PEP to seek reconsideration of DOJ Secretary's resolution in the Richard Gutierrez libel suit

The Department of Justice—which on July 30, 2009, dismissed Richard Gutierrez's 25-million-peso libel suit against the Philippine Entertainment Portal—today reversed itself.


The Philippine Entertainment Portal (PEP) received today a justice department resolution, signed by Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera, directing the Makati prosecutor's office to file a libel case against three PEP staffers: its editor-in-chief, managing editor, and staff writer.

This is the statement of PEP's lawyers:

"The Philippine Entertainment Portal, through its counsel Yorac Arroyo Chua Caedo and Coronel Law Firm, received today a copy of the 4 December 2009 Resolution of Justice Secretary Agnes VST Devanadera reversing and setting aside Associate Prosecution Attorney Mary Jane Sytat's dismissal of the libel complaint filed by Richard Gutierrez against PEP Editor-in-Chief Jo-Ann Maglipon, Managing Editor Karen Pagsolingan, and Staff Writer Ferdinand Godinez.

"The DOJ Resolution directed the Prosecutor of Makati City to file the appropriate information for libel against the three Respondents.

"PEP intends to file a motion for reconsideration and to seek any other remedies available to it under the law. Under DOJ Circular No. 70, an aggrieved party may file a motion for reconsideration within 10 days from receipt of the Resolution.

"PEP reiterates its position that the article subject of the libel complaint failed to establish any of the elements constituting the crime of libel and there is no probable cause to file an information for libel against the respondents. PEP maintains that the article was not defamatory because it did not impute any crime, vice or defect to Gutierrez or to any other person; there was no identification of the person alleged to be defamed and Gutierrez based his complaint on an article published not in PEP but in another website www.celebritypulp.com. Further, PEP stands firm in the position that the most important element of libel—malice—was also absent.

"Gutierrez, by his own admission, is a celebrity and for an article about him to be considered libelous, actual malice or a high degree of awareness of its falsity must be first be proven. PEP relies on settled decisions of the Supreme Court that mere error, inaccuracy or even falsity does not prove actual malice.

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"This fight is meant to protect press freedom—which includes freedom from self-censorship and prior restraint. As with other journalists, PEP believes that to impose sanctions on the press for every little inaccuracy in their reporting would be tantamount to suppression of press freedom, for the press then would be afraid to publish anything for fear of being subjected to criminal and civil prosecution."

THE BACK STORY. On April 13, 2009, matinee idol Richard Gutierrez filed a 25-million-peso libel case at the Makati Regional Trial Court against PEP editor-in-chief Jo-Ann Maglipon, managing editor Karen Pagsolingan, and staff writer Bong Godinez.

In a television interview, Richard said, "Ang sama lang ng ginawa nila. Ngayon, we have no option but to do this legal action. We want to get to the bottom of this. Sino ba talaga yung taong behind this? Sino ba talaga ang source? Yun lang naman." (CLICK HERE to read related article.)

PEP's editor-in-chief responded by pulling out the controversial article within minutes of being informed that there were questions about its facts. Less than 24 hours later, PEP issued a letter of apology addressed to Gutierrez and other actors mentioned in the article. And within 48 hours, PEP called for a tri-media press conference, again to apologize to same parties.

Despite this, Richard proceeded to file a libel suit against PEP. Two weeks after the case was filed, or April 28, 2009, PEP, having completed its detailed investigation, released a four-part article on the incident, noting where it erred and where it did not.

In Part 3 of the April 28 article written by PEP editor-in-chief Jo-Ann Maglipon, she categorically cleared Richard's name. She noted that there was no "fracas, squabble, heated argument" with former co-star Michael Flores. The article read: "PEP concludes that no altercation, squabble, heated argument, or fracas occurred inside the Oceana restaurant on the evening of March 28 and the early morning of March 29. Richard Gutierrez did not have a heated argument with anybody. He and Michael Flores did not get into more than the usual social exchange between acquaintances."

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However, the article stated, there were people on the site, including actor Epy Quizon, who said that there was, indeed, a gun. This was the "gun-toting incident" referred to in the original article.

PEP's editor-in-chief stated in Part 4 of the April 28 article: "Once more, we make it clear that we never, at any time in the original article, said that Richard, or anybody, pointed a gun at anybody. We know that to be a criminal act. All the article ever said was that there may have been 'a gun-toting incident.' In other words, a gun may have been carried by someone at the party."

After more than three months—July 30, 2009 to be exact—the DOJ dismissed Richard's suit for "lack of probable cause."

In the resolution written by acting Makati City Prosecutor Mary Jane W. Sytat, the absence of malice in the report was affirmed. (CLICK HERE to read the article.)

"Indeed, there is no mistaking that respondents committed a lapse in their reportage of what actually transpired on the night of March 28, 2009. However, this lapse does not constitute an imputation of a discreditable act by either complainant, or his alleged adversary, Michael Flores, and neither was it shown that this was committed with malice. Being a public figure, complainant ought not to be onion-skinned and be able to absorb the thrust of public scrutiny."

Today, the DOJ reversed itself.


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