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Prosecutor’s Resolution

April 25, 2000 · 


Republic of the Philippines
Department of Justice
Davao City


– versus – FOR: LIBEL


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R E S 0 L U T I 0 N

This is a complaint for Libel filed by Davao City Mayor Benjamin C. de Guzman against Father Shay Cullen, an Irish Catholic Missionary and the President and Executive Director of People’s Recovery, Empowerment and Development Assistance (PREDA) Foundation Inc., based in Olongapo City.

The long and short of the mayor’s complaint is that sometime on 8 September 1999, the respondent, in conspiracy with unidentified members /officers of PREDA Foundation Inc., allegedly caused the writing, circulation and publication of a scurrilous, injurious, defamatory and libelous letter directed against his person and against his profession as a lawyer and public official. The letter, according to the mayor, is defamatory because it accuses him , as Mayor of Davao City, of harboring vigilantes who murdered street children. The letter too, said the mayor, suggests that the killing of malnourished, abandoned, vulnerable, and defenseless street children by organized crime of motorcycle riding men is a daily occurrence in City of Davao under his administration.

The mayor further avers that the respondents were prompted, not by a sense of moral duty, but by personal ill-will, spite and/or malice when they sent and circulated the letter in question for no other purpose than to destroy his reputation and to discredit and ridicule him as a public official before the bar of public opinion. He likewise avers that the ill-effects of the malicious publication are shown by the negative responses that he had received from people all over the world, expressing belief in Father Cullen’s baseless allegations, even calling the incident as shameful,” heinous,” and unequivocally barbaric.”

The letter in question reads:

“Dear Mayor de Guzman,

The cold blooded murder of street children Royroy and Mamay in public on llustre St. near the Galaxy theater in your city on Jul 6, 1999, your approval of ‘Secret Marshals’ as reported in TODAY, the national newspaper August 8, 1999, page 4 and the eyewitness reports of many children and the research of social workers and the commission on human rights together presents credible evidence that ‘DeathSquads’ are loose in Davao City murdering and harassing street children allegedly with the tacit approval of your administration.

During a meeting of social workers and street children with your city administrator in your office on 19 July this year, the child who is a witness to the murder of Royroy and Mamay by the men on black motorcycles, clearly recognized one of the killer gunmen in City Hall.

This shooting and harassment of street children must stop. It is a direct violation of Philippine law, International law, and The Convention on the Rights of the Child. As city mayor you will be held responsible before the International Community for these atrocities against children.

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If this is a method of curbing crime in your city, then it is the most cowardly and dastardly action heard of. Picking on malnourished, abandoned, vulnerable and defenseless street children, is the worst of crimes.

Shay Cullen Mssc.
Founder and President
PREDA Foundation

As the names of the other respondents are not known to the mayor,, only Father Shay Cullen (hereafter respondent) was subpoenaed and directed to submit, as he did submit, an 18 page, Counter-Affidavit. The substance of his defense , as summarized by the respondent himself, is as follows:


35. In Summary, the matters stated in the letter of Fr. Shay Cullen have been shown to be true and not a fabrication. They were written with an honest, justifiable, good motive and reason, namely to prevent more shooting and harassment of youth and children;

36. That the libel case was brought only against the defendant when others had made similar letters of petition and media publicized similar appeals and pleas. That its aim is to punish and silence the defendant for his temerity in writing in a frank and outspoken way and as a warning to intimidate others and deter them from criticizing the complainant;

37. That the complainant being a public figure of influence is the proper authority figure to address with such letters of appeal for justice but that the libel case is being used as a device to dissuade intimidate and stifle outspokenness and that such use is an unconstitutional restraint on the freedom of speech and lawful appeals. For such a libel case to prosper would be an undemocratic denial of a constitutional right;

38. That the complainant failed to show proof and convincing evidence that there was substantial untruth in the letter or that there was malice, in fact the contents of the letter show otherwise;

39. That the phrases and words complained of by the complainant are not the original words of the letter of defendant but are a paraphrase and interpretation and a speculation as to their ordinary meaning to the point of complaining about something that was not written in the text of the letter but which was imagined to the meaning.

Thereafter, the mayor submitted a Reply-Affidavit, while the respondent later submitted a Rejoinder.

Art. 353 of the Revised Penal Code defines libel in this wise:

“Art. 353. Definition of libel. A libel is a public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, or omission , condition, status, or circumstance tending to cause dishonor, discredit, or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead.

For an imputation to be libelous, the following requisites must concur:

1. It must be defamatory;
2. It must be malicious;
3. If must be given publicity;
4. The victim must be identifiable.

Considering the admissions of the respondent that he was the author of the letter in question and that the person referred to in his letter is none other than the mayor himself, and considering his other admission that he published or caused the publication of the said letter, ” principal issues that need to be resolved are: whether or not the aforementioned letter is defamatory, and whether or not, it is malicious.

The test to determine the defamatory character of the words used has been laid down by the Supreme Court in the following manner, viz:

“Words calculated to induce suspicion are sometimes more effective to destroy reputation than false charges directly made. Ironical and metaphorical language is a favored vehicle for slander. A charge is sufficient if the words used are calculated to induce the readers to suppose and understand that the person or persons against whom they were uttered were guilty of certain offenses, or are sufficient to impeach their honesty , virtue or reputation or to hold the person or persons up to public ridicule (U.S. vs. O’Connel,,37 Phil. 767).,

A careful examination of the letter in question will show the injurious nature and character of the amputations made against the mayor. The statement, nay accusation, that: ” Death Squads are loose in Davao City murdering and harassing street children allegedly with the tacit approval of your administration is by any stretch of the imagination defamatory. It is defamatory because the letter or the writer thereof, accuses the mayor of being hand in glove with the Death Squads that murdered street children. In its plain, natural and ordinary meaning, the afore cited statement simply means that the mayor approved,! impliedly though, the killing or murder and the harassment of street children in Davao City by Death Squads – an accusation that certainly constitutes an offense under existing laws.

Under Republic Act No. 7160 , otherwise known as the Local Government Code of 1991, the City Mayor is duly bound, among other things, to (a) enforce all laws and ordinances relative to the governance of the city, (b) to act as the deputized representative of the National Police Commission, formulate the peace and order plan of the city, and upon its approval, implement the same, and (c) to call upon the appropriate law enforcement agencies to suppress disorder, riot, lawless violence, rebellion or sedition, or to apprehend violators of the low when public interest so requires

When the respondent circulated the letter not only in the Philippines, but around the globe, and portrayed the City Mayor of Davao as a public official who tacitly approved the killing and the harassment of street children by Death Squads, the respondent in effect publicly accused the mayor, not only of shirking his duties and responsibilities under Republic Act No. 7160, but also of violating Art. 208 of the Revised Penal Code which reads:

“Art. 208. Prosecution of Offenses; negligence and tolerance. – The penalty of prison correccional in its minimum period and suspension shall be imposed upon any public officer, or officer of the law, who, in dereliction of the duties of his office, shall maliciously refrain from instituting prosecution for the punishment of violators of the law, or shall tolerate the commission of offenses.”

Verily, the imputation of an offense by the respondent against the mayor is sufficient to impeach his integrity, virtue, honesty and reputation as a public official. And the explanation of the respondent that he did not imply that the mayor was coddling murderers of street children, or that he wrote the letter with good motive, can not erase the negative impression already created in the minds of those who favorably responded to his letter, not a few of which, are nationals of foreign countries.

And while it is true, as pointedly asserted by the respondent, that nowhere in his letter did he use the words “harboring vigilantes” (the words vigilantes and harboring do not appear in the letter sued upon), yet, a once over of the 18 page Counter-Affidavit of the respondent would seem to validate the claim of the mayor that indeed, the respondent accused or portrayed him of harboring vigilantes out to murder street children.

Paragraph 11 of the Counter-Affidavit reads:

“l1. That respondents were disturbed by the TODAY report and moved by the letter appealing for help from Kabiba and Tambayan in Davao and the report that the minor had witnessed the shooting and had been harassed was able to see one of the suspected vigilantes walking about City Hall, it is only reasonable, based on the reports coming from reputable and credible sources to conclude that someone in the administration could possibly and even allegedly gave tacit approval to the vigilantes since one of their members who had actually done the shooting was freely and unafraid to walk around the premises.”

The next issue to be resolved is whether or not the letter is malicious. The respondent maintains that there was no malice on his part when he wrote the subject letter. He argues that the mayor can not prove malice on his part considering that he (1) had never met the mayor before, (2) had not communicated with him on any issue other than the present letter, (3) had no previous misunderstanding with him; (4) had no grudge or grievance with him before, and (5 ) had no malicious feeling, ill-will, hatred or hostility against the mayor.

Art. 354 of the Revised Penal Code provides that every defamatory imputation is presumed to be malicious , even if it be true, if no good intention and justifiable motive for making it is shown … In the present case, considering the undersigned’s finding that the letter in question is defamatory, the mayor, by provision of law, need not prove malice on the part of the respondent (malice in fact), for the law already presumes that the respondent’s imputation is malicious (malice in law). The burden is therefore on the side of the respondent to show good intention and justifiable motive in order to overcome the legal inference of malice a fact that the respondent so far failed to discharge.

Finally, the other issues raised by the respondent in his Counter Affidavit, namely that:

(1) the present complaint is discriminatory,
punitive and a form of harassment;
(2) the letter was based on established facts and therefore true;
(3) that the present complaint is intended to silence
or intimidate critics like him;

are – for purposes of determining probable cause and in the light of the findings discussed above – beside the mark.

WHEREFORE, finding the existence of probable cause, let an Information for Libel under Art. 353 in relation to Art. 355 of the Revised Penal Code be filed against the respondents in court.

Davao City, Philippines, April 25, 2000.

Prosecutor 11


City Prosecutor

Copy furnished:

Attys. Batacan, Montejo,
Zarate, Pantojan & Europa
Counsel for the Complainant
Davao City

Atty. Estanislao L. Cesa, Jr.
Counsel for the Respondent
3/F 2242 Rizal Avenue
Olongapo City, 2200

Atty. Mary Ann Amodo
27D Rosario Townhaus
Galaxy St., GSIS Heights
Matina, Davao City



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