FOR “LACK of probable cause,” the Makati City prosecutor’s office has dismissed the libel complaint filed by the owner of the private firm operating the UST carpark against two Varsitarian staff members.

In a resolution dated July 5, assistant city prosecutor Edmund Seña cleared associate editor Rommel Marvin Rio and former editor in chief Cliff Harvey Venzon. “This office could not find malice on the part of respondents (Rio and Venzon) in so far as the subject news article is concerned,” the resolution stated.

Former senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr., the Varsitarian’s chief legal counsel for the case, said: “The resolution of the investigating fiscal, dismissing the libel case, boosts the free exercise of campus journalists today.”

Last February 16, Selegna Holdings Corp. president and chief executive officer Edgardo Angeles filed a three-page complaint claiming that the publication’s Jan.uary 26 news article, “UST sues carpark operator, tenants,” was “patently libelous and written in the guise of news reporting.”

“The [article] was intended to destroy, damage, and besmirch and cause dishonor, discredit, ridicule, and contempt to the good name of Selegna Holdings Corp., Asian Construction and Development Corp., the undersigned (Angeles), and my whole family,” Angeles stated in the libel complaint.

In the news story, Rio reported that UST had sued the firm, as well as more than 20 carpark tenants, last December for violating the “build-operate-transfer” contract for the carpark building as well as contracts of lease.

The “report appears to be factual. Venzon and Rio were merely reporting on the complaint filed by UST against Selegna, et .al,” the resolution of the Makati prosecutor said. “It appears that the news article [that is the] subject matter of the case was a fair and true report of the complaint filed by UST against Selegna et. al.”

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In the complaint, Angeles faulted the Varsitarian for publishing the article three days before the Quadricentennial celebration “in order to give the widest publicity and readership,” and claimed the article was “done in bad faith” and “calculated to cause maximum damage.”

In their joint counter-affidavit, however, Rio and Venzon contended that the Varsitarian is not a daily newspaper as it is published only twice every month.

“It is an established and accepted tenet in journalism that newness or the currency of stories is usually affected by and relative to the frequency of publication. For the Varsitarian, therefore, what took place 28 days before the publication date was still news,” the ‘V’ staff members said.

Angeles also claimed the intention of Rio, then a news writer, was to “mislead and influence the minds of the readers” into believing that Selegna’s case is similar to that of College Assurance Plan and Pacific Plans, which had sought “corporate rehabilitation” from the courts.

But Rio and Venzon said the article only stated that Selegna sought judicial intervention to be allowed corporate rehabilitation, and that the two pre-need firms were only cited as examples of cash-strapped businesses.

The two staff members added that Angeles' name was only mentioned in passing and his unnamed children were stated only as having obtained “favorable rental rates.”

“Complainant (Angeles) failed to show that these statements were not accurate reports from the complaint filed by UST against Selegna, et.al. to the Regional Trial Court in Manila. Hence, [these] could not be considered as libelous statements,” the resolution stated.

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The resolution also agreed with Rio and Venzon on their claim that the report was a simplified and “laymanized” version of UST’s complaint against Selegna, and appropriate for the readers of the Varsitarian.

“[The resolution] means that people who are criticized by campus journalists shouldn’t be onion-skinned and should seek ways to address the grievances by exercising their right to reply,” Pimentel said.

“Freedom of speech is a sacred right and it should never be curtailed,” he added.

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