PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — A MAKATI City court yesterday convicted newspaper publisher Ninez Cacho-Olivares of libel for writing an article accusing a leading law firm of influence peddling in the controversial Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 deal.
Judge Winlove Dumayas sentenced Olivares to a minimum of six months to a maximum of two years imprisonment. The libel case was filed by the Villaraza, Cruz, Marcelo and Angcangco law firm or The Firm.
The publisher of the Daily Tribune was also ordered to pay the law firm P5 million in moral damages and P33,732 in civil damages.
Her conviction sprang from her article “Firm’s Partners Ensure Victory for AEDC” that was part of a barrage of 48 articles published in the Daily Tribune from May to July 2003.
Olivares alleged that then Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo chose people supposedly connected to The Firm to handle a complaint by its client, Asia’s Emerging Dragons Corp. against the winning bidder in the build-operate contract for the NAIA T3 and former secretaries of the Department of Transportation and Communications.
She accused lawyer Arthur Villaraza and the law office of extortion in connection with the PIATCO-NAIA T3 contracts which were declared null and void by the Supreme Court.
A follow-up story by an investigative magazine said AEDC was a losing bidder. However, by the time the Tribune article was published, President Macapagal-Arroyo had already nullified PIATCO’s contract over alleged irregularities.
Lawyers of The Firm argued that the story was unfounded and “Villaraza and the law firm are private entities.”
The case was one of the 48 libel charges filed by The Firm against Olivares. The other cases are being heard in different Makati courts.
Olivares said after the promulgation that she expected her conviction. But she expressed surprise that a civil aspect of the case has been included in the decision and she has to pay Villaraza P33,000. She said she would appeal the decision.
Malacañang yesterday denied any hand in the conviction of Olivares.
Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said President Macapagal-Arroyo has not consulted with the Carpio, Villaraza and Cruz law firm.
“Villaraza is no longer her lawyer. That said, we hold press freedom as one of our core values. However, press freedom like all other rights is not absolute,” he said.
“The power of the pen must be wielded with responsibility. It must never be used to destroy reputations especially when private individuals are involved,” he added.