MANILA (March 2) — In a seven-page decision penned by Associate Justice Fernanda Lampas Peralta, the Court of Appeals (CA) has paved the way to a lower court in Makati to proceed with its prosecution of Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo, husband of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Associate Justices Edgardo Cruz and Normandie Pizzaro concurred with the decision.
In a press statement, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) welcomed the court’s decision and thanked the “magistrates who take their calling to heart and make the courts available for those who seek justice and protection from the abuses of the mighty.”
It said “it was clear from the start the class suit was filed not to seek personal satisfaction but to drive home the point that no one, not even anyone as privileged as Jose Miguel Arroyo, can attempt to silence the press with ill-conceived harassment suits and think to get away with it.”
The P12.5 million class suit for damages was filed by a group of journalists and media organizations. Arroyo had earlier sought to stop a Makati City Regional Trial Court from hearing the case due to a technicality involving docket fees but the Court of Appeals threw out his petition.
“To be sure, the present motion for reconsideration does not present any new issue which has not been addressed in the court’s decision. The motion for reconsideration merely invokes rulings in certain areas already cited in the petition and memorandum of petitioner,” the CA said.
The case against Arroyo, which was filed on December 28, 2006, demanded a “symbolic amount” of P12.5 million in damages for the “anxiety, loss of income and other inconveniences” caused by libel suits previously filed against them by Arroyo. The complainants said Arroyo abused his rights and violated freedom of the press in filing numerous libel cases against the journalists.
On March 2007, Makati court judge Zenaida Galapate-Laquilles admitted into her court the journalists’ complaint.
Arroyo, however, questioned the Makati court judge’s ruling of Sept. 22, 2008 saying she committed grave abuse of discretion in admitting the journalists’ amended complaint despite their failure to pay docket fees. He also claimed that the judge accepted their plea with ‘liberality’ in the application of court rules.
Under the Rules of Court, the payment of docket fee is required before any court takes jurisdiction of a case. The calculation is based on a percentage of the damages sought for by a complainant.
Arroyo claimed the 39 complainant journalists and media organizations seeking damages in total of P487 million should have posted P9 million in docket fees.
The court, however, dismissed his argument, noting that “in the present case, no such clear intent to evade payment of the correct docket fees can be attributed to private respondents. There was no omission of the amounts of damages in the prayer in the original complaint and private respondents paid the docket fees based on the assessment by the clerk of court.”
The appellate court also added that Arroyo could still present evidence before the lower court to prove his allegation of bad faith in the filing of the amended complaint.
It said that the allegation of bad faith is” factual in nature,” it cannot be presumed but must be proved by clear and convincing evidence, which Arroyo should present during the preliminary hearing of the affirmative defenses.
With regard to Arroyo’s contention that the journalists’ suit was “not a class suit,” the appellate court said it was “premature” for Arroyo to describe it as such. This issue was yet to be determined during preliminary hearing by the Makati court.
Harry Roque, a University of the Philippines law professor who also chairs the UP Center for International Law, is the journalists’ legal counsel.