CA upholds conviction of Drilon critic over libelous social media posts

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 21 2019 12:09 AM

MANILA--The Court of Appeals has stood by its earlier decision upholding the conviction of an Iloilo City-based journalist over libelous social media posts against Sen. Franklin Drilon.

The CA Former Second Division also defended its decision to impose up to 4 years and 2 months imprisonment on Manuel “Boy” Mejorada, also a former provincial administrator.

In several Facebook and blog posts from 2013 to 2014, Mejorada had accused Drilon of corruption in the construction of the billion-peso Iloilo Convention Center, a road project and a ferry terminal in the province.

The Pasay Regional Trial Court Branch 118 in February 2017 found him guilty of libel and sentenced him to up to 4 years and 2 months imprisonment.

The CA upheld the RTC ruling in September last year, increasing to 4 the counts of libel committed, sentencing him to the same penalty for every count but each sentence to be served “simultaneously.”

In dismissing Mejorada’s motion for reconsideration, the appellate court no longer discussed his arguments, saying “there was no compelling reason to arrive at a different conclusion from what was assessed by this Court.”

But it defended its imposition of the penalty of imprisonment instead of a fine, despite Mejorada’s claim he was a first-time offender.

“While judges may, in the exercise of sound discretion, and taking into consideration the peculiar circumstances of each case, determine whether the imposition of a fine alone would best serve the interest of justice, judges are at the same time duty bound to consider whether forbearing to impose imprisonment would depreciate the seriousness of the offense, work violence on the social order, or otherwise be contrary to the imperative of justice,” the resolution said.

Insisting on a fine as penalty, the Court said, would be to clip the trial court’s discretion.

CA cited 3 circumstances to justify the prison sentence: the barrage of defamatory statements against Drilon, the baseless and scurrilous personal attacks using terms portraying the senator as corrupt, and the ironical and metaphorical language he used in his posts to induce suspicion.

In a statement sent to the media Wednesday, Mejorada vowed to appeal the CA ruling with the Supreme Court.

“I believe there was no libel as the element of injury was not established with the failure of Senator Franklin Drilon to testify,” he said.

“Injury in libel is personal and nobody but the complainant can tell the Court on how he felt about the alleged libelous publications. I am confident this issue on the failure of Senator Drilon will be given due consideration,” he added.

Mejorada also said the ruling will “send shivers down the spines of journalists.”

“Media will be cautious about stepping on the toes of powerful people, and this will result in more self-censorship. It raises the possibility of media being tamed,” he said.