IT WAS my mother’s birthday and my parents’ wedding anniversary, but the double celebration turned out to be a double misery after my editor in chief and I received a “subpoena,” saying that the president of the company that owns the multi-deck carpark in UST had filed a libel complaint against us.

If only I did not have a scheduled interview with a top Dominican official that day, I would not have come to UST and seen the note tacked on the corkboard of the News section: “Rommel, you have a registered mail in the [UST] post office. They called.”

Nervous with what it could be, I asked Cliff Venzon, my editor in chief then, to accompany me in getting the mail. Our heartbeats became faster when we found out that it was from the Makati Prosecutor’s Office. Upon opening the letter, boom! A libel complaint.

I was only 18 years old and my boss, 20!

It all started when my article was published last January 26, in which I reported on the new case filed by UST against carpark developer Selegna Holdings Corp. and more than 20 of its tenants. The University said Selegna had violated its build-operate-transfer contract with UST.

As expected, Selegna did not like the negative report. But what surprised me was that the libel complainant was not the company, but its president, Edgardo Angeles. The story was about UST and Selegna, and Angeles’ name was just mentioned in passing.

There was no reason for me to be sued for libel because I had no reason to “humiliate” Angeles in public. I don’t even know him personally. In fact, through the many hearings on his complaint, I never met him in the prosecutor’s office. Cliff and I don’t even have a car so we have never used the carpark!

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The Varsitarian has been reporting on similar issues—including other legal battles between Selegna and the University.

Let me get this straight. Contrary to how the complaint would like to make it appear, the ‘V’ was not being used by the University administration in its legal battles against Selegna. The publication is independent; the Campus Journalism Act of 1999 explains that.

Also, the Varsitarian has lasted for 83 great years reporting on issues every Thomasian should know. If the publication is nothing but a publicity arm of the administration, then administration officials and other groups will not be regularly calling the office because of articles they perceive to have cast them in a negative light.

Angeles complained that publishing the story three days before the Quadricentennial events last January was intended to humiliate him before the public whose attention was riveted to UST because of the celebration. But the timing of the issue was not intentional. Because of the Christmas break and its publication cycle (fortnightly), the Varsitarian published the report in its lone issue last January. The ‘V’ is not a daily newspaper.

The story was based on the complaint-affidavit I had obtained from the Manila Regional Trial Court. Because of its legalese, the report had to be written in layman’s terms. The Varsitarian has always sought to get Mr. Angeles’ side many times, but he has always declined.

People said getting a libel complaint is a badge of honor, but actually it’s not. I was congratulated (a lot of times) like a hero, but libel is not really something to be proud of.

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“At least you had your first [libel complaint] while you’re young,” many told me. Well, looking at what happened, it was quite an experience, but still an experience I don’t want to have anymore.

Truth be told, I was not able to take two issues of the Varsitarian home because my name, together with the word “libel,” was published there. My parents did not know my problem until I received the letter from the prosecutor’s office saying that the complaint was “dismissed.”

Indeed, former Senator Aquilino Pimentel, Jr. and former Varsitarian editor in chief Eldric Paul Peredo, our legal counsel and assistant legal counsel, respectively, did a great job in saving us greenhorns from an all-out legal suit.

Perhaps, I should thank Mr. Angeles for three things: First, I realized that I really have a lot of friends for they supported me as I struggled to keep the libel suit a secret from my parents for over four months. Second, the exchange of documents during the hearings gave us an opportunity to obtain some copies of his previous legal suits which we could review. And finally, the complaint made me realize that journalism is really for me.


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