Appeals court upholds libel conviction vs. Drilon critic

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 20) — The Court of Appeals (CA) upheld the libel conviction and prison sentence for a critic of Senator Franklin Drilon.

The appellate court, in a resolution dated March 19, said it has denied the appeal of Iloilo provincial administrator and journalist Manuel Mejorada, who had accused Drilon of corruption over infrastructure projects in the province.

In February 2017, the Pasay City Regional Trial Court (RTC) found Mejorada guilty of libel and sentenced him to imprisonment of up to four years and two months. The CA affirmed this decision in September 2018.

Mejorada, in social media as well as blog posts, accused the Senate Minority Leader of benefiting from the construction of Iloilo projects including the Iloilo Convention Center.

The CA said the local court was "correct in imposing the penalty of imprisonment" against Mejorada.

The appellate court cited the "barrage of defamatory statements" in the journalist's articles, and the "baseless and scurrilous personal attacks" against the solon.

The court said Mejorada also used "ironical and metaphorical language" such as "grandmother of all anomalies," "fat income for Mabilog and Drilon," "corruption at its worst," and "Drilon's Midas Touch" in his articles. It said the terms were calculated to "induce suspicion" over the issue.

Mejorada, in a statement Wednesday, said he will bring his case to the Supreme Court.

"With due respect to the CA and the RTC, I believe there was no libel as the element of injury was not established with the failure of Senator Franklin Drilon to testify," he wrote.

"Injury in libel is personal and nobody but the complainant can tell the Court on how he felt about the alleged libelous publications. I am confident this issue on the failure of Senator Drilon will be given due consideration."

He added the ruling is certain to "send shivers down the spines of journalists" and that it raises the possibility of the media being "tamed."

CNN Philippines' Anjo Alimario contributed to this report.