Senate of the Philippines

Senators question why Filipino diplomat included OFWs in cyber libel suit

Michelle Abad

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Senators question why Filipino diplomat included OFWs in cyber libel suit

CONSUL GENERAL. Philippine consul general in Milan Elmer Cato speaks at a Senate committee on migrant workers hearing on February 7, 2024.

Senate of the Philippines

Philippine consul general Elmer Cato learns belatedly from the OFWs that they were misattributed by a Manila newspaper. Cato says if he had known earlier, he would have not included them as respondents.

MANILA, Philippines – Senators Raffy Tulfo and Risa Hontiveros questioned why Elmer Cato, Philippine consul general in Milan, included at least three overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in a cyber libel complaint he filed against a Manila newspaper.

Cato sued the Manila-based Daily Tribune after it reported that the consul general allegedly sat on complaints about immigration consultancy firm, Alpha Assistenza, which was under investigation for illegal recruitment. In its story, Tribune quoted Filipino job applicants Vanessa Antonio, Apple Cabasis, and Enrique Catilo.

Antonio, who was present in a Senate migrant workers committee hearing on massive illegal recruitment on Wednesday, February 7, wept during as she recalled how she was sued after already being victimized by an alleged illegal recruiter.

ConGen, teka muna, biktima na nga, tapos sasampahan mo pa ng kaso… What’s wrong with you, sir? Pilipino ‘to, Pilipino ka din, ‘di ba sir (ConGen, hold on a second. They’re already victims, and then you file a case against them… What’s wrong with you, sir? This is a Filipino, aren’t you a Filipino too)?” said Tulfo, who chairs the committee.

Cato, who was also in the hearing, said that he sued the OFWs because there were false accusations hurled against him, and they were the ones being quoted. “But I’ve talked to them, and I was told that the statements that were published in the newspapers were not theirs. So they were being quoted as saying that I did not act on the complaints that they brought to my attention.”

Wala po akong sinabing ganoon (I made no such statement),” Antonio said, while Cato spoke.

Cato said that he just wanted the truth, and he could amend the libel complaint with his lawyer.

Cabasis also said that they were complaining to Daily Tribune about Alpha Assistenza.

Ang mga natanggap pong reklamo ng Daily Tribune tungkol kay ConGen Cato ay hindi po sa amin nanggaling. Naging messenger lang po kaming dalawa (The complaints the Daily Tribune received about ConGen Cato were not from us. We were just messengers),” said Cabasis.

Cabasis added that Daily Tribune still asked if the allegations were true, to which she responded that they still believed the complaints were true because of what they read in group chats with fellow OFWs from Milan, whom she said had the complaints against Cato.

Hontiveros also followed up on Cato’s statement on possibly amending the complaint, if it was not “improper to ask.”

Kasi pambihira po ang hinaharap po nilang problema, naghahabol ng hustisya sa ninakaw na pera sa kanila para humarap din sa… Hindi po maliit na bagay ang isang dating OFW, humarap sa kaso, mula sa isang diplomat ng ating gobyerno,” she said.

(The problem they are facing is out of the ordinary – they are seeking justice for money stolen from them only to also have to face… It’s a very big deal for a former OFW to face a case from a diplomat of our government.)

“As a former OFW, ma’am, it was really so hard for me to include them in the complaint. But as mentioned earlier, the allegations of inaction against me and the consulate were traced to the three of them… So Ms. Apple and I spoke, and I said, just come up with a sworn statement and tell the truth,” said Cato.

Cato said his discussion with the OFW respondents, in which they said that the allegations in the Daily Tribune did not come from them, happened after the filing of the complaint. He told Rappler that had he known that the statements may have been wrongly attributed, he would not have included them as respondents.

“[Cabasis] reached out after she found out that she was among the respondents. Yes, I would not include them in the case,” he told Rappler after the hearing.

Cato’s lawyer Jocelyn Clemente said they would remove the names of the OFWs from the complaint when they have submitted their statements.

“‘All they have to do in the affidavit [is say] that statement never came from them… We will just attach that statement which is why we are withdrawing them from the case. It is not like a desistance or whatever from our part, but we would have new proof that they are not responsible,” Clemente said in a chance interview.

In the hearing, Daily Tribune stood by its reporting.

“Being a news organization, we have always adhered to the principle of fair reporting… We have never been parsimonious with the opportunity to air both sides of the story,” said Maria Bettina Fernandez, executive vice president of the Concept Information Group, the Daily Tribune‘s mother company. – Rappler.com

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a multimedia reporter at Rappler. She covers overseas Filipinos, the rights of women and children, and local governments.