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Prosecutors dismiss Samar Governor Tan’s cyber libel complaint vs journalists

Inday Espina-Varona
Prosecutors dismiss Samar Governor Tan’s cyber libel complaint vs journalists

JOURNALISTS AT WORK. Eastern Visayas journalists Jazmin Bonifacio and Gabriel Cejas work on stories.

Jazmin Bonifacio

'In a democratic and civil society, the people’s right to express criticism and dissent over the conduct of the government and of public officials must remain protected,' the city prosecutor resolution states

The Office of the City Prosecutor of Catbalogan has thrown out Samar Governor Michael Tan’s cyber libel complaint against two journalists.

The cyber libel complaint against Jazmin Bonifacio of Eastern Visayas News and Gabriel Cejas of Metro Tacloban Times were dismissed due to lack of probable cause, according to the May 2 resolution penned by deputy city prosecutor Katrina Castillo and approved by City Prosecutor Alfonso Cinco.

In dismissing the governor’s March 4 complaint, the prosecutors noted that Tan offered no evidence to support his complaint, other than his claim of the video alluding to him and his family. He also failed to prove that the two journalists were the ones who actually broadcast the video on social media.

The city prosecutors’ office used strong words in laying out the accountability of public officials and the right of the public to raise criticism and dissent.

“Since the private complainant is the sitting governor of the province, he is a government official accountable to the people and his actions are open to public scrutiny and criticism,” the resolution said. 

“Public office will always remain a public trust. In a democratic and civil society, the people’s right to express criticism and dissent over the conduct of the government and of public officials must remain protected,” it added.

The resolution stressed that “the best way to counter criticism of public officers, is not the filing of criminal cases against those who dare, but showing the one has done his duties as public official.”

Taking offense

Tan’s complaint is based on Episode 1 of the Reporters’ Diary, titled “An Kasakit han Samar”  (The Agony of Samar), a documentary series published on the Facebook pages of Eastern Visayas News and Metro Tacloban Times. 

Among other things, Tan claimed that the discussion of the socio-economic and political conditions in Samar were defamatory, including the reference to a political dynasty.

The Office of the City Prosecutor said, however, that “the imputations are not defamatory.”

“Taken as a whole, the video talks about the province of Samar, its dire situation, the conviction of the late Governor Milagros Tan, rampant vote buying of those who hold the reins of government, the series of unsolved killings, and the continued poverty of the province,” it said.

“The utterances are not false per se. Even the reference of a dynasty is not itself false or malicious as this Office can very well take cognizance that members of the private complainant’s family have been occupying the posts of governor, vice governor, and congressman of the Second District of Samar for two decades already,” it added.

The journalists had said in a statement issued right after Tan filed his complaint that “transparency and accountability are non-negotiable.”

They said the complaint was a form of harassment, to force them “to stop airing the misfeasance, malfeasance, and corruption committed by those in the government especially against those people who control the reigns of the provincial government.” – Rappler.com