Former Makati Vice Mayor Roberto Brillante was found guilty again of libel against Vice President Jejomar Binay and was ordered to pay P500,000 in damages to the city’s former chief executive.
In a 13-page decision dated June 30, 2014, Judge Selma Palacio Alaras of the Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 62 said Brillante “willfully, unlawfully and feloniously” disseminated a defamatory statement that caused “dishonor, discredit and public contempt” upon Binay.
Alaras ordered Brillante to pay a fine of P6,000 as well as P500,000 in moral damages to the Vice President.
Binay filed a libel suit against Brillante in 2006 after the latter released a press statement that accused the former mayor of allegedly bribing three Sandiganbayan justices to win a graft case.
The Sandiganbayan had dismissed a complaint filed by Brillante against former Mayor Elenita Binay and nine others for lack of probable cause.
Brillante, citing unnamed sources, had said in a radio program and a news conference that “lobby money” resulted in the dismissal of the case.
In his testimony, Binay said Brillante’s statement “was calculated to disseminate malicious imputations” and “clearly brought damage” to his name, reputation, integrity and honor as a public servant.
Brillante, on the other hand, told the court his statement was done in “good faith” but the court said Brillante failed to act in “good faith” when he neglected to “substantiate or even attempt to verify his story before publication,” and his information were “mere gossips peddled by unnamed sources.”
It further said that Brillante showed malice, a critical element in libel cases, when he “made such remarks with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard as to the truth or falsity thereof.”
According to the court, journalists have a responsibility to report the truth, and in doing so must at least investigate their stories before publication, and be able to back their stories up with proof.
“There must be some foundation to their reports; these reports must be warranted by facts,” it said.
“There was no showing that accused [Brillante] made any attempt to talk to Mayor Binay to verify statements contained in the defamatory articles, especially considering the gravity of the accusations made against the latter.”
“Accused’s failure to verify the truth of the information from Mayor Binay himself is in itself an evidence of his lack of bona fide efforts to verify the accuracy of his information,” the court said.
While Brillante was found guilty of libel, the court imposed a penalty of fine instead of imprisonment because of the “wide latitude given to utterances against public figures” consonant to Administrative Circular 08-2008.
In 1993, Brillante was also slapped with a P500,000 fine for being convicted of five different counts of libel against Binay.
The libel charges were related to the publication of the articles entitled “Binay accused of plotting slays of rivals,” “Binay Slay Plan on [Augusto] Syjuco” and “Plea for Cory to Save Makati,” all of which were published in January 1988.