SC Justice files P1M libel suit vs multi-awarded journalist

By Dateline Philippines

Supreme Court Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco, Jr. filed 13 counts of libel against multi-awarded, veteran journalist Marites Danguilan-Vitug.

In a 10-page complaint filed before the Office of the City Prosecutor of Manila, Velasco alleged that Vitug insinuated in her on-line article that he breached the provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct by engaging in partisan politics to boost his son’s congressional bid in Marinduque province.

Velasco insisted that Vitug’s article entitled “SC Justice in Partisan Politics” which appeared in the homepage for 13 consecutive days starting December 3, 2009 was intended to besmirch his and his family’s reputation as well as to undermine the candidacy of his son Lord Allan, in their home province.

“Ms. Vitug publicly accused me in her Newsbreak online article…and portrayed me as an unethical person without delicadeza who has wantonly violated the Code of Judicial Conduct and existing laws. Said malicious imputations were plainly directed against me and had caused me, my wife and children, especially Allan, irreparable dishonor, discredit, and contempt,” the complaint said.

Vitug, in the said article, stated that Velasco’s son, Lord Allan is running against Edmund Reyes Jr., scion of a political family, for the lone congressional seat in Marinduque and that the magistrate “is shaping up to be a key figure in his son’s uphill battle” although he denied it.

The journalist also cited claims of some residents in Marinduque that Velasco is actively helping his son in organizing his ticket by inviting local officials to run within his son as council with a promise to fund their campaign expenses.

A barangay captain identified as Marife Pastrana was quoted in the article as saying: “ He (Justice Velasco) called to offer me to run for councilor with his son and to attend a meeting in his residence. I couldn’t attend the meeting and I declined his offer.”

“He said I shouldn’t worry about campaign expenses, he’ll take care of the funds,” Pastrana said.

The article added that another barangay captain, Norma Villar, got the same call from Velasco but she declined the offer.

Vitug also wrote that Pastrana was one able to attend a meeting in Velasco’s residence that was hosted by Lord Allan for barangay officials.

During the said meeting, Pastrana said she saw the justice talking to some of the leaders, shaking their hands and asking their support for his son’s political bid.

The article also stated that Justice Velasco voted with the majority in the SC’s decision on the Quinto case that allowed appointive officials to stay in their posts even after the filing of their candidacy, which was beneficial to his son.

The SC later reversed its decision on the Quinto case and abandoned the ruling with finality.

In his complaint, Velasco denied Vitug’s insinuation that the Quinto ruling benefited his son as the latter immediately resigned from his post as provincial administrator after he filed his certificate of candidacy on December 1, 2009.

“The insinuation that I concurred with the majority in the Quinto case to benefit Allan reeks with malice. Ms. Vitug made it appear that my vote in the case was not predicated on the obtaining factual and legal premises, as required by law and the Rules of Court, but to favor particularly my son, a situation which if true, is unethical and a breach of the Code of Judicial Conduct,” Velasco said.

As to the claim of Villar, Velasco noted that the barangay captain already denied being offered by him to run as municipal council under his son’s ticket in her sworn statement.

Velasco also denied Pastrana’s claim that he solicited her support for Allan since he is aware that such solicitation “constitutes a prohibited partisan political activity.”

“Ms. Vitug wrote about my having invited one Marife Pastrana to attend a purported political meeting in the residence of my wife, Lorna, in Torrijos, Marinduque. This is a lie, an absolute falsehood. I have never invited Ms. Pastrana to any meeting, let alone a political one, as I make it a point not to involve myself in any activity which may be perceived, even remotely, as political to promote the candidacy of a son, relative or friend,” Velasco stressed.

The publication of the said article, according to Velasco, was attended by malice considering that it was Reyes who referred Pastrana to Vitug.

“It may thus be safely deduced that Edmund O. Reyes, Jr. engaged the services of Ms. Vitug purposely to write derogatory matters against me,” the magistrate said.

Velasco also said he granted the persistent requests of Vitug to interview him on December 2, 2009, a day before the article was posted on-line but the journalist did not confront him on the claims of Pastrana and Villar concerning politics in Marinduque.

“Ms. Vitug’s deportment is highly unethical and improper as, with ill-designs, she tried to obtain information from me and yet did not give me the sporting opportunity to refute or explain the allegations which became the subject of her Dec. 3, 2009 article “SC Justice in Partisan Politics,” Velasco said.

Aside from being liable for libel, Velasco said Vitug also violated the provisions of the Journalist’s Code of Ethics which requires news to be presented fairly and honestly and to set aside personal motives and interest in performing his or her duties as a journalist.

Velasco is seeking moral, exemplary and other damages in the amount of P1 million from Vitug.

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