By Ruel Camba
DAGUPAN CITY—“They should stop harassing the media who are just doing their job of reporting the news and digging out the truth.”
Businessman and civic leader Rosendo So issued the call in a radio interview over the weekend, after he was informed that three of his friends in the local media have been sued for libel by a member of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan.
SP Member Alfonso Bince Jr. last week filed a libel suit against Yolanda Sotelo, Brando Cortez, Mortz Ortigoza, and one John Doe.
Sotelo, Cortez and Ortigoza are the publisher, editor and columnist, respectively, of Northern Watch, a local newsweekly based in Dagupan City.
So, an engineer and founding chairman of the Abono Partylist, has been presumed to be the John Doe in the complaint.
However, So categorically denied the report, stressing that he does not own the paper and that he was just one of the many advertisers of the said newspaper.
“Marami din akong advertisements sa TV, sa radio at iba pang newspapers. Ibig din bang sabihin na akin ang mga ‘yon?” he said.
Bince’s libel suit stemmed from a column item of Ortigoza dated July 24, 2011 in which he quoted SP Member Danilo Uy as telling him (Ortigoza) and several other local newsmen that most members of the provincial board were receiving P40,000 monthly payola from jueteng.
“BM Uy for several times has been telling me and some media colleagues with bravado that he did not receive even a single centavo from jueteng intended monthly for the members of the SP,” Ortigoza said.
Engr. So said that in his past conversations with Uy, he also heard the same story.
However, Uy denied ever telling Ortigoza and other newsmen that the SP members received jueteng payolas.
Ortigoza said he was standing by his story.
“I did not concoct the statement of BM Uy. There were media men and non-media men who already went public by corroborating what I exposed that they, too, heard Uy as saying that most of his colleagues were recipients of the illegal number game,” he said.
Ortigoza said that in his column, he did not directly mention Bince as recipient of jueteng payola.
He said that he only mentioned the name of Bince as the one “commenting adversely on the surge of Loterya ng Bayan (LNB),” adding that the provincial solon even went further as to tag LNB as the “Loterya ng Mayayaman.”
Ortigoza said that he did not specifically named Bince as beneficiary of jueteng payola in his column, rather he posed the question, “Is the absence of payola the reason that members of the august body critical of LNB?”
However, Bince insisted that he was the one being mentioned as among those benefitting from the operation of jueteng in the province, which he vehemently denied, stressing that the column article “tends to cause his dishonor, discredit, and contempt from his constituents in the 6th congressional district….and in the entire province and all possible readers of Northern Watch, who by reason of which has suffered mental anguish and wounded feelings.”
Ortigoza said that he wrote his column “in good faith” and was guided by his “patriotic duty to unmask the hypocrisy of some public officials who are critical of the Loterya ng Bayan but not to jueteng.”
Ortigoza rallied his media colleagues “to resist any form of harassment against any member of the local media who are out to ferret out the truth.”
“In the pursuit of our calling, may we be guided by an adage from the brilliant Edmund Burke who said, ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing,’” he said.
Bince filed the case before the prosecutor’s office in Rosales town where he resides.
In a radio interview, Bince said he has asked his brother Noel, currently the acting provincial prosecutor, to inhibit himself from the prosecution of the case.