Ex-Chief Justice ‘lobby’ sees junking of libel raps vs him

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Former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban’s “lobby” for dismissal of a libel case against him proved successful, an unimpeachable source of The Manila Times in the Court of Appeals (CA) has disclosed.

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The appellate court last month threw out the case over an allegedly malicious article that Panganiban wrote against businessman and former Marcos crony Herminio Disini.

In a 32-page decision promulgated on July 21, 2014 and penned by Associate Justice Magdangal de Leon, the CA’s former Special Tenth Division granted a petition filed by Panganiban and co-accused Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) editor-in-chief Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc.

“The assailed orders of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 142, Makati City, dated September 6, 2013 and September 25, 2013 are annulled and set aside. [The criminal case] is ordered dismissed,” the court said.

On March 22, 2012, Disini filed with the Office of the Prosecutor of Makati City a complaint-affidavit for libel against Panganiban and Magsanoc.

The businessman alleged that he was defamed by the article entitled “After 35 years, still languishing,” which was written by Panganiban in his column “With Due Respect” and published on PDI’s website on March 27, 2011.

Disini specifically objected to the reference to him by Panganiban as a “go-between with Marcos” and Marcos’ “close personal associate.”

On January 22, 2013, the investigating prosecutor issued a resolution dismissing the complaint against Panganiban.

Upon Disini’s motion for reconsideration, the prosecutor set aside the resolution that led to the filing of the Information on September 2, 2013, charging Panganiban and Magsanoc with libel.

The appellate court issued an arrest warrant against Panganiban and Magsanoc, prompting them to seek redress with the tribunal.

In its ruling, the CA said Disini himself admitted that it was “the filing of the criminal charges against him, not the published article itself, which blemished his reputation and took away business opportunities.”

“To repeat, the defamatory character of the imputation is shown by the recitals thereof. No evidence aliunde need be adduced to prove it,” the CA said.

Aliunde means from another place or outside source.

“If indeed the published article is defamatory in itself, Disini need not present or allege evidence aliunde. In this case, in a desperate attempt to impute malice and to establish the defamatory nature of the published article, Disini concentrated not on the published article but on extraneous matters[.]”

“Clearly, any further prosecution of petitioners is pure and simple harassment. It is imperative that they be spared from the trauma of having to go to trial on such a baseless complaint. The evidence is insufficient to sustain a prima facie case and it is evident that no probable cause exists to form a sufficient belief as to petitioners’ guilt.”

Concurring in with the decision were Associate Justices Myra Garcia-Fernandez and Victoria Isabel Paredes.

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