MANILA, Philippines - A journalist based in Mindanao has filed his counter-affidavit to an P18-million libel case filed by an alleged friend of boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao.
Edwin Espejo, in his counter-affidavit, disputed the allegations raised by a certain Mohammad Boy Aquia, an alleged associate of Pacquiao, according to Atty. Romel Bagares, director of the Center for International Law Philippines.
Espejo raised the following issues in his defense: libel cannot be committed by means of the Internet, and nothing was malicious about his story on Aquia, who has become a public figure.
He also cited a United Nations Committee on Human Rights report stating that criminal libel in the Philippines is contrary to the country's obligations under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Espejo, who writes for MindaNews and the Asian Correspondent, said in his counteraffidavit that his report on Aquia was based on statements made by a police officer who linked Pacquiao's alleged friend to a car theft syndicate.
"The allegedly libelous remarks attributed to respondent are not malicious in fact because in the very first place they fall under the exception of qualified privileged communication because the remarks merely restate or report the pronouncements of the Highway Patrol Group about complainant's alleged involvement in a car syndicate," he said.
He added that Aquia himself has not denied the police allegations, including allegedly avoiding arrest by walking to to Pacquiao and riding with him on his vehicle.
"He did not deny that he was earlier tagged as a key personality behind an allegedly well-entrenched car theft syndicate in the country," the counter-affidavit said. "He did not deny that he actually stayed at Mr. Pacquaio’s residence in Lagao, General Santos City to keep the police away."
"There is nothing in the record as to indicate that respondent bore complainant any ill-will or malice, which is an essential element of libel," it added.
Espejo's lawyer, meanwhile, expressed surprise that his client still has to receive a summons from the Office of the Prosecutor in General Santos City in connection with a P75-million libel suit supposed to have also been filed by Pacquaio against Espejo.
"Our information is that Rep. Pacquiao filed his complaint together with Mr. Aquia," Bagares said. "In any case we reiterate our earlier call on Rep. Pacquaio to take this opportunity to work with journalists in pressing for the decriminalization of libel in the country."
"This is an opportune moment for Rep. Pacquiao to show solidarity with Filipino journalists," he added.