MANILA, Philippines — A division of the Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of a multimillion-peso damage suit filed by former Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile against former columnist Yolanda Ong — a piece of “much-needed good news for Philippine journalists,” her lawyer Chel Diokno said.
The SC’s First Division, through a one-page notice signed by Division Clerk of Court Librada Buena, said that Enrile failed to show that Court of Appeals erred in its ruling.
“The Court further resolves to deny the petition for failure of petitioner to sufficiently show that the Court of Appeals committed any reversible error in the challenge decision and resolution as to warrant the exercise of this Court’s discretionary appellate jurisdiction,” the notice also read.
Ong, who goes by Yoly Vilanueva-Ong, penned her last opinion piece for The STAR in January 2013.
JPE’s multi-million suit vs Ong
Enrile sued Ong for damages over her column dated Oct. 16, 2012 entitled “Like father, like son?” which the lawmaker said characterized him as a “liar, fraud and manipulator.”
The article, Enrile said, “mock(ed) and ridicule(d) (him), discrediting (his) good reputation, integrity, and degrading (his) accomplishments as an elected public official,” court documents read.
An ABS-CBN report said Enrile filed a P31.5-million lawsuit against Ong.
The Pasay City Regional Trial Court Branch 118 dismissed Enrile’s complaint and held that it “finds it improper to award moral and exemplary damages as well as attorney’s fees in favor of plaintiff JPE.”
Enrile elevated his case to the Court of Appeals but failed to reverse the trial court ruling, prompting him to seek the SC.
In an earlier ruling by CA’s Seventh Division, it held that the trial court did not commit any error when it held that Enrile failed to prove the element of malice on Ong’s published article.
A reminder for journalists: Do not be afraid
Diokno, a veteran rights lawyer and Ong’s legal counsel, said the SC ruling is “much-needed good news for Philippine journalists.”
“I hope this sends a clear message to our journalists: don’t be afraid to cover matters that are of public concern involving public figures,” Diokno, who chairs the Free Legal Assistance Group, also said.
He noted that the Philippine press is currently undergoing a trying time. Although Diokno did not cite specific instances, FLAG serves as legal counsel of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, who was recently convicted of cyber libel.
ABS-CBN, the largest media network in the country, also went off the air on May 5 and is currently battling for a grant of a fresh legislative franchise by Congress, where lawmakers, at the recent House of Representatives hearing, picked apart its reportage and misses over the years to argue against the grant of their franchise.
“I know this is a trying time for the Philippine press. But just keep fighting and keep doing your work to report the truth and inform our people, and we will keep doing our work to defend your rights to do so,” Diokno added.
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