Senator Antonio Trillanes IV on Wednesday filed a libel complaint against pro-Duterte blogger Rey Joseph "RJ" Nieto, who runs the blog ThinkingPinoy, over his Facebook post which, citing apparently disputable sources, "insinuated" that the senator was a "narco," or a drug lord.
Trillanes, who is himself facing sedition and coup d'etat raps over allegations he encouraged the military to kill President Rodrigo Duterte, formally filed his complaint with the Pasay City Prosecutor's Office at around 11 a.m. on November 22, two weeks after he first announced he would.
Trillanes told reporters he hoped his complaint against Nieto would serve as a "lesson" for the blogger.
The complaint accused Nieto of libel under the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 and of violations of the libel provisions of the Revised Penal Code, as the Facebook post in question allegedly met all the qualifications for the criminal act.
According to the law, an act can be considered libelous if it imputes crime, vice or defect, whether real or imaginary; be public, malicious, directed at a person, alive or dead, and must tend to cause the dishonor, discredit or contempt of the person defamed.
Trillanes seeks P1 million each for moral and exemplary damages and P250,000 to cover attorney fees.
"Being a very vocal and staunch critic of President Duterte, of whom Respondent Nieto is a self-confessed diehard supporter and defender, Respondent Nieto’s post was clearly made solely for the purpose of besmirching my reputation and maligning my name," read Trillanes' complaint.
The senator has also earlier filed libel and graft complaints against another pro-Duterte personality: Presidential Communications Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson.
It can be recalled that Nieto posted on the ThinkingPinoy Facebook page a short update headlined: "TRUMP CALLS TRILLANES A DRUG LORD," which purports that US President Donald Trump called Trillanes a "little narco," citing as sources two columns from journalists with the Philippine Star and Pilipino Star Ngayon.
Veteran journalist Al Pedroche, the writer of the Pilipino Star Ngayon column which served as a reference for the Philippine Star column by Mary Ann Reyes, took responsibility and said the article was meant as a laughing matter, after Trillanes dismissed it as "fake news" or false information being disseminated under the guise of news.
Pedroche's column was picked up by Reyes in her opinion piece, "A major embarrassment," which was taken down on November 3 as the "supposed information cited in the column has been disputed by various other sources."
Despite Pedroche's apology, Trillanes still did not let Nieto off the hook as the lawmaker pushed through with lodging a libel complaint against the blogger.
And now, not even an apology from Nieto, who has more than a million Facebook followers, can deter Trillanes from pursuing his case. "Wala na. I believe lumagpas na tayo dun sa punto na yun," he told reporters.
"Ngayon kasi kailangan nating magbigay ng leksyon, na habang nirerespeto natin ang freedom of expression at bilang public official ay mataas ng threshold natin diyan, pero kailangan meron kang responsibilidad," he added.
He said he could have accepted it if Nieto had called him names, but the "drug lord" tag was something he took personally.
"Kung tatawagin mo akong drug lord ay ibang usapan yan. I take that personally," he said.
"Kung tawagin niya kong ungas o anuman, it's part of the territory. Pero yung direct allegation na gano'n, I will not allow it," he added.
Being branded a "narco," or a drug lord, was derogatory, Trillanes had said, and was a violation of the libel provision in the anti-cybercrime law.
Trillanes said Nieto “publicly and maliciously alleged, claimed and/or insinuated and made it appear” the he was involved in the proliferation of illegal drugs in the country.
“The said false and malicious claim, allegation and/or insinuation, which respondent ascribed against me, was obviously intended to cause dishonor, discredit and/or contempt against my name,” the senator said.
Trillanes said he “suffered extreme anxiety, wounded feelings, sleepless nights and a slur in his reputation” because of Nieto’s “baseless and malicious imputations.”
Nieto, however, seemed hardly bothered by the threat, saying it was "disappointing to see a lawmaker who is ignorant of the law."
"The allegedly libelous statement contains the word 'reportedly.' I hope the Senator, who appears to have no access to a dictionary, can at least Google what that word means," Nieto said last November 7 when Trillanes first announced to the media that he would be filing libel charges.
Nieto said he wondered if the senator considered a "mere blogger" like him a "threat." To this, the senator called the Internet personality a "minor distraction."
"Masyado naman siyang bilib sa sarili niya kung ganun. I've been up against presidents. Ginagawa ko yung trabaho ko, pero itong ganito kasi minor distraction actually," he said, adding that he only needed to make an example of the case.
"He is a minor distraction to be honest. Kailangan ko lang harapin kasi mamimihasa yan. Kung sa akin, kaya niyang gawin yan, eh ngayon kung gagawin niya sa taong walang accountability ay magiging anarchy itong ating lipunan," Trillanes added.
Trillanes had earlier said he would not include Pedroche as a respondent in his complaint, as he had already apologized.
Nieto was a consultant with the Department of Foreign Affairs and has a radio program with local station DWIZ, where he also drew criticism from journalist groups for seemingly encouraging the presidential spokesperson to throw a hollow block at a reporter.
Nieto, along with Uson, were grilled by lawmakers in a Senate hearing on "fake news" for allegedly spreading falsehoods in their respective, massively-followed social media pages.
GMA News Online has reached out to Nieto for comment.
"My statement will be published on ThinkingPinoy.net. It will also be found on my Facebook page," he said. — MDM, GMA News