Over the past few days, I have been queried by bloggers about the possibility of facing a criminal case for libel for something they post online. It seems their anxiety, in part, has been fueled by the reported filing of a libel suit by Mayor Nasser Pangandaman, Jr. against Bambee De la Paz before the Lanao del Sur Prosecutor’s Office in Marawi City. It was Bambee’s blog which brought public attention to the mauling incident at the Valley Golf Club, for which Mayor Pangandaman and his companions, including his father DAR Secretary Nasser Pangandaman, Sr., are allegedly responsible.
I have previously written about the legal ramifications of libel on the internet, which can be read here and here.
The Unlawyer has also written a lucid overview on the nature of libel as it relates to the Pangandaman-De la Paz feud. Likewise, the Cebu Daily News previously carried a comprehensive two-part article on libel, it nature, remedies and venue by Judge Gabriel T. Ingles, which can be accessed here and here.
The legal aspects of libel having been covered extensively elsewhere, I need not repeat them here. But to address the question posed by some bloggers on whether there is possibility that they can be sued for libel for something posted online, the answer is yes. There is always the chance that they might publish something (blogging is a form of electronic publication) which will offend some person or institution for which they will be hailed to court.
Will such a complaint prosper ? It depends on the circumstances and whether the elements of libel, i.e (a) it must be defamatory; (b) it must be malicious; (c) it must be given publicity; and (d) the victim must be identifiable, can be duly shown, even prima facie.
As regards the Pangandaman complaint against Bambee, De la Paz lawyer Archie Fortun (he of the bizarre coup plot involving Bono Adaza) has been quoted as saying: “It’s not a big deal. It’s not an unexpected move by the Pangandamans because they have been threatening to file such case two days after the mauling incident.” He also believes that “after weighing the evidence, the court would eventually dismiss the libel charges“.
Is Fortun implying that the City Prosecutor’s Office of Marawi City is sure to find a prima facie case against Bambee and that there’s little chance of the case being thrown out at the prosecutor’s level ? He appears to be hinting that a hometown decision is in the offing, at least as far as the filing of a criminal information for libel is concerned. And that it would be now up to the Regional Trial Court to resolve the issue, which he believes will be in Bambee’s favor. But how can he be sure that the RTC will likewise not appreciate the case from the Pangandamans’ point of view ? Following his line of reasoning, a hometown decision might also be likely at the trial court level.
Which brings us to the crux of the matter. The libel case, as Fortun himself indicates, is meant as leverage against Bambee and her family in ongoing negotiations for an amicable settlement. This is just one more chip which the Pangandamans will bring to the table later on.
Even so, the libel complaint is something not to be taken lightly, even assuming that Bambee need not be present herself and can be represented by counsel. A consideration is the huge hassle of litigating in Marawi City for a lawyer based in Manila. One has to fly to Iligan City first, then drive up to Marawi. From anecdotes I’ve heard over the years, a lot of unpleasant things can happen while traveling between the two cities. Unless the De la Paz family can hire a local attorney, although I doubt if anyone in Marawi will be willing to take up the cudgels for the respondent.
Another is the possibility that if the libel case is filed in court, there might be an alias warrant of arrest issued for Bambee, since she will most likely not be around during the scheduled arraignment to personally enter her plea (guilty or not guilty) as she is studying in the U.S. Once she returns, however, the warrant of arrest can be served against her and she will have to appear before the court and post bail. This is a tricky matter, since for Bambee going to Marawi will be like entering the lion’s den.
But there are remedies available to the respondent. The strategy for the defense will most likely involve filing a petition for review of the local prosecutor’s resolution with the Department of Justice and moving for the suspension of arraignment. Should the case still proceed, a motion to quash (extinguish) the complaint may be filed before the court. This may delay the proceedings long enough for the parties to settle. Which, from all indications, is where this entire affair is headed, eventually.
As far as I’m aware, this is the first libel case involving blogging filed in the Philippines. From the perspective of jurisprudence, it would be nice to have a definitive Supreme Court ruling on
libel on the internet. But it looks as if it will not get that far.
Here’s an interesting article on defamation on the internet and the risks of getting sued in distant locations.
12 thoughts on “The Pangandaman Libel Suit Against Bambee”
It’s not the first blogger on libel. The very first one was 2 years ago involving parents who blogged against the CAP pension plan fisaco. It went to the supreme court.
Yes, the cases filed by planholders against defaulting pre-need companies. From my recollection, these involved threads and online comments made by a coalition of planholders. They also made statements which were carried by the traditional media, for which they were sued. The difference being that Bambee was a blogger even before the feud with the Pangandamans while the planholders initiated a media campaign in reaction to the moves of the pre-need conpanies.
I don’t know how the libel case turned out.
is the right to reply a possible defense, though?
The right to reply to the complaint-affidavit ? The respondent has a right to file a counter-affidavit, of course, containing his/her defenses.
I think what Jester means is that since Pangandaman has the right to reply to a blog and didn’t the judge should see it in favor of Bambee. Jester believes that Pangandaman should’ve exercised his right to defend himself in the blogs. Since blogs, after all, have comments section. I think bloggers are getting way, way ahead not only of the law but common sense.
no, i mean the defense of the dela pazes to say that the pangandamans have waived their right to reply, as a defense to have the case dropped.
IIRC, having provided the right to reply and the other party not having replied is a defense some publications have used before.
Oh, sorry. We don’t have a right of reply statute yet, which is part of the proposed law decriminalizing libel being put forward by Sen. Pimentel. The right-to-reply bill is a companion measure to the bill decriminalizing libel which has long been pending in both chambers for Congress. It’s being opposed by traditional media as an infringement on the freedom of the press. U.S. jurisprudence supports the latter view.
Should such a measure pass, then failure to exercise the right to reply could be a defense against the criminal aspect (which would have been decriminalized in any case) of the Pangandaman libel suit but not the civil, or damages, aspect.
I just read about this case from pinoy blogs after another, and on my part as a blogger, I think it is responsibility of the blogger of whatever they write on their blog, as it is also a form of media.
Also, since you are a lawyer…may I ask if how far this blogging case could go? I just don’t remember if Bambee is using blogspot.com as hosting or if she has her own hosting. Because otherwise, if its under blogspot.com, its under google.com meaning, google is partly responsible for it because they screen everything that is published and allowed what on blogspot…what do you think about that? I’m just curious, because online world is a huge thing.
Here’s another case. Students of Quezon City Science High were suspended due to blog posts criticizing the current principal.
It seems that blogs are gaining notoriety with traditional bastions of power.
Warrior Lawyer, do we have clear guidelines on how libel is to be handled by the courts if the publication is through the internet?
Hello Warrior Lawyer. In case you are wondering, the name is real. I wonder if you remember the case we handled opposite one another when we were much younger. I of course remember all the fine lawyers that I came across with in my career.
I won’t comment on the topic for obvious reasons. I just wanted to say hello. Cheers and godspeed.
Hi Teddy. Great to hear from a fearless colleague from the litigation trenches. I still keep in touch with our old clients although I am now in-house. Interesting and informative website. I see you a lot on t.v. Your clients are fortunate to be represented so ably. Hope to see you soon or maybe meet up in FB. Thanks for dropping by, buddy.