'Fair, true, accurate reports': ABS-CBN execs, journalist refute Dennis Uy’s cyber libel raps

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 04 2022 04:00 PM | Updated as of Feb 05 2022 09:39 AM

ABS-CBN facade

Katigbak, Jumilla, Bagaoisan move for junking of cyber libel complaints

MANILA — Two ABS-CBN executives and a journalist on Thursday rejected as “false and baseless” the cyber libel raps filed against them by businessman Dennis Uy in connection with 2 online articles regarding his companies’ purchase of 90% interest in the Malampaya project.

ABS-CBN president and chief executive officer Carlo Katigbak, ABS-CBN News Digital executive editor Lynda Jumilla, and multi-platform reporter Anjo Bagaoisan subscribed to their joint counter-affidavit before Makati City senior assistant city prosecutor John Ong, where they refuted Uy’s allegations and moved for the dismissal of the complaints.

“[T]he News Articles were made and published in the exercise of freedom of the press. We never violated or abused our rights: The News Articles are fair, true and accurate reports of a matter of public interest and involving a public figure,” they said.

“At most, it could be said that we are biased in favor of the public, so that they may be informed of national matters,” they added.

Katigbak is being sued as representative of the media company, Jumilla as top editor of ABS-CBN’s news website, and Bagaoisan for an article he wrote.

The joint counter-affidavit was filed through registered mail on Thursday and a soft copy was sent through email on Friday to the Davao City Prosecutor’s Office where Uy had lodged 2 counts of cyber libel raps against the three.

The raps were based on an October 19, 2021 article published on ABS-CBN’s website about the graft complaint Uy and Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi are facing before the Office of the Ombudsman over the sale of Chevron’s 45% stake in the Malampaya project to Uy’s Udenna Corp.

The other article, written by Bagaoisan and published on October 26, 2021, was based on his coverage of a webinar by one of the complainants against Uy and Cusi, lawyer Rodel Rodis, who called the Malampaya sale to Udenna the “most incredible crony” deal in history. 

The deal, according to Rodis, supposedly involves P138 billion and will give Uy 90% interest in a project that supplies 40% of the energy needs of Luzon.

Aside from purchasing Chevron’s 45% share in Malampaya, Uy’s subsidiary also bought Shell’s 45% share — a move that was later halted when state-owned Philippine National Oil Company-Exploration Corporation (PNOC-EC) withheld its consent for the Shell deal in December following the backlash surrounding the controversy.

The Davao-based businessman claimed in his complaint filed in November that the articles were defamatory and injured his reputation and standing in the business community, supposedly because they accused him of corruption, graft, cronyism and theft of the country’s natural resources.

He said the Malampaya deal was a “strictly private transaction” and did not violate any law. 

He also complained his side was not sought and that the allegations were based on “shallow analyses of limited materials,” “pure speculations and conjectures.”

He asked for P200 million in damages.

In their counter-affidavit, Katigbak, Jumilla and Bagaoisan said there were no defamatory imputations against Uy as the news articles only summarized the contents of the Ombudsman complaint and reported on the remarks of the complainant, without commenting on whether these statements were true or not. 

“We reiterate that the News Articles merely reported the filing of the Graft Complaint and the statements made by Atty. Rodis during a publicly-held webinar. The Graft Complaint and Atty. Rodis, one of the complainants, ‘publicly accused’ Mr. Uy of committing a crime, and not us,” they said. 

“Mr. Uy argued that whatever is being quoted in the News Articles automatically become the imputation of the reporter or publisher. This is an absurd position. Following Mr. Uy’s theory, no report on the commission of any crime, filing of a case against any person, or even a report of a statement given during a public conference, would ever be made for the chilling fear of subsequent punishment. This is simply not the intention of the law on libel,” they added.

Defamatory imputation, such as accusing a person of committing a crime, is one of the elements of a libel case, as are identifiability, publication and malice. That the libelous statements were made through a computer system or similar makes the case cyber libel.

Aside from the lack of any defamatory statement, Katigbak, Jumilla and Bagaoisan said there’s no malice — whether actual or presumed — in the publication of the news articles.

While every defamatory imputation is presumed malicious, they cited two reasons why this is not the case. 

The news articles, they said, may be considered privileged communications under the Revised Penal Code because these are fair and true reports of a judicial or official proceeding not confidential in nature, which were made in good faith and without any comments or remarks.

Uy, according to the counteraffidavit, may also be considered a public figure as he is “well-known and recognized in business circles” and “the sale of a substantial portion of the Malampaya project is a matter of public interest.”

In both cases, they argued, there is no presumption of malice and Uy needs to prove actual malice — that the respondents made libelous remarks knowing that the statements were false or with reckless disregard as to whether these are true or not.

Katigbak, Jumilla and Bagaoisan pointed out that they have no personal ill will or spite against Uy and ABS-CBN News in fact acted in good faith by not only including his side in the news articles in question but in also subsequently publishing articles showing his side of the story.

Among the articles ABS-CBN News separately published were on statements made by Uy’s spokesperson Atty. Raymond Zorilla and Udenna President Raymundo Martin Escalona defending Uy against allegations of cronyism and irregularities in the Malampaya deal.

Katigbak, for his part, also questioned why he was included as respondent in the complaint when the Revised Penal Code excluded the CEO or president of a company from among those liable for libel, limiting instead the responsible persons only to the publisher, author, editor or business manager.

The three urged the prosecutor handling the preliminary investigation of the complaints to junk them instead.

“Mr. Uy failed to establish sufficient grounds to engender a well-founded belief that we committed the cyberlibel charged in this case. There is no probable cause against us and this Complaint-Affidavit should be promptly dismissed,” they said.

Insisting on the constitutional rights to freedom of the press, of information and of speech, they reiterated, they are simply doing their job.

“ABS-CBN is fulfilling its duty as a media organization in keeping the Filipinos well-informed by reporting a matter which is of great public interest. As the Supreme Court put it: We cannot punish journalists including publishers for an honest endeavor to serve the public when moved by a sense of civic duty and prodded by their sense of responsibility as news media to report what they perceived to be a genuine report,” they said.

Uy’s complaint is separate from Cusi’s cyber libel complaint against Jumilla and ABS-CBN Corporation, with Katigbak also impleaded as the corporation’s representative.

Both Uy and Cusi also filed complaints against other media companies, executives and journalists who reported on the Malampaya-Udenna deal.

Uy and Cusi share the same lawyer for these cases — Atty. Ruy Alberto Rondain.

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