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Ozamis archbishop slapped with P10-M libel suit

June 22, 2010 5:14pm

Being a senior Catholic Church official offers no immunity against a libel suit.

This was learned by Ozamis Archbishop Jesus Dosado after he was slapped with a P10-million libel suit regarding an article in the local diocesan paper.

Businesswoman Agnes Chiong sued Dosado and officials of the weekly diocesan newspaper for a story claiming she abused her household help.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said the suit involved an article in the Malindang Herald News' issue for May 30 to June 5, where household helper Danila Damason was supposedly injured after Chiong allegedly beat her up.

An article on the CBCP news site said the news story was based on a complaint Damason filed with the city’s police station against Chiong.

Dosado is chairman of the board of the Malindang Herald News, a weekly publication of the local church of Misamis Occidental.

Charged together with Dosado were vice chairman of the board Msgr. Maximino Naron; editor-in-chief Fr. Sandy Cometa; and news editor Neptalie Batolenio.

In her affidavit-complaint, Chiong said the diocesan newspaper caused “to publish an article without regard for truth, propriety and fairness; indeed one of a scurrilous, injurious, defamatory and libelous which intention was nothing but to attack, ridicule, malign
her virtue as a person, as a mother, and as businesswoman."

Chiong asked for compensation amounting to P7 million for moral damages and P3 million for exemplary damages.

Counter-affidavits

But the diocesan paper’s editors also filed their counter-affidavits contesting Chiong’s allegations.

“As an individual and priest, I always perform my office in this newspaper because I know that this is a means to an end the humanitarian goal to promote life," Cometa said.

"It is of my personal knowledge and information that the Malindang Herald has never been, ever since its existence, aiming at cutting remarks of any person. Its main objective is to publish the news happening within the jurisdiction, that is, the entire Ozamiz Archdionse," he added.

He added the news item citing police records as source showed the accuracy of the story.

“When I read the news item upon its submission, I was confident that it has a basis since it was premised as to its source, the complaint was registered/made known after a helper was allegedly mauled by her employer," Cometa said.

Batolenio added other reporters who were with him at the police station also got the same news item.

He said he did not know the parties involved in the incident but “since it involves the infliction of injuries by a woman employer [on] her employee," he found it worth reporting.

“With this circumstance, I can therefore state that these radio reporters who covered the said blotter, would broadcast it in their radio program and publish it also in their newspapers," Batolenio said.

“I tried to get the side of Agnes Grace Yap Chiong on the reported incident, it being my procedure as newscaster. I checked with the phone directory and called for an interview of Chiong but the other end, could be an employee/personnel replied that Mrs. Chiong was not around," Batolenio added. - RJAB Jr/KBK, GMANews.TV
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