Supreme Court of the Philippines

Supreme Court affirms basis for trial of GMA’s 18-year-old libel case vs ABS-CBN
Supreme Court affirms basis for trial of GMA’s 18-year-old libel case vs ABS-CBN
Trial had already proceeded in the lower court, with pending demurrers to dismiss the charges after GMA presented their evidence

MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court had affirmed the basis for the trial of an 18-year-old libel case filed by GMA-7 executives against ABS-CBN executives over an exclusive footage shot way back 2004.

“The Court finds that based on the informations, petitioners have been fully informed of the crimes charged. Thus, the Court rules that the CA was correct in upholding the sufficiency in form and substance of the subject informations,”  said the Supreme Court Third Division in a ruling penned by Associate Justice Henri Jean Paul Inting. (Editor’s note: The original version of this story indicated that the trial had not yet begun. We have revised this. Our apologies.) 

Trial had actually already proceeded in the lower court, and the GMA side had finished presenting their evidence, while some respondents from the ABS-CBN side filed demurrers to evidence, or pleading requesting for an outright dismissal of charges without having to present their own evidence. 

The recent Supreme Court resolution was an affirmation that there was basis for the trial in the first place, as ABS-CBN had moved to quash the charges from the outset.

This all started 18 years ago when GMA aired on its channel footage of Filipino worker Angelo Dela Cruz arriving at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) on July 22, 2004 after being released by his captors.

ABS-CBN News had shot the footage exclusively, but it was made available to the Reuters wire feeds. GMA was able to access the footage on the Reuters feed and aired it. Reuters is a wire service, like Associated Press or Agence France Presse, and Philippine media groups subscribe to their wires for a fee to be able to use materials on its feed.

ABS-CBN News accused GMA News of stealing, and eventually filed a copyright infringement suit against them. The copyright infringement suit was junked, Business World reported in October 2021.

For being accused of stealing footage, GMA News bosses filed a libel complaint against their ABS-CBN counterparts in July 2004, the subject of this case.

The libel case went through many hoops, as ABS-CBN consistently moved to quash the case. In 2017, ABS-CBN lost at the apellate level when the Court of Appeals ruled there was basis to proceed. This most recent Supreme Court ruling affirms the Court of Appeals’ ruling.

“Be that as it may, whether or not petitioners’ statements are malicious, or merely as news report, or that they were made with good intention and justifiable motive, are matters best left for discussion and determination during the trial proper,” said the Court.

The Supreme Court said GMA had made the proper allegations, meriting a trial.

“Undoubtedly, even if GMA-7 admitted the unauthorized use of the footage, petitioners’ imputation of the discreditable act, vice or defect, is presumed malicious. The serious accusation of stealing a video coverage and broadcasting it on national television is an imputation of the crime of Libel and is presumed malicious,” said the Court.

The respondents from ABS-CBN include its chairman Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez III; Jose Ramon Olives, Jake Maderazo, Luisita “Luchi” Cruz-Valdes, Jose “Jing” Magsaysay Jr., Alfonso “Pal” Marquez, Maria Progena Estonilo Reyes, Lynda Jumilla, Lilibeth Frondoso, Anna Liza Eugenio, Dondi Garcia, Luis Alejandro and Erwin Tulfo.    

The GMA executives who filed the complaint were President and CEO Felipe Gozon, Executive Vice President and COO Gilberto Duavit, Jr.; Marissa Flores, Jessica Soho, Grace Reyes, and John Oliver Manalastas. –