Mejorada to appeal guilty libel verdict

Manuel Mejorada

FORMER Iloilo provincial administrator Manuel “Boy” Mejorada will appeal the decision of the Regional Trial Court in Pasay City convicting him for four counts of libel filed by Senator Franklin Drilon.

In a statement, Mejorada said he will file a motion for reconsideration within 15 days.

“If this MR is denied, we will appeal the case all the way to the Supreme Court because it involves matters of law especially on the fact that the complainant, Senator Drilon, did not testify during trial to affirm and attest to his complaint affidavit,” Mejorada said.

“This is a temporary defeat for truth and justice,” he added.

RTC Branch 118 of Pasay City handed down the guilty verdict on Feb. 20, 2017.

In the copy of the court decision dated Feb. 1, 2017 and signed by Presiding Judge Rowena Nieves Tan, the court sentenced Mejorada to suffer the penalty of prison correcional in its medium period or an imprisonment from two years and four months and one day, as minimum, to four years and two months as maximum.

“The court is not convinced on Mejorada’s defense that his statements were fair comments based on established and documented facts and his publication of such was a legitimate exercise of his freedom of speech,” the decision reads.

The court also said: “The doctrine of fair comment means that while in general every discreditable imputation publicly made is deemed false, because every man is presumed innocent until his guilt is judicially proved, and every false imputation is deemed malicious, nevertheless, when the discreditable imputation is directed against a public person in his public capacity, it is not necessarily actionable. In order that such discreditable imputation to a public official may be actionable, it must either be a false allegation of fact or a comment based on a false supposition. If the comment is an expression of opinion, based on established facts, then it is immaterial that the opinion happens to be mistaken, as long as it might be reasonably be inferred from the facts.”

Drilon’s charges stemmed from Mejorada’s Jan. 14, 2014 posts on his Facebook account and his WordPress blog, Mejorada’s Point of View:

  • Posted in FB pictures of earth-filling project in the Iloilo Circumferential Road in Ungka, Pavia entitled “Drilon’s version of the Macapagal Boulevard – grossly overpriced”
  • The great ferry terminal robbery attempt (blog/Jan 15, 2014)
  • Drilon’s Midas Touch (blog/Jan 29, 2014)
  • Putting Safety on the Line – the Iloilo Convention Center (blog/Sept. 30, 2013).

The online posts exposed alleged shenanigans in big ticket infrastructure projects Drilon facilitated for Iloilo.

The posts claimed that the projects were overpriced and benefitted Drilon and other government officials.

 

‘SAD’

In as statement, Mejorada said he feels sad “not for myself, but for freedom of the press, and transparency and accountability,” after the RTC handed down the guilty verdict.

“The anomalies that I wrote about four years ago are now becoming more apparent as the general public gets to see more of the Iloilo Convention Center (ICC) and other infrastructure projects which were overpriced. The ICC, in particular, is still unfinished even after the national government spent more than P700 million for a facility that was originally pegged at P200 million. Worse, the ICC was leased to a private operator for only an average of P2.6 million a year over a period of 25 years in a highly anomalous procurement process.”

He added that the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) undervalued the ICC at only P330 million in setting the minimum floor price of 1% of the asset’s value, or P3.3 million a year. TIEZA hid the fact that the total project cost had exceeded P700 million.

“Also, I have finally obtained documents that show the bidding process wasn’t strictly followed, and the award of the contract was illegal and void. DPWH only recently released documents showing that the geo-technical soil testing was really for the purpose of ascertaining the load bearing capacity of the project site, and not a confirmatory test as claimed by then DPWH secretary Jesus Singson.”

Mejorada said the papers prove that “my assertion that the safety issues were set aside when DPWH went ahead with the bidding before the results of the geo-technical survey was released. Structural engineering practice requires that the design should await the outcome of the tests before this is finalized. “

“Those who travel on the Diversion Road and the Circumferential Road will also see for themselves how these were overpriced and the finished product still substandard.”

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