DOJ drops libel, oral defamation raps vs. shabu lab witness, resigned cop

Lack of probable cause prompted the Department of Justice to dismiss separate oral defamation and libel charges recently against the star witness in the controversial shabu lab case and an equally controversial resigned lawman.

Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Editha Fernandez recommended the dismissal of the complaint for oral defamation filed by then Congressman Cesar Sarmiento against star witness Ernesto Tabor Jr.

The Nov. 27, 2019 resolution, which was released only last week, was also signed by Senior Deputy State Prosecutor Richard Anthony Fadullon and Prosecutor General Benedicto Malcontento.

Sarmiento had complained that during an April 11, 2019 interview before the local media, Tabor had publicly and maliciously uttered slanderous words against him, stating that the complainant was the brains behind an attempt on his life.

The then congressman submitted copies of two local newspapers containing articles about Tabor’s allegations during the press conference.

In his reply, Tabor said that the case should have been filed in Virac, as the alleged slanderous words were spoken before the local media.

He also pointed out that the complainant failed to submit any evidence to the effect, as the newspaper articles are hearsay, and that no evidence was likewise submitted that the media interview was broadcast as far as Metro Manila.

In resolving the complaint, the DOJ said that Section 4 of Republic Act 10071 vests the Secretary of Justice to act directly on any matter within the jurisdiction of the prosecution staff, the regional prosecution office or the provincial or city prosecution office.

“Scouring on the allegations in the complaint, and the newspaper reports, we did not find the unsavory remarks uttered by the respondent and/or quoted by the writers of the news reports,” the DOJ stated.

It pointed out that not only did the complaint fail to offer evidence that the press con was broadcast in Metro Manila, he also did not allege with particularity, the defamatory remarks uttered by the respondent or quote the precise words and phrases being alluded to.

The DOJ stressed that the only evidence submitted by the complaint were hard copies of the two newspapers where the alleged defamatory articles appeared.

“However, only the respondent was charged by the complainant,” it emphasized. “Surprisingly, the reporter, the editor and the publisher of the newspapers who were responsible for the publication of the newspaper articles were not charged.”

“…(W)e cannot simply assume that respondent is the source of the news articles containing defamatory statements, in the absence of evidence to prove the same,” Prosecutor Fernandez concluded.

In the libel case, the same prosecutor also recommended the dropping of the libel complaint filed by the former solon and his chief of staff, Rudy Rojas Jr., against former policeman Vincent Tacorda for lack of probable cause.

The complaint alleged that on April 23, 2019, in a facebook post, Tacorda, with deliberate intent to besmirch the reputation of the complainants, claimed that Sarmiento’s congressional office and his maroon vehicle were being used in illegal drug transactions.

Malice was present, the complainants averred, as the expose was made prior to the gubernatorial race to discredit Sarmiento.

Tacorda, however, asserted that his posts did not categorically identify or tag Sarmiento as a drug personality but just asked whether he knew about the drug transactions being undertaken in his office with the participation of his driver.

In junking the complaint, the DOJ said that the posts read in its entirety did not cast aspersions on both complainants’ character, integrity and reputation.

“In fact, there was no mention of complainant Sarmiento’s name,” it stated, adding that there was no innuendo that complainants were engaged in drug activities or have knowledge thereof.

In finding Tacorda’s statements to be supported with ample bases, the DOJ said it is not inclined to agree with the posturing of the complainants that the respondent is prompted with malicious intent to injure and not in response to a legal duty.

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