Cusi sues ABS-CBN for cyberlibel over graft complaint on Malampaya deal

Art Fuentes and Benise Chiara Balaoing, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 06 2021 04:34 PM | Updated as of Dec 06 2021 07:08 PM

MANILA - Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi has filed a cyberlibel complaint against ABS-CBN Corp. over a story detailing the graft complaint filed against him and businessman Dennis Uy over the Malampaya deals. 

Cusi said the story, which quoted the graft complaint against him, damaged his reputation and good standing in government. 

Six other news organizations were slapped with a similar suit by Cusi. 

“It will take years for me to recover from that reputational damage,” Cusi said in his complaint against ABS-CBN filed before the Taguig Office of the City Prosecutor.

Cusi said he is seeking P200 million in damages from ABS-CBN Corp, company CEO Carlo Katigbak and ABS-CBN News Digital chief Executive Editor Lynda Jumilla over the story.

“Respondents claim that I violated Republic Act No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practice Act; that the anomalous sale caused the government significant losses; that the DOE 'bent rules' to approve Udenna’s acquisition of Chevron’s Malampaya stake; and that I committed gross inexcusable negligence when I failed to intervene in the transaction of Chevron and Udenna, and when I failed to exercise the government’s right to purchase Chevron’s Malampaya shares. All of these are false,” Cusi said in his complaint. 

The story quoted the complaint against Cusi and Uy, and Senator Sherwin Gatchalian’s criticism of Udenna’s acquisition of Chevron’s stake in Malampaya.

The story also mentioned Cusi’s earlier defense of the Malampaya deal wherein he denied it was a “midnight deal”, as well as Udenna’s statement that the transaction was above board. 

WHERE’S THE COMPLAINT?

Cusi’s lawyer, meanwhile, said that they filed the cyberlibel complaint against the media organizations because he has yet to see the graft rap mentioned in these stories. 

“If they have the complaint that’s properly dated and properly signed and properly docketed, then that’s a very good defense. But like I said, no one has shown me a complaint,” said Atty. Ruy Rondain in an interview with ANC on Monday. 

Rondain said the story about the graft complaint was based on a press release and conference and not on a filed complaint. He said no complaint had been filed at the time that the story was published. 

“I must reiterate, I have not seen a complaint,” Rondain said.

This was rejected by Atty. Rico Domingo, who represents the complainants in the graft rap against Cusi and Uy. 

Cusi sues for cyberlibel over story on Malampaya 1
Cusi sues for cyberlibel over story on Malampaya 2
Cusi sues for cyberlibel over story on Malampaya 3
Cusi sues for cyberlibel over story on Malampaya 4

Pages of the graft complaint vs DOE Secretary Alfonso Cusi stamped and received by the Ombudsman’s regional office in Iloilo

Pages of the graft complaint vs DOE Secretary Alfonso Cusi stamped and received by the Ombudsman’s regional office in Iloilo

Pages of the graft complaint vs DOE Secretary Alfonso Cusi stamped and received by the Ombudsman’s regional office in Iloilo

Pages of the graft complaint vs DOE Secretary Alfonso Cusi stamped and received by the Ombudsman’s regional office in Iloilo

Domingo sent to ABS-CBN News a page from the graft complaint showing that it was received by the Ombudsman’s office in Iloilo on Oct. 18, or a day before the press release on the issue on Oct. 19. 

“Yes there was a filing, stamped received,” Domingo said in an interview with ABS-CBN News.

Domingo sent ABS-CBN News several other pages of documents showing that the complaint was received by the Ombudsman in Iloilo and then transferred to Quezon City.

“In fact, it was confirmed with yung notification on November 12 na they were forwarding it to Ombudsman in Quezon City in Agham [Road]. How can they say it’s not official?”

Domingo said the lawsuits against media were an attempt "to muzzle the press." 

"They're weaponizing the libel law." 

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REPORTING, NOT CLAIMING

Meantime, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) has called Cusi and Uy's statement that media organizations accused them of graft "a total misunderstanding...of the role of journalists." 

"The journalists did not accuse him; the complainants did. The journalists only covered the complaint,” the NUJP said in a statement.

“For Secretary Cusi to say in his complaint that the journalists 'accused [him] of graft' is a total misunderstanding, if not a deliberate way to mislead the public, of the role of journalists,” NUJP said. 

The NUJP and the Economic Journalists Association of the Philippines (EJAP) also called the complaints “harassment suits meant to intimidate the press.”

“The media is simply doing its job - to report based on the facts presented to them. Secretary Cusi is a public official and is therefore subject to scrutiny,” EJAP said. 

EJAP also pointed out that the Malampaya deal was an issue of great public concern as it is crucial to the country’s energy security thus deserving scrutiny from the media without interference or threats. 

The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines also said it was alarmed over the Malampaya libel suits. 

“The libel complaint can intimidate and muzzle independent and courageous reporting on issues surrounding Malampaya, a critical infrastructure that supplies a fifth of the Philippines’ energy requirements and benefits millions of Filipinos and businesses,” FOCAP said in a statement. 

NUJP said Cusi’s demand for P200 million in damages could cripple news organizations if enforced. 

“Even if it isn't, the lawyers' fees that these news organizations would have to pay to answer the complaints and the time it would take to address them — time that could be spent on reporting — are enough to send a chill.”

FOCAP, EJAP and the NUJP said the complaints against news organizations show the urgency of decriminalizing libel.