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GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines – The General Santos City Prosecutor’s Office threw out seven more cyber libel complaints against Rappler and other respondents in connection with a series of reports about controversial Davao City-based Pastor Apollo Quiboloy and his Kingdom of Jesus Christ (KOJC) group.
In a March 31 resolution, General Santos Assistant City Prosecutor Kayuggen Kuda Jr. said there was lack of probable cause to bring the case to court based on the complaint filed by Gemma Completo Sanchez, the Southern Mindanao cluster coordinator of Quiboloy’s group.
In her complaints, Sanchez alleged that Rappler journalists and other respondents “maliciously published several articles and documentary videos…attacking, discrediting, maligning and destroying” the name of Quiboloy and his religious group.
Named respondents in the now-dismissed complaints were Rappler regions head Inday Espina-Varona, Mindanao Bureau coordinator Herbie Gomez, reporter Pia Ranada, and former researcher Vernise Tantuco.
Also included were Ateneo de Manila University sociology of religion professor The Outstanding Young Men in 2021 awardee Jayeel Cornelio, and former KOJC members Arlene Caminong-Stone, Faith Killon, and Reynita Fernandez.
The General Santos City Prosecutor’s Office said four elements of libel must be present for a complaint to prosper: defamation, malice, publicity, and identifiability of the victim.
Kuda said Sanchez’s membership and her being a cluster coordinator of the KOJC did not satisfy the “element of identifiability.”
The prosecutor also noted that Sanchez was never mentioned, described, or alluded to, and there was no reference to her in any of the Rappler reports and videos.
Citing jurisprudence, the resolution pointed out: “Declarations made about a large class of people cannot be interpreted to avert to an identified or identifiable individual. Absent circumstances specifically pointing to or alluding to a particular member of a class, no member of such class has a right of action without at all impairing the equally demanding right of free speech and expression, as well as the press, under the Bill of Rights.”
The point raised in the resolution from the General Santos City prosecutor’s office was similar to the reason given by prosecutors in Cagayan de Oro and Ozamiz cities on why they threw out nearly identical complaints filed against the same set of respondents by Quiboloy’s followers.
A panel of prosecutors in Cagayan de Oro earlier resolved that there was “insufficiency of evidence” in the seven complaints filed by KOJC cluster coordinator for Northern Mindanao Cherry Seguiro Cabrillos against the journalists and the interviewees.
Also in Northern Mindanao, Ozamiz City Prosecutor Cherrymie Mamauag approved the dismissal of seven complaints filed by another KOJC coordinator, Virginia Menoza Villanueva, against the respondents.
In dismissing the complaints filed by Villanueva in Ozamiz City, Prosecutor Noel Boter said, “We find she has no legal personality to file this case.”
Rappler’s lawyer, Theodore Te, said he had so far counted 16 complaints and 50 counts of cyber libel filed by Quiboloy’s followers against Rappler, its journalists, and interviewees in Cagayan de Oro, Davao, Panabo, and Ozamiz cities.
He said there were several waves of complaints, all for cyber libel, against Rappler itself and various journalists as well as resource persons.
Te said the first wave, based on actual receipt of complaints, were filed in January 2022, in Panabo City, Davao del Norte.
The second wave, he said, came in February in Davao City, where six complainants alleged a total of 28 counts against the respondents.
Te said the third wave of seven complaints came in March in General Santos City.
He noted, “The prosecutors in all three dismissals no longer considered the counter-affidavits of the respondents, relying on the authority of the prosecutor in Rule 112, section3(b) to dismiss motu proprio or on his own initiative.”
With the dismissal of the complaints in Cagayan de Oro, Ozamiz, and General Santos, Te said the remaining complaints known to him are the ones in Panabo City and Davao City.
Quiboloy, who has declared himself as the “appointed son of God,” is on the wanted list of the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for a string of cases that include conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking by force, fraud and coercion, and sex trafficking of children; sex trafficking by force, fraud, and coercion; conspiracy; and bulk cash smuggling.
Quiboloy and several of his church associates were ordered arrested following their indictment by a federal grand jury in the US District Court for the Central District of California in Santa Ana, California. – Rappler.com
Rommel Rebollido is a Mindanao-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship