By Jane Abao
Manila, Philippines (5/2/2014) – In two cases filed separately on two related incidents by members of the Iglesia ni Cristo against Eliseo Soriano, the evangelist won his second round of court case. The first case filed in Marikina City was for attempted murder and spoke of an incident on September 4, 2001; the second filed in San Mateo, Rizal was for libel and zeroed in on an incident, three days after.
Soriano, who is referred to as Bro. Eli by his constituents, is the Presiding Minister of the Members Church of God International (MCGI) or Ang Dating Daan as known by the public for its flagship radio-TV program. The evangelist is now based overseas in accordance with his antipodal direction of preaching.
In an eight-page decision penned by Josephine Zarate Fernandez, Presiding Judge of the Regional Trial Court, Fourth Judicial Region, Branch 76 of San Mateo Rizal, TV Broadcaster Eliseo F. Soriano was acquitted of the charge of libel. The order signed on January 14, 2014 said that malice was not proven beyond reasonable doubt.
According to Law, malice is one of the four elements of libel that must be sufficiently satisfied for the case to succeed. The three others include: the allegation of a discreditable act or condition concerning another, publication of the charge, identity of the person defamed, and existence of malice. The absence of anyone of these elements will not make the case prosper.
The case docketed as Criminal Case No. 5957 charged Soriano for the crime of libel as punished under Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code. The complaint in part said that on the 7th day of September 2001, the evangelist, during his TV program in SBN21 located at Pasig city, uttered in particular, “Sabi nila sa akin, baka quack doctor yon, kaya galit sa akin (They told me, she may be a quack doctor and that is why she is mad at me.” Subject statement referred to Dr. Nancy Nakpil Pascua, the private complainant of the case, the decision said.
On September 4, 2001 or some three days immediately before the TV program wherein Soriano allegedly uttered that statement, Pascua happened to be found with some Iglesia ni Cristo members in the house of Dr. Alberto Jimenez and his wife who belonged to the congregation of the Ang Dating Daan. With them was Bernardo Santiago, one excommunicated by Soriano for adultery and then became a member of the Iglesia ni Cristo. As alleged by Witness Rolando Ocampo, this Bernardo Santiago, a companion of private complainant Dr. Pascua, told the Jimenez couple that Soriano is “bakla,” among others.
The decision ended, saying the degree of proof mandatory to establish malice was not attained. Soriano was therefore acquitted by the court.
Incidentally, in a separate case dismissed four years earlier, Bernardo Santiago of the Iglesia ni Cristo had filed a case of attempted murder against Bro. Eli Soriano and his companions. Docketed as Criminal Cases Nos. 2002-4236-MK and referring to September 4, 2001, the same date he and Dr. Pascua were visiting the Jimenez couple, private complainant Bernardo Santiago alleged that accused Soriano acted in conspiracy with the others to kill him.
According to the order dismissing the case, the prosecution presented Witnesses Glen Fernandez and Rommel Elbambuena who both heard one of the accused say, “Patayin yan! Patayin yan! Utos ni Ingkong!” (Kill him! Kill him! Order of Ingkong!) Ingkong is a monicker for Bro. Eli Soriano.
Judge Geraldine Fiel-Macaraig of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 192 of Marikina City, however, dismissed the case for insufficiency of evidence on February 11, 2010. Conspiracy was not proven.
The most recent case won by Bro. Eli and filed by Iglesia ni Cristo members was for libel but was dismissed on February 11, 2014. Ramil T. Parba as representative of the Iglesia ni Cristo along with Marianito Cayao and Bernardo Santiago, accused Eliseo Soriano and his companions, Danilo Navales, Jocel Mallari, Wilfredo Santiago and Luzviminda Cruz, of libel in Criminal Case No. Q-05-136679 for a program aired on January 21, 2005.
Soriano and his co-hosts in UNTV, after denying the allegation of the Iglesia ni Cristo that they were selling goods inside four church locales, were discussing the Supreme Court decision in People vs. Abella, G.R. No.127803, August 28, 2000 http://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/jurisprudence/2000/aug2000/127803.htm
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.
Cayao and Santiago incidentally are excommunicated members of Ang Dating Daan. In all of these three cases, Bernardo Santiago figured as either as private complainant or involved.