MANILA - The Supreme Court has acquitted broadcaster Raffy Tulfo of libel over a series of articles he wrote in 1999 alleging shady dealings in the Bureau of Customs, the court's public information office said on Tuesday.
Among the dealings that Tulfo mentioned include alleged extortion activities against brokers and shippers and a supposed illicit affair of a Customs official, the statement read.
The High Court's 3rd Division, through Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, held that prosecution failed to prove that Tulfo acted with malice, or with reckless disregard in determining the truth or falsity of imputations.
It added that the articles qualified as privileged communications since they relate to official functions.
"Our libel laws must not be broadly construed as to deter comments on public affairs and the conduct of public officials. Such comments are made in the exercise of the fundamental right to freedom of expression and the press," according to the Supreme Court.
A columnist's lack of personal knowledge on an issue, the SC said, is not "unusual" and columnists cannot be compelled to reveal sources.
Tulfo's failure to get the side of the Customs official is also not proof of malice as he may have relied on his sources, it pointed out.
Since Tulfo was acquitted, so were his co-accused Abante Tonite publisher Allen Macasaet, and managing Nicolas Quijano. The High Court stressed, however, that there is no requirement to prove that author, editor, proprietor or printer or publisher had knowledge and participation in publication of article.
"Thus, a claim of absence of participation by those persons responsible under Article 360 [of the Revised Penal Code] will not shield them from liability. The law is clear: These persons are liable for libel as if they were the author of the defamatory writing," the statement read.
A better remedy for those aggrieved by the articles, according to the Supreme Court, is to seek civil damages.
They also reminded journalists that constitutionally-protected freedoms cannot be used to shield malicious propagation of false information, and urged them to adhere to ethical standards.
"The need to protect freedom of speech and of the press cannot be
understated. These freedoms are the most pervasive and powerful vehicles of informing the government of the opinions, needs, and grievances of the public," the Court said.
"It is through these guarantees that the people are kept abreast of government affairs. Without these rights, no vigilant press would flourish. And without a vigilant press, the government's mistakes would go unnoticed, their abuses unexposed, and their wrongdoings
As of October last year, Tulfo’s “Raffy Tulfo in Action” YouTube channel, where he listens to various complaints and tries to resolve them, is among the most popular celebrity channel in the country.
He has more subscribers than the likes of Alex Gonzaga and Ivana Alawi.
According to Tulfo, one of the best ways to build a following is through “credibility.”