On Tuesday, December 13, 2022, a Quezon City court found journalist Frank Cimatu of Baguio City guilty of cyber libel for a Facebook post he published five years earlier.
Cimatu’s jail term was set by Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 93 to range from six months to five years, five months, and 11 days. Cimatu was also mandated by the court to pay P300,000 in moral damages.
“FURTHER, premises considered, the Court finds accused FRANKLIN “FRANK” CIMATU y YAPO guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crime of cyber libel under Section 4(c)(4) of Republic Act No. 10175, also known as the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, and sentences him to suffer the punishment of incarceration for six (6) months and one (1) day” (1).
Evangeline Cabochan-Santos, acting presiding judge for Branch 93 of the QC RTC, made the choice. The RTC’s decision is still subject to appeal, just like any other court decision.
Emmanuel “Manny” Piñol, a former head of agriculture, brought the accusation in relation to Cimatu’s 2017 Facebook post that stated: “Agri sec got rich by P21-M in 6 months. In addition to the accusation, Piñol sought P15 million in civil penalties.
According to Piñol’s resume, which was posted on a government website, he entered the media industry and worked as a radio journalist and news writer in Cotabato City.
The promulgation was supposed to happen on December 2, however that date was changed. Later, the promulgation was planned for December 13.
The prior court win of Baguio City journalists this year has been diminished by Cimatu’s conviction. Former Cordillera police chief’s internet libel lawsuit against Northern Dispatch editor-in-chief Kimberlie Quitasol and volunteer correspondent was dismissed by La Trinidad Regional Trial Court.
The court determined that Cimatu’s statements and his Facebook post looked to be defamatory and an imputation of a crime.
The Quezon City court stated that “a casual perusal of the Facebook post would demonstrate the writer, herein accused Cimatu, intended to harm Piñol’s character, credit, and virtue and expose him to public hostility, dishonor, scorn, and ridicule.”
Cimatu “made it look,” it continued, that Piñol, the former head of agriculture, had engaged in corruption and gained P21,000,000 during a six-month period.
The complainant’s knowledge of the defamatory remarks is irrelevant, the court ruled. What counts is that “the defamatory comment has been heard or read by a third person.”
According to the settings for Facebook posts, the court noted that Cimatu’s post had a globe icon at the top, which indicates that it was made using the public setting, as evidenced by the prosecution’s testimony.
In defense of himself, the journalist claimed that his post was made private and that it was only intended for his Facebook friends to see. The Quezon City court, however, disagreed.
It is important to remember that the requirement of publishing is satisfied as soon as a third person learns about the defamatory statement.
Since the parties agreed that Cimatu’s post is accessible to the public, the court stated that the element of publication is present in the case.
According to the Quezon City court, Piñol commented on Cimatu’s article and provided his perspective, but the journalist “did not desist in his conduct, but went on to continue defaming the private plaintiff,” the court said.
The court stated, “This is a strong indication of the accused’s purpose to defame Piñol, no matter the cost, and is plainly proof of malice.”
Since the passage of Republic Act No. 10175, often known as the cybercrime act, 3,809 cyber libel lawsuits have been filed, according to data from the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office of Cybercrime as of November 2022.