The law, the maxim says, is harsh, but it is the law. And there is nothing harsher than our existing libel law, of which I?ve written extensively in the past. The Penal Code provisions date from a time when we were under foreign sovereignty and the laws aimed at the preservation of that sovereignty. And so, as any lawyer will tell you, truth is considered no defense in cases of libel.
Well, let me qualify this. Truth is a defense in libel cases if: 1. The imputation pertains to a crime (unless the imputation is made against government employees relating to the discharge of their official or public duties, in which case it doesn?t matter whether the imputation pertains to a crime); and 2. That the publication was made with good motives and for justifiable ends?probable cause for belief in the truth of the statement by the person accused of libel is enough to acquit. After a lengthy, protracted and expensive legal process, our system being imperfect as it is.
Much as I have pointed out the underpinnings of our existing libel law, it is here to stay, and, indeed, will soon be fortified. Our libel laws will become harsher still. Makati Rep. Teodoro L. Locsin Jr. says the House, when the Third Regular Session starts in July, will adopt in full the Senate?s Right to Reply Bill, dispensing with the need for the Bicameral Conference Committee, and that the resulting enrolled bill will then lapse into law without need of the President?s signature.
Unlike Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who famously quipped she eats death threats for breakfast, I am not the sort of writer who glories in libel cases. I have often stated in public that only the stupid get stuck with libel cases. I try not to be stupid, though I can be rash.
On June 4, Jacinto D. Jimenez, Manuel M. Cosico and Eleanor K. G. Rabuy of the Romulo Mabanta Buenaventura Sayoc & De los Angeles law firm sent me a letter. They were writing on behalf of their client, former Jesuit Provincial Romeo J. Intengan, S.J., with reference to my May 18 column, ?Moral intensification.? Saying I had ?moved [beyond] outright disparagement,? and that their client has been experiencing mental anguish and serious anxiety, they demanded, on behalf of their client, satisfaction by June 11.
With regard to my May 18 column, the following passages are the ones Father Intengan?s lawyers zeroed in on as offensive:
?Consider the dilemma of the Jesuits whose past election of Romeo Intengan as their leader has enabled him to use the residual prestige of his having been a past Jesuit Provincial to provide the moral and political underpinnings for the liquidation of the Legal Left. That prestige has accorded him a prominence he has deftly used, politically, and conferred impunity because he is immune from scrutiny.
?Two sides of the same coin: an Archbishop of Manila who can privately tell the President to resign but shrinks from publicly making the call; a former Jesuit Provincial who helps plot the assassination of suspected communists; both wield a power neither deserve or should even be able to wield.?
Father Intengan?s counsel categorically state that it is utterly false for anyone to believe that their client has been complicit in criminal or immoral activities or saying something against the teachings of the Catholic Church. Father Intengan has condemned extrajudicial killings.
Therefore the demand is absolute, specific and clear: for me to issue a formal apology in which I recant my statements (as reproduced above and by his counsel) against Father Intengan.
Bearing in mind the wholesome example of the days of old, when Holy Mother Church only invoked the secular arm?s punishments if straying children refused the paternal correction of Her shepherds, I thank Father Intengan, through the firm of Romulo Mabanta, for this opportunity to recant.
I abjure any and all malicious imputations concerning Father Intengan.
I abhor any statement that fosters the impression he has ever, at any point in his life before or since he entered the priesthood, broken, much less rebelled against the law or our duly constituted authorities, or counseled any violence or rebellion or any word, act, or deed whatsoever that would do harm to any group or individual of any kind for whatever purpose.
I condemn as impious, pernicious and offensive to decency and Christian values, any opinion that is of the stubborn, contrarian (because unwarranted) belief that Father Intengan has, by commission or omission, done anything subversive of faith, morals and the law.
It is a cause of deep regret to me, that I have caused Father Intengan mental anguish and deep anxiety arising from the possible besmirching of his reputation. As this was never my intention, let me put forward a formal apology for what his counsel have classified as unfair, erroneous and wholly-undeserved allegations made against their client.
In testimony to this, as requested by Father Intengan?s counsel, I am excising the offensive passages from the column that caused the good Jesuit such undeserved anguish, and which might serve to besmirch his reputation.
I ask anyone who has reproduced these passages to extirpate them wherever they have been reproduced; let them be anathema.