Journalists’ suit against president’s husband to proceed

CMFR/Philippines— The Court of Appeals has denied a motion by the husband of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to quash the case, filed against him by journalists in response to his numerous libel suits. The Court of Appeals also lifted a writ of preliminary injunction and directed the trial court to continue with the hearing.

“(T)he petition is denied for lack of merit. Accordingly, the writ of preliminary injunction is lifted and the case remanded to the trial court which is ordered to conduct further proceedings with dispatch,” the 22 September 2008 23-page Court of Appeals decision, penned by Associate Justice Fernanda Lampas Peralta, stated.

Thirty-six journalists, together with the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and the Manila newspaper The Daily Tribune, filed the P12.5 million (approx. $ 264, 600) class suit against Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo, husband of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on 28 December 2006. The journalists argued that the 11 libel suits Mr. Arroyo had filed against 46 members of the press were an abuse of his right to litigate and was an attack on press freedom.

After surviving a high-risk heart surgery, Mr. Arroyo announced through the presidential spokesman on 3 May 2007 that he would withdraw all the libel cases he had filed against journalists. The media practitioners who sued Mr. Arroyo however continued with the case, so that a decision on its merits could define the legal parameters for suing journalists for libel.

Mr. Arroyo’s legal counsel Ruy Rondain told abs-cbnNEWS. com/Newsbreak that he will appeal the decision.

“I’m disappointed. I thought my arguments were clear. Of course, I don’t agree with the decision. I have 15 days to file a motion for reconsideration, ” Rondain told abs-cbnNEWS. com/Newsbreak.

Mr. Arroyo filed a petition for certiorari before the Court of Appeals arguing that Makati City Judge Zenaida Laguilles committed “grave abuse of discretion in admitting the amended complaint” of the journalists as the allegedly insufficient docket fees paid by the latter did not give Laguilles jurisdiction over the case.

A certiorari is a writ which could be issued by a superior court to a lower court to annul or modify ongoing proceedings if the latter judge acted on a case outside his jurisdiction.

In the original complaint filed by the journalists, the word “each” was written in the section asking for damages amounting to P12.5 million. Mr. Arroyo noted that the word “each” meant each petitioner is asking for P12.5 million in damages, with a docket fee totaling P9 million.

The journalists filed an amended complaint to Laguilles to then delete the word “each” and replace it with “aggregate” in the section pertaining to damages sought, as well as to include the names of additional journalists.

The appellate court did not pass judgment on the issue of docket fees, as it only ruled on the issue of “jurisdiction and grave abuse of discretion,” about which allegation the Court of Appeals ruled was “wanting in this case.”

Libel is a criminal offense in the Philippines, and many media organizations including CMFR have been campaigning for its decriminalization for years.

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