MANILA, Philippines – Rappler reporter Natashya Gutierrez on Monday, September 30, denounced as baseless the libel case filed against her by Janet Lim Napoles, the alleged brains behind the multibillion-peso pork barrel scam.
In her counter-affidavit, Gutierrez asked Taguig City prosecutor Laarni Fabella to dismiss the complaint, saying she “did not act with malice” in reporting the luxurious lifestyle of Mrs Napoles’ daughter, Jeane. She said she based her stories on public records from the Office of the Assessor of Los Angeles County and the Recorder’s Office, among others.
“I did not act with malice but with good reason and justifiable motive. Since Janet Napoles is a public figure and the matter is one of public interest, Janet must show the presence of actual malice for her complaint to prosper,” Gutierrez said in the counter-affidavit that she and her lawyer Jose Manuel Diokno filed with the Taguig prosecutor’s office.
Mrs Napoles filed a libel case after Gutierrez wrote about the P80-million luxury condominium that her daughter Jeane owns. The complainant wants Gutierrez to pay P10 million in damages and attorney’s fees.
Gutierrez submitted her counter-affidavit on Monday for preliminary investigation.
The Rappler reporter argued that Mrs Napoles was already a public figure when Rappler published the allegedly libelous stories.
Gutierrez cited a Supreme Court definition of a public figure as “anyone who has arrived at a position where the public attention is focused upon him as a person.”
Gutierrez explained: “Janet Napoles became a public figure the moment she was tagged as the mastermind of the pork barrel scam by the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper on July 12, 2013. To borrow the Court’s language, she arrived at a position where the public attention focused on her as a person. By the time my articles came out, she was clearly a public figure as she had already given numerous interviews and statements to the press, on national television, and to newspapers of general circulation.”
Gutierrez said that since Mrs Napoles is a public figure, “actual malice must be present for libel to exist.” This means that “the speaker must have known that the speech was false, or he must have been recklessly indifferent to its truth or falsity.”
“The complainant in this case does not allege that I acted with actual malice. The complainant, moreover, has not submitted any proof at all that I knew my articles were false or that I acted with reckless disregard for the truth. The complaint, therefore, should be dismissed,” she said.
A matter of fact
Gutierrez said her stories “make only passing reference” to the complainant, Mrs Napoles. “These statements are matter of fact in tone, unemotional in tenor, and expository in language and character. They were made with good intentions and justifiable motives. They do not contain any calculated falsehoods. They are neither defamatory or malicious,” Gutierrez said.
Earlier, Mrs Napoles’ lawyer, Lorna Kapunan, sent Rappler a cease-and-desist demand dated August 1. She threatened to file “criminal and civil actions” over the news site’s “inaccurate, reckless and unfair articles” that “seriously” affect her clients’ security.
Kapunan also accused Gutierrez of being envious of Napoles’ daughter since they were school mates at the International School Manila. (Gutierrez was years ahead of Napoles in high school.)
In response, Rappler said: “Isn’t this accusation of jealousy itself speculative, malicious, and libelous?”
Rappler said: “Private persons whose lives intersect with public persons and issues of public interest are certainly not exempt from the ‘prying eyes.'” The reports on Jeane Napoles “were neither pulled from thin air or fabricated.”
“We are trained to follow the money and people trail in trying to exact accountability from officials and even the private individuals they deal with,” Rappler said.
Libel is a criminal offense that carries a penalty of 6-year imprisonment or fines or both, said the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility. The civil aspect of libel allows complainants to demand multi-million pesos in damages. – Rappler.com