Telling the truth does not make one immune from libel suits.
Last Monday, Judge Dina Pestano Teves of the Makati Regional Trial Court 142, released the warrant of arrest for Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV after finding probable cause in the suit filed by former Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay Jr.
Trillanes, who is running for vice president as an independent candidate in the coming May 9 election, is in Washington D.C. for the National Prayer Breakfast, an annual event hosted by members of the United States Congress and organized by a Christian Fellowship Foundation attended by some 3,500 guests from all over the world. The U.S. president usually attends the event held every first Thursday of February.
But the senator sent his reaction to the news about the warrant of arrest for him. “If the Binay family believes that I can be intimidated and threatened from exposing them, they are badly mistaken. I will do everything I can to make sure that plunderers will not rule this country again”, he said.
His lawyer, Rey Robles, said they have not yet received the official copy of the investigating prosecutor’s resolution. But he assured the public that the moment the senator arrives, “he will voluntarily submit himself to the jurisdiction of the Honorable Court, if so required.”
Robles added: “This is without prejudice to the Senator’s right to file a motion for reconsideration or even appeal said resolution to the Department of Justice, if warranted by the circumstances.”
Having survived seven years of detention for standing up to the most powerful person of the land, a libel suit is not something that would make the crusading senator cower in fear.
The libel suit stemmed from media interviews after he filed a Senate resolution in April last year to investigate the alleged “Justice for sale” practice in the Court of Appeals and other branches of the judiciary following the March 16, 2015 temporary restraining order issued by the C.A. on the suspension by the Ombudsman of Junjun Binay in connection with the investigation of the alleged overpriced construction of the Makati Parking Building.
Trillanes, citing “reliable sources privy to the matter,” said, “a lawyer by the name of Pancho Villaraza facilitated the transaction and talked to Associate Justices Reyes and Acosta and each of them received twenty million pesos for the TRO they issued. When the Ombudsman, DILG, and DOJ did not recognize the TRO, a second transaction was allegedly consummated with Associate Justices Reyes and Acosta allegedly receiving an additional five million pesos each upon the issuance of a writ of permanent injunction. This was purportedly the reason why the concerned CA division issued the writ of preliminary injunction with undue and inordinate haste long before its TRO is supposed to elapse.”
The CA associate justices Trillanes referred to were Jose Reyes Jr. and Francisco Acosta. Pancho Villaraza is the well known lawyer Arthur Villaraza, who is reportedly supporting the presidential bid of Vice President Jejomar Binay.
In filing the libel suit against Trillanes, Junjun Binay said “The damaging and ruinous claims spewed out by respondent Trillanes are mere concoctions and fabrications with no other purpose than to malign, discredit, ruin my reputation, and besmirch my good name as well as that of my family.”
Trillanes is also facing a contempt case before the CA.
Trillanes invoked parliamentary immunity and freedom of speech as the case of the TRO was connected with the investigation of the overpriced Makati Parking Building which had led to other alleged irregularities in Makati and exposed the wealth of the Binays, including the sprawling Hacienda in Batangas.
TROs for sale is an open secret in the legal community. It’s something that everybody seems helpless about and has come to accept. But truthfulness is not a defense in libel.
The elements of libel are publication, sharing with others; identifiability; imputation of vice, defect or crime; malice (ill-motive). It carries a minimum punishment of six months and maximum punishment is six years and a fine.
Actually, the issuance of that TRO was a brief victory for Junjun Binay because last October, in an administrative case, the Ombudsman ordered his dismissal and perpetual disqualification from holding a public office.
The Binays have also included Trillanes in a P200 million damage suit they filed against their detractors, including Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Amando Tetangco Jr., the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and the Anti-Money Laundering Council.
Things are still unfolding.
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