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PAMPANGA, Philippines – Philippine Consul General in Milan Elmer Cato filed a P10-million defamation complaint against Manila-based English publication, Daily Tribune, at the Angeles City prosecutor’s office in Pampanga province on Monday, January 29.
Cato filed 17 counts of cyber libel citing violation of Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 against the publishers, editors, reporters of Daily Tribune over what he described as a “disinformation campaign” against him which allegedly started in September 2023.
Name respondents were the following Daily Tribune personnel: Willie Fernandez, Gigie Arcilla, Chito Lozada, Dinah Ventura, Gibbs Cadiz, John Henry Dodson, Allan Hernandez, Jom Garner, Rey Bancod, Manny Angeles, Rose Novenario, Gilmore Leaño, and Alvin Murcia. Also included were Filipino job applicants Vanessa Antonio, Enrique Catilo, Apple Cabasis, and two others identified only as Teb and TBT.
According to Cato, the Daily Tribune accused him of failing to act, respond, and assist Filipinos who were defrauded by Alpha Assistenza, an immigration consultancy firm in Milan. The firm is being investigated for allegedly scamming Filipinos applying for jobs to Italy, he said. Cato added that he was also accused of coddling with the owners of the consultancy firm.
“We filed cyber libel against the Daily Tribune for this disinformation campaign mounted against me for the past four months which injured my reputation. I was forced to take action because this is something we should not tolerate. The allegations against me were largely fabricated,” Cato said in an interview on Monday.
“They said I did not take action because I was close with the owner and because the owner calls me ‘tatay’ [dad], that we have photos and videos hugging me, and because they were the sponsors during the Independence Day celebration last year. They were, in effect, saying I am irresponsible, incompetent, and even corrupt,” he added.
The Daily Tribune deliberately omitted, in its reporting, factual information including official statements from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Cato said. Despite the interview he had with them, it was not released, he added.
“I know them. I always tell people, our journalist friends, what I request is for you to take my side. It should come out at the same time, right? But it didn’t. You cannot suppress the information I gave them. That would disprove the allegations they have been peddling. They were consistent. Why did they keep insisting that I didn’t do anything?” he said.
Rappler reached out to Daily Tribune for comment. However, we have yet to receive an official response as of this posting. We will update this story once they respond.
In a news report on the libel complaint published by Daily Tribune on Tuesday, January 30, the broadsheet said it “welcomes Cato’s complaint as it stands by the veracity and objectivity of our stories, as well as the public interest they have served in bringing to light charges of fraud raised by hundreds of Filipinos against Alpha Assistenza SRL.”
It added that the Daily Tribune would issue a “further statement upon receipt of the complaint.”
Cato officially assumed the post of Philippine consulate general in Milan in December 2022. He was a journalist for almost two decades, and has been a diplomat for 25 years.
Cato said the issue has affected their efforts in Milan and divided the Filipino community.
In a press statement, Cato said the Daily Tribune based its repeated allegations on the statements made by alleged fraud victims, Vanessa Antonio, Enrique Catilo, Apple Cabasis, who are also respondents in case. The victims were among 200 applicants in the Philippines who were allegedly scammed by paying P20 million to Alpha Assistenza for non-existent jobs in Italy.
Cato stressed that Antonio, Catilo, and Cabasis, as the reports alleged, could not have accused him of failing to act or respond as they are in the Philippines.
Cato’s legal counsel, Jocelyn Clemente, said in a statement that a total of 92 complaints of aggravated fraud have been filed against Alpha Assistenza before the Office of the Public Prosecutor in Milan. The Consul General may have been dragged into the controversy due to business rivalry among Filipino-owned agencies in Milan dubbed as “patronatos (patrons),” she added.
The series of articles and commentary published by Daily Tribune were part of a fictitious narrative to remove Cato from his position as a consul general and a diplomat, Clemente said.
“(These) were all made up to depict Consul General Cato as negligent, insensitive, incompetent, and corrupt diplomat who should be removed from his position because he is an embarrassment to the foreign service,” she added.
Contrary to what was reported by Daily Tribune, Clemente said Cato had “announced his intention to regulate these companies to put a stop to the exorbitant fees being charged for services rendered to Filipino clients.”
The Office of the Prosecutor will send summons to the Daily Tribune for their counter-affidavits. A reply from Cato would follow if necessary, she said.
“After that, it will be the decision of the prosecutor whether it would issue a resolution. And then it will be elevated to the court, and then the court will be issuing warrants of arrest to the respondents so that they could get jurisdiction over the persons,” she added.
Cyber libel remains a crime in the Philippines. – Rappler.com