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Piñol sues newsman over ‘libelous’ FB post

Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol has filed a cyber-libel complaint against a Baguio City-based journalist for alleging in a Facebook post that the official got richer by P21 million.

Named respondent in the complaint filed Wednesday was Frank Cimatu, who uploaded on his Facebook account a post that said: "Agri sec got rich by P21-M in 6 months. Bird flu pa more."

Piñol, in a statement, said Cimatu's post was based on what he called a "sloppy" report from the Philippine Center of Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) that showed his net worth increased by P21 million on 2016 from 2009, the last time he filed a Statement of Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) as a government official.

The PCIJ report said the agriculture chief's net worth rose by a "fantastic P21,956,632.23," from P3,643,000 in 2009 to P25,599,632.23" in December 2016.

"Cimatu may have forgotten that I was out of government from 2010 to 2016 and that during the period I was involved in agricultural activities funded by a Land Bank loan," Piñol said in his statement.

Piñol's lawyer, Israelito Torreon, told GMA News Online that the agriculture secretary spent his time outside public office developing his "Manok Pinoy" project, and that the increase in his net worth is not money but "biological or farm assets."

Moreover, Piñol said he filed his latest SALN in December 2016, months before the bird flu crisis began.

"Cimatu failed to take into account that, while there was really no P21-M in cash or properties acquired during the first six months that I was with government, the SALN in question was filed in December 2016 while the Bird Flu outbreak occurred in August this year," he said.

Piñol said he will also file a civil case, one that would demand damages, against Cimatu next week in Kidapawan City, North Cotabato.

Reached for comment, Cimatu told GMA News Online that he was advised by his lawyer not to comment on the matter.

Cimatu, who submits stories to Baguio Chronicle and Rappler, posted the statement in question on September 24. It has garnered 204 reactions and 13 shares on the social media platform so far, and in the comments section, the agriculture secretary personally responded to Cimatu's claim.

Piñol commented that the post is an example of "crab mentality" and is "very libelous."

"your post is very libelous. ano ibig mo sabihin sa "bird flu pa more?" kumita ako sa bird flu? napaka gago mo! magkita nga tayo para magkaalaman," Piñol's comment read.

"as a former journalist myself, i am pained by this accusation. all the while i thought that my former brothers in the profession were happy and proud with the performance of a former journalist as cabinet secretary. mali pala ako. it looks like some are just waiting for a chance to pounce on me. crab mentality in its worse form," he added.

In the comments, Piñol further said Cimatu is "utterly careless and irresponsible as a journalist." —KBK, GMA News

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