike Arroyo previously moved to have the case dismissed when he issued his affidavit of desistance after his miraculous recovery from a life-threatening heart artery aneurism. However, Judge Lopez did not accept FG's affidavit of desistence since Mike Arroyo had already made a court appearance to establish his case. At that point, the court deemed it proper to proceed with the case based on its merits.

FG Mike Arroyo testified on June 21, 2006 to establish his libel case against me. In his testimony, he asserted that the whole article is a bunch of malicious lies. However, Judge Lopez ruled that FG Mike did not establish the proof needed in order to support his claim that the article is a bunch of malicious lies.

In that same hearing, my lawyers reported that FG Mike Arroyo testified upon questioning by both the prosecution and defense counsels that:

1. It is true, as I wrote in the article, that I was once a Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo political ally and that had I stayed on – I would definitely be a big asset in the Arroyo regime.

2. There has been no previous enmity between me and him for him to feel that I was not his friend. In fact, FG Mike Arroyo expressed surprise that I wrote the article.

I was surprised on learning about this testimony from Attorney Aldrin Cabiles. I thought FG Mike Arroyo's testimony weakened a prosecutor's claim that I have an ax to grind against the accuser, the usual basis for imputing malice on an article. On the other hand, it reinforces my position that I write solely on the basis of fair commentary made on public figures over what are patently public issues.

My July 5, 2004 article stated that the FG is a lightning rod for controversy and would do better to remain obscure as he had done during the 2004 election campaign. I was clear in saying that much of the controversy has yet to be proved but the fact remains that the FG attracts lightning.

Perhaps FG Mike Arroyo became overly sensitive when I mentioned that their political enemies had cited his alleged role as central operator in the election fraud of 2004.

I noticed that many of those journalists FG Mike Arroyo had sued for libel had also referred to his alleged role in the Garci controversy. It gave me the impression that the libel suit was intended to preempt any further threat rather than a provide compensation for perceived hurt and claimed damage to reputation.

The decision of Judge Lopez establishes that indeed the First Gentleman is a public figure. Before this, another libel case filed by FG Mike Arroyo against former Solicitor General Frank Chavez was similarly dismissed for the same reason – that he is a public figure. These twin developments give the defense of the other accused journalists a strong boost.

The core of FG Mike's case is premised on the assertion that he is a private person and therefore should not be subject to the commentaries that are leveled against his wife. Two Regional Trial Courts have demolished that notion already. Unless, clear malicious intent is established, FG Mike Arroyo will be hard pressed to enforce another libel suit.

Many of us who were sued by FG Mike Arroyo for libel feel that our libel cases prospered only because of the existence of a Justice Secretary like Raul Gonzalez whose prosecutors elevated the cases to the RTC. Normally, fiscals are inclined to dismiss libel cases against journalists – knowing how the law applies especially when public figures are the ones suing.

I thank God that justice prevailed and that my case was assigned to a fair and honest judge.

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Election lawyer: PCOS critics should put up or shut up

All Excited by Pope Francis

A great disservice to P-Noy

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