Dumaguete journalist, mayor swap civil suits

DUMAGUETE CITY, Philippines — A newspaper columnist here has demanded an apology from Dumaguete City Mayor Agustin Perdices in exchange for dropping his civil suit against the mayor for violation of press freedom rights.

Columnist Dindo Generoso of the weekly paper The Negros Chronicle made the demand on January 23 during a pre-trial of a counter-suit he filed against Perdices last November.

Generoso filed the counter suit after Perdices sued him and asked for a written apology over a column he wrote shortly after the May 2007 elections.

In the same pre-trial hearing last week, Perdices’ lawyer Dean Myles Nicolas Bejar of the Silliman College of Law, said that if Generoso would issue a written apology for a column he wrote after the elections, the mayor might be willing to settle a P300,000-damage suit against Generoso.

Perdices filed the civil case for damages against Generoso, on June 1, 2007, over his May 20, 2007 column that claimed that mayoralty candidate Arturo Umbac, who ran against Perdices, was robbed of victory in the last elections.

Generoso wrote that Perdices was only less than a hundred votes ahead of Umbac during the canvassing of the votes until the board of election canvassers took a 12-hour break. A brownout occurred during the break and when the canvassing resumed, Perdices’ lead widened by more than 4,000 votes, according to Generoso’s column.

“Until this can be sufficiently explained, this columnist believes that Mr. Arturo Umbac has been robbed of his apparent road to victory in the last elections,” Generoso wrote.

Perdices said Generoso’s comment was “no longer a criticism but a direct accusation” that he manipulated the election.

The mayor said that he initially wanted an apology but he decided to push through with the case after he saw a draft of Generoso’s next column, which called for his resignation.

Lawyer Bejar explained that they initially planned to file a libel case against Generoso but the latter was living in Sydney, Australia, at the time. So, they decided to file a civil case instead for Abuse of Rights and Damages under Articles 19, 20 and 21 of the Civil Code, Bejar said. Generoso has since moved back to the country.

Article 19 of the Civil Code provides that a person must act with justice, give everyone his due and observe honesty and good faith in the exercise of his rights.

Articles 20 and 21 also require a person who causes damage to another to compensate the latter for the damage.

But Generoso’s lawyer, Jay Dejaresco, said the case filed by Perdices was pure harassment and was an act unbefitting a public servant whose salary was paid for by taxpayer’s money.

Dejaresco called on the mayor to accept Generoso’s demand so that the case could be settled at the earliest time.

He noted that journalists had legal remedy against public officials who harassed them in court.

The Civil Code would hold liable any public official who would violate any person’s constitutional rights, including press freedom, Dejaresco said.

He said the case filed against Perdices was anchored on Article 32-6 of the Civil Code, which guaranteed the freedom to write for the press. Generoso also asked for damages of P300,000, the limit set by the city courts, Dejaresco added.

(IFJ-NUJP Media Safety Office)

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