PUP prof sues tabloid for not publishing her side online
It’s a case that could test the country’s libel law as applied to the Internet.
A professor of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) filed a P5-million libel suit against a tabloid that allegedly removed an online article that would have aired her response to a columnist who questioned her integrity and credentials.
Theresita Atienza, who was recently nominated to the PUP presidency, said the “pullout” of the article denied her the opportunity to clear her name especially in the eyes of peers abroad who mainly get their news from the Philippines online.
Atienza sued People’s Tonight columnist and associate editor Mario Fetalino Jr., editor in chief Augusto Villanueva, publisher Roland de Jesus, and the newspaper’s web administrator for failing to give her “equal space and time” to answer two allegedly malicious articles by Fetalino.
In a complaint filed in the Quezon City prosecutor’s office on July 25, Atienza said Fetalino, on March 5 and 12, assailed her credentials, implied that she was disqualified, and claimed she “was working through the backdoor to secure my appointment.”
“The two articles were public and malicious imputations of a defect in my suitability as candidate for president of PUP and which caused me dishonor, embarrassment, and discredit. Apparently the articles achieved their intent and I was not chosen as PUP president despite reliable information that I ranked first in the short-list of the search committee,” Atienza said.
She noted that while Fetalino wrote a third article on May 27 after she sought the publication of her rejoinder on the issue, it was published online only on June 12.
But Villanueva ordered its pullout the following day, she alleged.
This third article, which contained her answers to Fetalino’s criticisms, therefore did not reach her colleagues in the academe who had no access to the tabloid’s hard copy, Atienza said.
“I felt that since the publications which maligned me were published both via hard copy and online, then the rectification should also enjoy the same exposure,” she argued.
“The pullout of the online publication was ordered by respondent Villanueva who was irked with my lawyer and labeled his request for online publication on June 12 as harassment,” she said.
She recalled that her lawyer Pedro Tanchuling and Villanueva earlier had a hostile exchange of text messages.
“The net effect is that there was no accommodation of equal space and time at all. The defamatory articles of March 5 and 12 continue to be accessible online,” she said.
“The damage to me continues because the two libelous articles are the only negative reports found online when one searches for my name in search engines or sites like Google,” she said.
She said she had to explain the articles to friends and colleagues abroad due to “the inaccessibility of the rectificatory article online.”
“The evident bad faith … justifies my demand for payment of moral damages because (Villanueva’s) actions have caused me great and irreparable damage until now, causing me besmirched reputation and sleepless nights as well as ridicule among academicians, professionally and personally,” she said.