SC upholds Drilon critic's libel conviction, prison sentence

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 07 2019 04:37 PM

MANILA – The Supreme Court has upheld the libel conviction of journalist Manuel “Boy” Mejorada, a critic of Sen.Franklin Drilon, over defamatory posts accusing the senator of corruption.

In a resolution dated June 10 but released by the Drilon camp to the media Wednesday, the high court affirmed the Court of Appeals’ decision finding Mejorada guilty of 4 counts of libel, sentencing him to up to 4 years and 2 months in prison.

“After a judicious study of the case, the court resolves to deny the instant petition and affirm the September 18, 2018 decision and the March 7, 2019 resolution of the Court of Appeals,” the resolution said.

“As correctly ruled by the CA, the elements of libel were sufficiently established by the prosecution,” it added.

The appellate court had ruled that Mejorada’s articles portrayed the senator as intervening in various Iloilo City projects for his personal gain, showing an intent to injure Drilon’s reputation.

It also found malice in Mejorada’s allegations because they were “not fair and true reports” but are “plain and simple baseless accusations,” which he failed to substantiate.

In several Facebook and blog posts from 2013 to 2014, Mejorada, a former Iloilo provincial administrator, 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 City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 118 in February 2017 found him guilty of libel and sentenced him to up to 4 years and 2 months in jail. 

The CA upheld the RTC ruling in September last year and stood by its decision in March this 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 affirming the appellate court’s decision, the high court said “it was not necessary to establish that the publication was motivated by any malice since the articles were not privileged communication or fair comments; thus, malice is presumed.”

It also agreed with the CA in affirming the penalty of imprisonment rather than a fine despite an administrative circular recommending that a fine is preferred over imprisonment in libel cases.

“The Court did not remove the discretion of the trial courts to impose imprisonment if, under the circumstances, a fine was insufficient to meet the demands of substantial justice or would depreciate the seriousness of the offense,” the court said.

In a statement, Drilon welcomed the ruling.

“We welcome the High Court’s decision. I have nothing else to leave behind except my reputation, so I am grateful for this favorable decision,” Drilon said.

ABS-CBN News is still trying to get Mejorada’s side.

But in a statement to reporters shortly after the release of the CA resolution in March, he said his conviction would “send shivers down the spines of journalists.”

He added he would contest the CA ruling citing the absence of the element of injury because Drilon did not testify.

But the Supreme Court in its resolution said “other prosecution witnesses sufficiently established the damage caused by the publication of the articles.”