Why libel case vs members of press is no longer relevant

By Alex P. Vidal

“If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”—George Washington

ILOILO journalists may have topped the list of media practitioners in the Philippines with the greatest number of mug shots taken on record as accused in a criminal case called libel.

Although the conviction rate is negligible, many aggrieved public officials still opted to sue journalists who “offended” them for libel even after the restoration of democracy in the Philippines after the 1986 EDSA Revolution.

Libel cases versus media practitioners were relatively scant or even zero during the Martial Law years because, in the first place, there was no reporter to sue: press freedom was dead.

The brave ones went to the calaboose, while the few unlucky souls who defied the dictator went straight to the Kingdom Come.

After the EDSA uprising, the years when I became seriously involved in community journalism, we monitored some high-profile cases involving media executives sued by bigwigs in government, but majority of the cases that sprung up mostly in other regions outside Metro Manila involved the rank-and-file—reporters and columnists—who were mostly incapacitated financially due to the profession’s limited economic resources.


The late Panay News founder and publisher Daniel Fajardo and now The Daily Guardian columnist Herbert Vego, the late columnists Teddy Sumaray and Ben Palma were among the only few senior colleagues in the print media I could remember back in the late 80s and early 90s who regularly wrestled with libel cases.

We had 38 counts of wrongly and unethically assembled libel cases filed by a group of misfits who happened to be local politicians in 1999 when we were with Sun.Star Iloilo.

Meanwhile, some of those rank-and-file reporters quickly “abandoned” the profession for another job after experiencing scary moments as one-time accused in a criminal libel case “versus the people of the Philippines.”

Aggrieved public officials, police and military officials who couldn’t tolerate media bashing thought it would serve them best if they hauled into court the adversarial journalists.

A libel case, after all, is considered to be “more democratic” and less harmful; a more rationale option for onion-skinned public and military officials instead of resorting to violence with the use of brute force.


Times have passed and a libel case as a form of retaliatory offensive for erring public officials versus members of the critical press has become irrelevant and outmoded especially in the age of social media.

Our former print media colleague, Manuel Mejorada, who dabbled into vlogging, was convicted of cyber-libel, a new animal in the statute two years ago, and is still serving his prison term as of this writing (we hope he will be released soon).

The Philippines is one of the countries that criminalized cyber-libel, a term used when someone has posted or emailed something that is untrue and damaging about someone else on the Internet, including in message boards, bulletin boards, blogs, chat rooms, personal websites, social media, social networking sites, or other published articles.

Enemies of press freedom have found a new weapon to torment members or non-members of the Fourth Estate in cyber-libel.

Many of them have steered clear of the traditional libel, the publication of false statements that damage someone’s reputation. It is also referred to as defamation. An opinion is not libel. Libel refers to specific facts that can be proven untrue.

DepEd Regional Director Ramir Uytico’s fireworks against the RMN-Iloilo anchormen are expected to nosedive because they lack not only the corporeality but the absolute proof of malice beyond reasonable doubt and, therefore, not home runs.


I have received an advisory from my health provider, EmblemHealth, about knowing the signs of heart attack and stroke.

Cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of heart attacks and strokes, kills two people each minute in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Know the warning signs of these diseases for American Heart Month. Both can cause permanent damage if not treated immediately.

What to look for: Heart attack symptoms. Symptoms like chest pain, heartburn, and shortness of breath are common. However, according to the CDC, one in five heart attacks are silent, where the patient may have less recognizable symptoms.

A heart attack can also cause cold sweats, fatigue, lightheadedness, nausea, and pain in the shoulder, arm, back, neck, jaw, and teeth, typically on the left side of the body.

Women can experience heart attack symptoms differently than men. Learn more about why women of color are at higher risk for heart disease.

Any pain you’re unsure about, such as a brief or sharp pain in the neck, arm or back, should be checked out by a doctor immediately.

What to look for: Stroke symptoms. A stoke occurs when blood flow to the brain is blocked. The FAST acronym can help you screen for a stroke, by checking a person’s Face, Arms, and Speech, and reacting in Time.

A stroke can cause issues with balance, dizziness, confusion, difficulty understanding words, and trouble seeing. Numbness or weakness on one side of the body can occur in either the face, arms, or legs.

A sudden, severe “thunderclap” headache with no cause can also be a sign of a stroke.

“If you have these symptoms, call 911 immediately for medical attention. According to the CDC, the first three hours after a stroke are critical to get treatment,” advised the EmblemHealth.

(The author, who is now bases in New York City, used to be the editor of two daily newspapers in Iloilo.—Ed)