Drilon critic faces jail time over libelous blog, Facebook posts

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 24 2018 06:31 PM | Updated as of Oct 25 2018 01:47 AM

MANILA (UPDATE) - A critic of Senator Franklin Drilon faces up to 4 years and 2 months of imprisonment, after the Court of Appeals affirmed his libel conviction over allegations he made against the lawmaker on his blog and on Facebook.

The appellate court upheld the February 2017 conviction of former Iloilo administrator Manuel “Boy” Mejorada before the Pasay City regional trial court in a decision dated October 10, 2018, penned by Associate Justice Ma. Luisa Quijano-Padilla

Mejorada, a journalist based in Iloilo City, accused Drilon of corruption in the construction of the Iloilo Convention Center and other projects.

In a January 29, 2014 blog entry, he alleged that Drilon overpriced the construction of the Iloilo Convention Center at P1 billion, instead of the initial estimate of P350 million.

In another blog entry dated September 30, 2013, Mejorada accused Drilon of hiring an architectural firm in constructing the convention center without the benefit of public bidding.

In a Facebook post on January 14, 2014, he also accused Drilon of being behind an allegedly overpriced earth-filling project of the Iloilo Circumferential Road in Ungka, Pavia in Iloilo, costing the government P25 million.

The next day, Mejorada posted a blog entry accusing Drilon of ordering Iloilo City Mayor Jed Mabilog to push through with the controversial P135-million Parola Ferry Terminal Project, which he dubbed the “grandmother of all anomalies.”

In February 1, 2017, the Pasay City Regional Trial Court Branch 118 found Mejorada guilty of libel and sentenced him to up to 4 years and 2 months imprisonment.

In upholding the RTC ruling, the CA found that Mejorada’s articles “portrayed Senator Drilon as intervening in various projects of Iloilo City, manipulating and benefiting himself by unwarranted gains.”

“A cursory reading of these articles would show the intention of accused-appellant to injure the reputation, credit and virtue of Senator Drilon and expose him to public hatred, discredit, contempt and ridicule,” the ruling said.

“The indirect manner in which these articles attributed insults to the senator does not lessen accused-appellant’s culpability,” it added.

The CA also found malice in Mejorada’s allegations because they were “not fair and true reports” but are “plain and simple baseless accusations,” which he failed to substantiate.

“Words and phrases like ‘grandmother of all anomalies,’ ‘fat income for Mabilog and Drilon,’ ‘corruption at its worst,’ and ‘Drilon’s Midas’ Touch,’ are indisputably defamatory for they impute upon the senator a condition that is dishonorable and shameful, since they tend to describe him as a corrupt public official,” the CA said.

The CA however modified the penalty given by the RTC. The CA said Mejorada is guilty of 4 counts of libel because each publication gives rise to a separate cause of action. However, he will serve all 4 penalties simultaneously.

The Court also took the occasion to warn the public: “Unfounded and malicious statements made by one against another are not per se constitutionally protected speech. Our laws on defamation provide for sanctions against unjustified and malicious injury to a person’s reputation and honor."

It added: “If utterances are false, malicious or unrelated to a public officer’s performance of his duties, the same may give rise to criminal liability as in this case.”

QUESTION OF LAW

Mejorada told ABS-CBN News his lawyers filed a motion for reconsideration on October 22 after receiving a copy of the decision last week.

He insists that Drilon has not personally testified in court as complainant in the case.

Mejorada will also take the case to the Supreme Court if CA will still uphold its decision.

"We will go to the Supreme Court. We believe this is a question of law," he said.

Despite the libel conviction, Mejorada said he will continue his crusade against corruption.

"Every citizen has the right to expose anomalies in the government," he said. - with report from Joyce Clavecillas, ABS-CBN News