Court of Appeals upholds dismissal of Tolentino’s libel case vs Failon

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 10 2021 10:47 PM

MANILA — The Court of Appeals has stood by its earlier ruling junking the libel case filed by Senator Francis Tolentino against former ABS-CBN broadcaster Ted Failon, finding “no merit” in the senator’s motion for reconsideration.

“[T]he Motion for Reconsideration has not raised any matter or cogent argument that We have not already considered and resolved in our Decision dated July 7, 2020,” the CA Special Former Twelfth Division, through Associate Justice Pablito Perez, said in its resolution dated March 5, 2021.

The libel case was for a December 3, 2016 episode of television magazine program Failon Ngayon which alleged possible fund misuse in the purchase of second-hand motorcycles.

The same CA division had previously dismissed Tolentino’s libel case finding the information or criminal charge against Failon to be “fatally insufficient and defective” as it did not specifically allege “actual malice.” 

Actual malice, in the context of libel laws, refers to the act of publishing with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard as to whether it was false or not.

Tolentino relied instead on the presumption of malice — that every defamatory allegation is presumed malicious — which, according to the CA, does not apply to public officials like him.

In his motion for reconsideration, Tolentino cited cases to support his contention that malice should still be presumed but the CA rejected his position, noting that in these 3 cases, the Supreme Court ruled that in privileged communications, the presumption of malice does not arise and there’s a need for the complainant to allege and prove actual malice.

“On the contrary, the cases cited by private respondent [Tolentino] support the proposition that critical comments on the performance of official duties is protected and privileged speech which if not motivated by reckless disregard of the truth and a plain intent to injure, must be free of any form of subsequent punishment,” it said.

Tolentino can still appeal the ruling before the Supreme Court.

Tolentino’s status as a public official spelled the difference between Failon’s acquittal and the conviction of another journalist, Maria Ressa for cyber libel.

Among the findings of a Manila judge which convicted Ressa and former Rappler researcher/writer Reynaldo Santos, Jr. was that businessman Wilfredo Keng was a private citizen and defamatory statements against him are presumed malicious.

Ressa has maintained Keng is a public figure in arguing that presumption of malice should not apply.

Failon, a long-time broadcaster with ABS-CBN, moved to TV5's Radyo Singko following the rejection by Congress of ABS-CBN's franchise renewal bid.

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