THE SITUATION. Last Friday, September 25, Pablito G. Nalzaro, known in multiple media as Bobby Nalzaro, posted P80,000 bail on two cyber-libel complaints filed by the Cebu City Prosecutors Office with the Regional Trial Court (RTC).
The charges stemmed from the 2018 online publication of Nalzaro’s two columns in SunStar alleging that Ramon Miguel Osmena, the only son of former city mayor Tomas Osmena, was involved in the illegal butane refilling business.
But had not the RTC earlier thrown out two cyber-libel charges against Nalzaro on the same subject and issue of the young Osmena allegedly being involved in the illegal sale of butane and the mayor allegedly meddling with the police in the arrest of suspected retailers?
On December 6, 2019, RTC Branch 11 Judge Ramon Daomilas Jr. threw out two cyber-libel complaints covering the same subject and issue. Identical material cannot be the subject of two separate libels, Daomilas’s order said, quoting the Supreme Court.
Related article: Seares: 2 libel charges vs. Nalzaro dumped. Judge sees double jeopardy before trial (https://www.sunstar.com.ph/article/1836214/Cebu/Media&)
To keep track: Nalzaro has been charged by Ramon Miguel with six criminal cases, all going through the route of the city prosecutor’s office.
 Two complaints for libel under the Revised Penal Code, basing on Nalzaro’s print columns.
 Two complaints for cyber-libel under the Cybercrime Prevention Act (Republic Act No. 10175), basing on the same columns but as published online.
 Two complaints for cyber-libel under the cyber-crime law but this time basing on two other Nalzaro columns published a month later.
Nalzaro separately posted bail: first, on the four cases last year; then on the two cases last Friday.
The first two cyber-libel complaints duplicated the charges under the Revised Penal Code (RPC). Judge Daomilas dismissed the cyber-libels, rejecting the potential double jeopardy for the same alleged criminal acts.
That would’ve left just two cases under the RPC based on the print columns, in RTC Branch 5 with Judge Ricky Jones Macabaya. But then Ramon Miguel found a way: his lawyer filed two other cases, this time using two other Nalzaro columns published in October.
‘OFFENSIVE’ COLUMNS. The columns on which the first four charges were based: “Projecting as pro-poor” (September 5, 2018) and “Mikakak man diay” (September 12, 2018).
Ramon Miguel wanted Nalzaro prosecuted for the same two columns under both the RPC and the Cyber Crime Law. No way, Judge Daomilas said, citing the ruling in Jose Jesus Disini, et. al vs. Secretary of Justice (GR #203335). That would be punishing the columnist for the same writings.
The columns under which the additional two charges were based: “Where is the mayor?” (October 10, 2018) and “#libel pa more” (October 14, 2018), published about a month after the first two “offensive” columns.
On the last two charges, for which Nalzaro posted bail last Friday, Ramon Miguel chose the cyber-law over the penal code.
WHY CYBER-LIBEL, WHY ONLINE. Choosing the cyber-crime law over the penal code has become a matter of course for most complainants, who want the “offender” locked up for a longer time. RA 10175 imposes a penalty one degree higher than the RPC penalty: up to six years under the penal code but up to 12 years under the cybercrime law.
A no-brainer, given the Disini ruling against inevitable double jeopardy. As the complainant can use either the RPC or RA No. 10175 and not both, he inevitably uses the cybercrime law.
Nalzaro is both a broadcaster and a print and online columnist (the columns in the paper are also run on the paper’s website). What he writes in this column is also taken up in his radio broadcast.
Complainants though prefer the print and online publication over broadcast material as basis for their charges: easier to produce the evidence of publication. Yet, the virulent media criticism or attack is done on the air, where the commentary is unfiltered by editors and can be more intense.
The Supreme Court has taught the public -- in a landmark decision (Cirse Francisco “Choy” Torralba vs. People of the Philippines, GR #153699, August 22, 2005) -- how to authenticate a recording of a broadcast as evidence in libel. Apparently, few people aggrieved by broadcast commentaries have taken the high court’s cue.
Ramon Miguel, as most other libel complainants, didn’t use the broadcast material against Nalzaro. And the young Osmena used the newspaper column only as support to the higher-penalty cyber-libel charge.
DELAY IN FILING INFORMATION. What may have puzzled some people keeping tab on Nalzaro’s case was that the resolution of Prosecutor 1 Russel Busico (as approved by chief Prosecutor Liceria Lofranco-Rabillas) was signed on December 16, 2019, but the two information(s) were filed only last September 18, or some nine months after. Thus, it came as a surprise, setting off speculation as to where they came from.
Busico’s argument for filing the charges was published last year yet Ramon Miguel, Busico said, is a private person and not a public official or public figure and did not require to prove malice on Nalzaro’s part. Even if Ramon Miguel were a public figure, Busico added, Nalzaro didn’t present evidence that the young Osmena was involved in butane business.
The commentaries, Nalzaro said in his published replies, were matters of public interest, dealt with an event and issue that people talked about, and were covered by protected speech and privileged communication.
That would be the core issue in the court trials of the four counts of libel.