The court took cognizance of the fact that the institution the complainants represented is a public figure wherein the public has legitimate interest in its doings.
By Jane Abao
Manila, Philippines (3/8/2014) – The court is not at all convinced that there exists a case for libel when making remarks from the reading of a Supreme Court Decision over a crime committed on a public figure’s grounds.
In a 15-page decision signed by Judge Jose G. Paneda of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 220 of the National Capital Judicial Region of Quezon City, Bro. Eliseo Soriano and his co-hosts at UNTV37 were acquitted of the crime of libel even when they were calling the chapel of the Iglesia ni Cristo, “killing fields” and “katayan.”
Comments are considered privileged communication when the subject in question is a public figure whose calling gives the public a legitimate interest in its doings, the decision said.
The decision signed on February 11, 2014 by Judge Paneda, said there is no finding as to the liability of the accused and as to the existence of the crime of libel for failure of the prosecution to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt, the court said.
Ramil T. Parba as representative of the Iglesia ni Cristo along with Marianito Cayao and Bernardo Santiago, accused Eliseo Soriano, Danilo Navales, Jocel Mallari, and Luzviminda Cruz, of libel in Criminal Case No. Q-05-136679 for a program aired on January 21, 2005.
The hosts of “Itanong mo kay Soriano” program at UNTV were accused of “conspiring together, confederating with and mutually helping one another with evident intent of exposing the Iglesia ni Cristo to public dishonor, discredit, contempt, and ridicule” and imputing crime on the complainants.
The court noted that the programs, Ang Dating Daan of Bro. Eli and Ang Tamang Daan of the Iglesia ni Cristo have a history of exchanging verbal tussles. And the latest was of the INC complainants making a false expose of allowing selling merchandise inside the four churches of Soriano.
Soriano and his co-hosts in UNTV denied in their program the INC allegation and said the selling was being done outside of the worship areas. The topic for the day in their program turned into which is more disrespectful: selling outside the church or killing in the basement of the chapel? They then discussed the Supreme Court decision in People vs. Abella, G.R. No.127803, August 28, 2000.
In part, the court decision said –
“The scene of the crime was within the compounds of the Iglesia ni Cristo in Sta. Ana and the basement thereof had been witness to the gruesome torture of victims who were eventually found floating in the murky rivers of Pasig.
“Private complainants took offense, more so hurt, when with the reading of the said case of Abella, accused depicted the House of Worship of the Iglesia ni Cristo as ‘katayan,’ the basement as killing fields, execution and torture, apparently in retaliation for the private complainant’s false expose.”
In sum, the court said the act of reading a Supreme Court decision is not libelous, and even with the comments and remarks of the accused, comments are considered privileged. The Case of People vs. Abella et al. where 5 PUP students were bludgeoned to death by INC members over a mere basketball game has since become a matter of public interest and therefore open to public scrutiny.
The court also took cognizance of the fact that the institution the complainants represented is a public figure wherein the public has legitimate interest in its doings.
Borrowing from the wisdom in Warren vs. Pulitzer Publishing Company, and also shared in Borjal vs. the Court of Appeals, the court said, “Every man has a right to discuss matters of interest. A clergyman with his flock, an admiral with his fleet, a general with his army, a judge with his jury. We are, all of us, the subject of public discussion….. It is only in despotism that one must speak sub rosa, or in whispers, with bated breath, around the corner, or in the dark on a subject touching the common welfare…”
The court also took note that when accused Eliseo Soriano peppered the members of the Iglesia ni Cristo with cases of libel in 2005 for calling him names like “Dayukdok,: “Mandarambong, “Mongongotong, “Matakaw sa pera,” “Seaman-loloko,” among many other names through their program, Ang Tamang Daan, the cases were dismissed on the ground that they did not show any defamatory imputations and for lack of malice. The same was observed when the INC members distorted Soriano’s speeches and commentaries.
Documentary exhibits submitted by the defense consisted mostly of video tapes and DVDs to prove consistent patterns of mangling of tapes by the Iglesia ni Cristo on statements made by Soriano. An example was when Soriano was asking for 3.6 million on January 10, 2004; the mangled tape was shown in Ang Tamang Daan aired over Net 25 on March 29, 2004 that Soriano was asking for 6 trillion.
Incidentally, private complainants Bernardo Santiago and Marianito Cayao were excommunicated by Bro. Eli Soriano from Ang Dating Daan congregation, after which they joined the Iglesia ni Cristo.
An earlier Criminal Case Nos. 2002-4236-MK for attempted murder accusing Eliseo Soriano et al. was also dismissed by Judge Geraldine C. Fiel-Macaraig of the National Capital Judicial Region, Branch 192 of Marikina City for insufficiency of evidence. This was signed four years earlier on February 11, 2010. The private complainant was Bernardo Santiago, one of the complainants in this recently dismissed libel case.