Thursday, July 27, 2006

Coyiuto sues Journal Group for US$19.3M libel

Libel alert from the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility:

Two executives of an insurance company recently filed a Php1-billion (US$19.3-million) libel case against officials and editors of the Journal Group of Publications.

Philippine Journalists, Inc. (PJI) for allegedly publishing malicious articles portraying them as “corrupt tax cheats.”

Roberto Coyiuto Jr., chairman of the Prudential Guarantee and Assurance Inc., and Celestino Ang, PGAI senior vice president, filed an eight-page complaint with the Manila Prosecutors Office.

One of the points raised by the complainants was that the PJI articles claimed that Coyiuto and his company failed to pay Php800 million (US$15.5 million) in tax liability for the years 1995 and 1996. But the tax liability, which amounted to only Php151.2 million (US$2.9 million), had already been settled with the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) in October 2000, Coyiuto and Ang said in their complaint.

Named respondents in the libel case were the board of directors of the Philippine Journalist Inc., namely Augusto Villanueva, editor in chief; Paul Icamina, managing editor; Saturnino Sofranes, associate editor; Ma. Teresa Lardizabal, news editor; and Jun Pisco, city editor of People’s
Journal Tonight.

The PGAI executives said they sued for libel after PJI officials refused to rectify their malicious articles that came out in People’s Tonight entitled “Tax raps vs Coyiuto dead?” last 08 June and “Why is BIR not after Coyiuto?” in People’s Journal on 28 June.

“The article was maliciously written, composed, and published by respondents with the obvious intention of impugning and holding to public derision and ridicule the reputations of the complainants,” the PGAI officials claimed in their affidavit.

Coyiuto added that the articles cannot be considered as “fair and true report(s)” but rather acts of “rumor-mongering,” aimed at tarnishing their reputation because the PJI, if only it wanted to write the story factually and without malice, could easily mobilize its reporters and resources to
check its veracity before the bureau.

Coyiuto’s lawyers, last 28 June, demanded upon Villanueva to rectify the false allegations contained in the articles but “he and other respondents refused to rectify their malicious publication thereby highlighting the criminal purpose and intent to malign us.”

In a phone interview with the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility last 25 July, Villanueva said they haven’t received any libel notice on Coyiuto’s complaint.

According to Villanueva, they were asked by Coyiuto’s lawyers to make a public apology to resolve the said inaccurate reports.

“In the interest of the tax-paying public, we published Coyiuto’s reaction letter to the said articles,” Villanueva said. “We even asked Coyiuto to publicly explain how he managed to pay his tax liabilities amounting to P800-million.”

When asked about the authenticity of the figures that came up in the said articles, Villanueva said they have not received the official account from the BIR.

“We decided to publish the articles anyway,” Villanueva added, stressing that their facts came from a very reliable source inside the BIR. – with reports from Manila Standard Today and BusinessWorld

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