Phony E-mail Address Spawns $1-M Libel Suit

CHICAGO (FAXXNA/jGLi) – A fictitious derogatory email message forwarded to a small circle but “prominent” members of the Filipino Canadian community in Toronto is one of the basis of a $1-million damage suit filed by a Filipino Canadian mother and son against a crusading a publisher and a reporter of Toronto’s biggest circulating Filipino Canadian newspaper, Balita, a fortnightly.

Jeff Rustia, who claims to be a Toronto TV host and philanthropist, and his mother, Melinda Rustia, also an editor and founding president of Kol Hope Foundation for Children, sued journalists Teresita Cusipag, publisher of Balita, and Romeo P. Marquez, reporter of Balita, when “Marquez falsely suggested (in an email) that the co-plaintiffs were using the funds for the Kol Hope Foundation for personal purposes, thereby, inferring that they had committed fraud or theft.”

In a ten-page civil suit filed before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Toronto, Jeff Rustia said that the email was “particularly hurtful” to him and his mother because the “words were directed to the individuals, who play prominent roles in the Filipino Canadian community through leadership and communications positions.”

Rustia also cited a Sept. 11, 2013 email, where Cusipag alleged that she got a telephone call from the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA), telling her that CRA is going to look into a “tax fraud case against Kol Hope Foundation.”

Rustia said in his complaint that he doubted that CRA would ever investigate his Kol Hope Foundation and would even go to the length of asking Cusipag to assist it in conducting such investigation.

Rustia was also incensed that Cusipag would accuse his Kol Hope Foundation “to run a racket, thereby suggesting again that they are involved in fraud or illegal conduct in their fundraising activities.”

RUSTIA DID NOT DEFEND SELF

The lawsuit was not clear why the Rustias did not respond to the email messages of Marquez and Cusipag in kind to defend themselves and instead decided to take the matter to a court in Canada, whose chilling Libel and Slander Act of Ontario is rooted in the 16th and 17th century criminal statutes protecting nobility from criticism.

But Marquez and Cusipag may get some break if the Rustias did not attempt to talk things out first with Marquez and Cusipag before taking the matter to court.

Under the Libel Slander Act, “the plaintiff must notify in writing the defendant within six (6) weeks from the time the plaintiff has knowledge of such (libelous) publication or broadcast, otherwise, no action for libel in a newspaper or in a broadcast will lie. At the same time, such action for libel or slander in a newspaper or in a broadcast must commence within a period of three months after the libel has come to the knowledge of the person defamed.”

With fictitious email address to speak off, to whom will the “written notice to the publication” be addressed?

Another defense resorted to by defendants in libel cases in Canada is the requirement of “proof of publication within the province where the libel is alleged.” It is not clear how the Rustias can come up with “proof of publication” based on the email exchanges, among them based on fictitious email address.

What peeved Rustia all the more, Rustia said, was for Cusipag’s claim that “Rustia has been sending harassing emails to her(self Cusipag) and Romeo Marquez under the email address, lesleyreyes821@gmail.com,” an accusation Rustia denies owning such email address, saying “none of the parties to this action knows the real identity of the individual/s using this email address.”

NOBODY KNOWS WHO IS LESLEYREYES821@GMAIL.COM

This reporter tried to send an email message to lesleyreyes821@gmail.com listed in the lawsuit but the email message returned as undelivered.

Neither Marquez nor Cusipag knows the owner of the email address, lesleyreyes821@gmail.com, but Cusipag suspects it is Rustia’s. Marquez described the email address as a “phantom-phantom spammer” in a story carried by his website.

Marquez surmised Rustia was protecting the email address from being found out by entering a phony email address into court records as lesleyreyes821@gmail.com instead of the real email address, lesliereyes821@gmail.com, which true enough when this reporter sent an email message to this latter email address, the email message went thru, meaning it was an authentic email address, when it did not return as undelivered. But there was no response.

Marquez said he was surprised that Rustia delayed in denying the email address, lesleyreyes821@gmail.com, instead of doing so long before the staging of the fashion week that featured the celebrations of the Philippine Independence day and the Filipino national hero Jose Rizal, two major fund-raising events hosted by the Kol Hope Foundation, which was able to donate $10,000 to the World Vision.

Marquez asked, “What percentage of the total revenue does the $10,000 donation represent?”

The alleged derogatory email messages were copied to Paul Sollano, accountant at Calabio, Lim and Sollano, CGS’s; Charise Mariel Garcia, editor, writer, publicist, Kaeru Communications; Kay Penaflor, Public Relations and Media Relations Director of Canada Philippine Fashion Week; Teresa M. Torralba, co-founder and festival organizer, Filipinos Making Waves Festival, and President of Focus Philippines & Friends Cultural Arts & Music; Rose Ami, Mortgage agent and team manager at Dominion Lending Centre, Maximum Choice Financial; Carlos Padilla, past president of the Association and Filipino Canadian Accounts (AFCa), Ray Sabatin, writer for Balita and former member of UP Alumni Association (UPAAC) and Mogi Mogado, Associate Editor of Balita and member of Philippine Press Club of Ontario (PPCO).

Rustia was a founding director of PPCO while Cusipag is a PPCO member.

But nobody from these recipients ever confirmed that they were able to exchange email message with lesleyreyes821@gmail.com.

The Rustias are seeking $250,000 in general damages for defamation; $100,000 in punitive damages; $250,000 in general and special damages or defamation against the Kol Hope Foundation for Children; $250,000 in general damages for intentional infliction of emotional suffering on Melinda Rustia; $150,000 in aggravated damages for intentional infliction of emotional suffering on Melinda Rustia; pre-and post-judgment interest in accordance with the Courts of Justice Act; cost of this action on a substantial indemnity basis such further or other relief as the Honourable Court will permit.

Marquez questioned Rustia’s characterization of himself in the court records as philanthropist, saying Rustia never gave away money as the Kol Hope Foundation is a charity organization. Cusipag also questioned Rustia description of himself as a TV host, asking which TV station in Canada?

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