Monday, June 09, 2008

Bel Cunanan: 'The Firm' diminished by libel case

(via wayback machine Aug. 9, 2003)

MY sister-in-law, the redoubtable Ninez Cacho-Olivares, editor-in-chief and publisher of the Daily Tribune, and I very seldom share the same politics. In fact one day that her views and mine happened to dovetail, former Senate president Jovito Salonga called up immediately to tease me, "Uy, nagkapareho kayo yata ngayon ng viewpoint." But I want to add my voice to the many protesting the way her libel case filed by the President's lawyer, Arthur "Pancho" Villaraza, was handled. Its timing couldn't be more unfortunate for the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

All journalists live daily with the reality of libel, but this one seems to bear all the hallmarks of despotic harassment. The arrest order was served at the ungodly hour of 6 a.m. when the banks are closed. Moreover, the case moved with what a lawyer termed "very uncharacteristic dispatch." A lot is being made of the fact that the chief prosecutor of Makati City, Felicisimo Aspi, came from "The Firm" and was a classmate and fraternity brother of Villaraza. In fact it's no secret that "The Firm" is trying to get Aspi appointed to the Court of Appeals.

Then, too, the libel case consists of 19 counts of the same mother charge, and as lawyers have observed, it would involve 19 arraignments for Ninez before the Makati Regional Trial Court, and the bail becomes quite prohibitive (almost 200,000 pesos). The 19 counts may seem quite intimidating, but they do not seem proportionate to the much-depleted reputation of Villaraza's law office in legal circles. "The Firm" ought to be worried about the way it's being spoken of in whispers.

19 counts of the same mother charge? I hear it's now up to 48 counts.

This is the same law firm that filed 48 different libel complaints against me and my reporters and — this is on record — continues to fight against the consolidation of the cases, which then executive judge of the Makati RTC, now in the appellate court, the Arroyo state prosecutors and the Firm made sure wouldn’t be consolidated .

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