OCP Manila rules ‘Atorni no case, tolongges na abogado, gunggong’ not libelous

OCP Manila rules ‘Atorni no case, tolongges na abogado, gunggong’  
are not libelous

Alab ng Mamamahayag (ALAM) gives a grade of “excellent” to the Office of the City Prosecutor (OCP) of Manila for ruling that the remarks “atorni no case, tolongges na abogado, gunggong” not libelous for they were made to describe the performance by a Customs official of his official functions.

In its resolution in the case entitled "Atty. Rogel Gatchalian vs. Percy Lapid and Erny Baluyot," the Office of the City Prosecutor ruled that Gatchalian as the acting chief of the prosecution division of Run After Smugglers (RATS) of the Bureau of Customs cannot compel the State to punish Lapid and Baluyot, the columnist and editor of Police Files Tonite, because a public official is a public figure.

To supports the ruling, the OCP of Manila cited the ruling of the Supreme Court in Ayer Productions vs. Capulong, 160 SCRA 865, where it is stated:

“To note, (the) complainant is a government official who occupies the position of acting chief of the prosecution division and Chief of RATS (Run After the Sumugglers) group of the Bureau of Customs.  As much, he comes within the meaning of a public figure or public personage.  He had sought publicity and consented to it; his personalities and affairs had already become public, and could no longer be regarded as his own private business, and that the press had a privilege, under the Constitution, to inform the p ublic about those who have become legitimate matters of public interest.”

Atty. Gatchalian contended that the assault against him as written by Lapid in the column “Kalampag” was no longer categorized as attack to him as a public official but already to his person.

The OCP of Manila stated that it was not automatic for Lapid and Baluyot to be held liable for calling Atty. Gatchalian as “atorni no case, tolongges na abogado, gunggong” because the subject matter of the attack is a public official and the same remarks were made in connection with or related to how the lawyer performed his official functions.

In a column of Lapid, he called Gatchalian with such names after the lawyer subpoenaed a Customs reporter for writing about irregularities in the bureau.

          Lapid contended that it was an assault to press freedom for Atty. Gatchalian to subpoena a reporter for investigation when that journalist, Rex Borromeo, even helped the government and the people by report what smuggling had happened.

Instead, Lapid continued, Atty. Gatchalian should have started a case by his own and investigate the persons involved as reported by Borromeo. 

“How will reporters continue reporting irregularities in the exercise of press freedom if this act of Gatchalian of scaring journalists is allowed to happen and to set a precedent for others to follow?” ALAM chairman Jerry S. Yap stressed.

But the OCP of Manila answered that those harsh remarks were done in relation to what the commentator adjudged as a poor performance of official functions.

The OCP continue citing the Supreme Court’s ruling in Borjal vs CA, Jan. 14, 1999, which states:

“The doctrine on fair comments says that if the subject matters of the defamation are of public interest, comments fairly inferred from the facts reasonably believed in as true at the time of writing are qualifiedly privileged even those facts turned out false later. And when the discretable imputation is directed against a public person in his capacity, it is not necessarily actionable.”

The OCP concluded:

“We must always be reminded that being in public office is like entering a lion’s den; subject of getting bitten by a lion. In legal sense, we voluntarily surrender our right to privacy in matters of public interest and thus, wide-open to worst and harsh criticisms and comments. Complainant who occupies a high position in the Bureau of Customs in worst scenario is expected to receive such defamatory imputations as regards the discharge of his functions. However, no matter how harsh the imputations and accusations may be, he must not be onion-skinned as his intelligence and conscience will dictate who and what he really is.”

            This kind of ruling shows that the Office of the City Prosecutor of Manila is an institution that understands the depth of what is press freedom, its indispensability to the society, and necessity to check public officials.

            “For their depth in its ruling on issues involving press freedom, we give a grade of excellent to the Office of the City Prosecutor of Manila, its head Chief Prosecutor Jhoseph Lopez, its Assistant Prosecutor Swerte L. Ofrencio-Gonzales and its chief of its 10th Division Sr. Asst. City Prosecutor Joselito D.R. Obejas,” Causing declared.

            On the part of Yap, he is hoping that all prosecution offices in the country should follow the example shown by the OCP of Manila.
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