November 28 2017
The City Prosecutor of Quezon City dismissed the libel complaint filed by a former lawyer against GMA News Anchor Mike Enriquez and GMA Network Chairman and CEO Felipe L. Gozon due to lack of factual and legal basis.
The complaint was filed by Hector Centeno, who accused Enriquez, Gozon, and three others of committing libel after a story about his continued practice of law despite being disbarred was aired in the ‘Sumbungan ng Bayan’ segment of GMA’s news program 24 Oras last May 30, 2016.
Centeno claimed that he stopped practicing law after his disbarment in August 2008. He also alleged that the defendants downloaded pictures from his Facebook account without his consent, thus ‘hacking’ his account.
However, Assistant City Prosecutor Ronald Jalmanzar disagreed with Centeno.
In his Resolution dated 13 July 2017, Jalmanzar found that the said Sumbungan ng Bayan episode was a “fair and factual report, without any comments or remarks, to inform the public of the non-authority of the complainant to engage into a practice of law.”
The practice of law is defined as “any activity, in or out of court, which requires the application of law, legal procedures, knowledge, training, and experience.”
The defendants, according to the Prosecutor, were able to establish the factuality and accuracy of the report through numerous circumstances. A GMA reporter verified the complaint against Centeno and interviewed Centeno in his office where clients were present. A signage was visibly seen in his office, stating his name as a lawyer and notary public despite having been disbarred way back in August 2008. Centeno also earns a living by doing legwork through paying clients’ realty taxes, securing their tax clearances and certified copies of their titles and tax declarations. He likewise appeared before the BIR and assisted clients in their business problems with SSS.
The Prosecutor noted that there was no reckless disregard of the truth in the questioned episode as the narration of facts was supported by verified data. The Prosecutor also said that personal hurt or embarrassment or offense is not automatically equivalent to defamation.
The Prosecutor also ruled that there was no material proof that would support Centeno’s claim that his Facebook account was hacked by the defendants. Despite the complainant’s contention that he uploaded the photos viewable by “friends only”, the Prosecutor said that there is no assurance that the photos can no longer be viewed by another user who is not Facebook friends with the source of content. Thus, Centeno intended to renounce his privacy rights to the photo once it has been uploaded on the Internet.