SC affirms libel conviction of Raffy Tulfo, Abante Tonite execs

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 26 2019 02:22 AM

MANILA – Times may be tougher for journalists in the age of digital media, but all the more that they should be held to a higher standard.

The Supreme Court issued this reminder as it affirmed the conviction for libel of media personality Raffy Tulfo and 7 newspaper executives over an inaccurate 2004 article accusing a businessman of approaching a government official to stop a tax fraud case against him.

In a decision dated April 10, 2019 but made public only recently, the high court ordered Tulfo and representatives of Monica Publishing Corporation, the publisher of Abante Tonite, to pay P1.5 million in damages and more than P200,000 in attorney’s fees.
 
The award of damages is P1-million more than what the Court of Appeals awarded to complainant Michael Guy and comes in the form of exemplary damages, meant to set an example for public good.
 
“This case comes at a time when the credibility of journalists is needed more than ever; when their tried-and-tested practice of adhering to their own code of ethics becomes more necessary, so that their truth may provide a stronger bulwark against the recklessness in social media,” Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen said.

“Respondents, then, should have been more circumspect in what they published. They are not media practitioners with a lack of social following; their words reverberate,” he added.

The case stems from a March 24, 2004 column wherein Tulfo accused Guy of asking the help of then-Finance Secretary Juanita Amatong to halt an investigation by the Department of Finance’s Revenue Integrity Protection Service (RIPS) into allegations of tax fraud against him.

Tulfo claimed Guy went to the house of Amatong who then called the head of RIPS to order the surrender of documents related to the tax fraud investigation.

But CA found RIPS only investigates officials of DOF and its attached agencies and could not have probed Guy who was not a government official.

“It only goes to show that respondents did not verify the information on which the article was based,” the decision said.

The high tribunal however deleted the trial court’s award of P5 million in actual damages intended to compensate for monetary loss suffered, as it found that Guy failed to prove his loss.

On the other hand, it awarded Guy P500,000 in moral damages to compensate for the mental pain and suffering or mental anguish he might have gone through as a result of Tulfo’s article.

He claimed he suffered social humiliation and anxiety with his 77-year-old mother castigating him for disgracing their family while his children were supposedly quizzed in school about the article.

But the court noted he failed to prove tainted reputation and loss of clientele, that’s why he was given only P500,000 and not the P5 million moral damages the trial court had originally granted.

The executives ordered to pay with Tulfo are: Allen Macasaet, Nicolas Quijano, Jr., Janet Bay, Jesus Galang, Randy Hagos, Jeany Lacorte and Venus Tandoc.

In its decision, the Court took pains to underscore the importance of journalists in a democracy.

“Journalists are the sentinels who keep watch over the actions of the government. They are the eyes and ears of the citizenry. In today’s digital age, the work of journalists is held to higher standardard more than ever. Beyond the multitude the participate on social media, they have value as part of a profession that should be trusted with the truth,” read the decision.

“Nevertheless, the probing done by journalists must be made ‘with good motives and for justifiable ends,’” it added.

But it also left a few choice words for Tulfo and the executives.

 “This Court can only hope that respondents appreciate the privilege their fame has brought them and, in the future, become more circumspect in the exercise of their profession,” it said.