|Court to hear media class suit against FG|
|Written by The Daily Tribune|
|Monday, 29 September 2008 11:47|
The Court of Appeals (CA) had allowed the admission to the court of a class suit filed by journalists against First Gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo which, according to the journalists’ counsel, Harry Roque, was a major victory and the first favorable decision for the media in a long while.
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The CA, in a 23-page decision, dismissed for lack of merit the petition of Arroyo to stop the Makati Regional Trial Court (RTC) from admitting an amended complaint after the complainants failed to pay the correct docket fees.
The CA said with the decision, the injunction on the case was lifted and it is remanded to the Makati RTC for the cconduct of further proceedings with dispatch.
The CA seventh division, in a ruling penned by Associate Justice Fernanda Lampas-Peralta, said it found no grave abuse of discretion in the decision of Judge Zenaida Galapate-Laguilles of the Makati RTC Branch 143 in admitting the amendments in the complaint, that included journalists Redmond Batario, Luis Teodoro, Lourdes Estella Simbulan and Malaya editor Joy delos Reyes as additional plaintiffs in the damage suit.
The word “each” was deleted from the prayer and replaced with “aggregate” in the complaint.
The CA also dismissed the First Gentleman’s argument that the RTC did not acquire jurisdiction over the case because of the plaintiff’s non-payment of docket fees as the amount of damages claimed by some 40 complainants totaled P487.5-million, hence, the amount of docket fees is estimated at more than P9-million. However, the group paid only the amount of P200,000.
The case stemmed from a series of libel suits filed by Arroyo against several journalists and newspapers over stories linking him to irregularities.
In response, journalists filed the class suit against the First Gentleman charging him of liability for damages under the Civil Code for the anxiety, loss of income and other inconveniences that his libel suits have caused.
The CA, however, pointed out that there was no clear intent on the part of the journalists to evade the payment of the correct docket fees.
“The CA ruling is the beginning of the end of impunity against media. it sent a strong message against the enemies of the freedom of the press. Democracy has fought back and democracy had won,” Roque said.
Roque said lawyers of the journalists are now readying the presentation of evidence against the First Gentleman on why he should be liable for damages for violating the rights of journalists.
Among those included in the class suit were Ninez Cacho-Olivares and the Daily Tribune, Malaya’s Ellen Tordesillas, Minnie Advincula, Regina Bengco, JP Lopez and columnist Lito Banayo; , Marites Vitug, Glenda Gloria, Ricky Carandang, Romulo Marinas, Gina Capili-Inciong Gerry Baldo, Sherwin Olaes, Lito Tugadi, Jing Santos, Rustico Otico, Maria Concepcion Cruz, Miriam Grace Go, and Ma. Romina Gonzalez.
Also part of the class suit are Ma. Cristina Rodriguez, Yvonne Chua, Alcuin Papa, Ramon Tulfo, Erwin Tulfo, William Esposo, Jose Pavia, Rowena Paraan, Sweet May Cawicaan, Jofelle Tesorio, Jose Bimbo Santos, Rachel Khan, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism Inc., Francisco Tatad, Conrado de Quiros, Nixon Cua and Vergel Santos.
Arroyo’s counsels also questioned the character of the case being a class suit arguing that it fell short of the requirement of a class suit which are that the subject matter of the controversy is one of common or general interest to many persons and that the parties are so numerous that it is impracticable to bring them all before the court.
The CA, however, said the matter is yet to be tackled in the preliminary hearing .
“The petitioner’s (Arroyo’s) affirmative defense of absence of requisites of class suit will not be resolved in the present petition for certiorari, as the Court’s authority to resolve cannot go beyond the issues of lack of jurisdiction and grave abuse of discretion,” the CA added.
“There was no omission of the amounts of damages in the prayer in the original complaint and private respondents (journalists) paid the docket fees based on the assessment by the Clerk of Court... (since) private respondents explicitly stated in the complaint that they filed the case ‘on their own behalf and acting as class suit representatives of fellow members of the Philippine press,’” the CA added.
It also stated that RTC subjected the case to preliminary hearing on affirmative defenses precisely so that the parties will be afforded the opportunity to be heard on their respective positions, while matter of whether the case is a class suit is yet to be discussed.
It further cited the Supreme Court (SC)’s ruling in the case of heirs of Bertudo Hinog v. Hon. Achilles Melicor which stated that non-payment of the proper docket fees at the time of filing does not automatically warrant the dismissal of the case, as long as the fee is paid within the applicable prescriptive period.
[Source: The Daily Tribune. Click here to read the original story.]