“If you call your opponent a politician, it’s grounds for libel.” –Mark Russell
Years ago, I was charged with libel and ordered arrested. Luckily, I wasn’t home when the police came to arrest me. I am thankful I evaded getting cuffed. If memory serves me right, I began developing conjunctivitis (“sore eyes”) after learning a warrant was issued for my arrest by the Regional Trial Court-Branch 25 (RTC- Branch 25). Afterwards, I sought refuge in a hut in Barangay Calumpang, in Iloilo City’s Molo district.
Thanks to those inside the Hall of Justice, I and my co-defenders managed to post bail immediately.
What happened to former Iloilo Provincial Administrator Manuel Mejorada last Friday should serve as a warning to those charged with a crime: Avoid being arrested on a Friday. If nabbed just before a weekend, there is no chance to post bail and those arrested are forced to spend at least two days and three nights in jail until office operations resume on Monday morning.
In 1993, Panay News columnists Herbert Vego and Teddy Sumaray spent a night in an Iloilo City Police Officer detention cell as a “matter of principle” after they were accused of libel.
In libel cases, the actual trial doesn’t scare journalists—it excites them (akin to being nominated for an Academy Award).
Libel itself is hard to prove; however, being arrested opens the possibility of being harassed and bullied. For Mejorada, he has high blood pressure, which resulted in him being brought to St. Paul’s Hospital instead of being detained at a police station. Were he aware Police Major Jonathan Pinuela of the Provincial Special Operations Group and his team were on their way to his home to conduct an arrest, the former provincial official would have likely spent the night elsewhere.
If Mejorada eluded arrest, police would be forced to return the following Monday.
While I am not privy to the specifics of the cases outgoing Iloilo Governor Arthur Defensor, Sr. filed against Mejorada, the warrant, issued by RTC-Branch 39 Judge Victorino Maniba, Jr. last June 4, was based on five counts of violations to RA 10175, or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012. Prosecutor II Ma. Nazelle A. Biliran-Infante found probable cause in the complaint filed by Defensor.
This is the first time I’m hearing the outgoing government filed a case against a member of the press; in this case, a former editor who began helping candidates in elections. I must admit, Defensor is one of few public officials I personally admire as he reads national and local papers (including the opinion page) and, if he sensed something was inaccurate, he would personally call the writer to make the correction.
However, as a journalist and former editor, my heart goes out to Mejorada.
Alex P. Vidal, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo./WDJ