By ElCid Benedicto
Beyond the controversy over the “Napolist” or the list provided by alleged brains behind the pork barrel scam, Janet Lim Napoles, on those lawmakers supposedly in cahoots with her scheme misusing their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), was the legal implication of the “exposure” of what most observers consider as a malicious document.
The Senate blue ribbon committee released the two versions of the “Napolist” immediately after it was furnished to the panel, one provided to former Sen. Panfilo Lacson by Napoles’ husband Jimmy and the other that she herself allegedly have given to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.
Some members of the House of Representatives who have raised howl for having been dragged into the issue have reportedly considering of filing a class suit against a major publication while there are those also from the Senate contemplating of taking legal action against Napoles herself and other media entities.
The blame game is just starting and as to who will carry the brunt will likely be the members of the media who took the bait of publicizing the tons of documents coming from both camps of Napoles and principal whistleblower Benhur Luy.
Some Senate observers took note of some apparent lapses on the part of blue ribbon committee chair Sen. Teofisto Guingona III in releasing the documents even before his panel could take it up in a formal hearing.
A senior Senate member admitted that such act by Guingona could constitute a libelous act, acceding to the assertions of some upper chamber observers that their colleague should have at least circumspect by having the documents first entered into the records of the committee proceedings releasing it publicly.
This was on the account of the Napoles list provided by Lacson that was not signed by her or accompanied by any other document attesting to her ownership of it.
Based on the assertions of some, Guingona, in effect, caused the publication and distribution of information on a malicious imputation of a crime that is not even contained in an official document.
Another senator, an ally of the Aquino administration, on the other hand, came to the defense of Guingona saying that the blue ribbon chair could not be made to any criminal offense since he did not cause the publication and distribution of the information but the media entities.
“He ordered the release of the documents, being the committee chair, but he did not tell you (members of the media) to have it publicized. More importantly, he’s not the ‘author’ of what could be considered as a libelous material,” the senator-lawyer pointed out.
“Didn’t you notice? He made no utterances regarding the content of the documents, meaning lifting anything from it,” the senator further pointed out.
Such argument makes sense, in a way as this was the same issue raised by the Supreme Court in the case of Alonzo v. Court of Appeals, saying that that what is material is that a third person has read or heard about the libelous remark, for “a man’s reputation is the estimate in which others hold him in, not the good opinion which he has of himself.”
As such, the elements of libel are: imputation of a discreditable act or condition to another; publication of the imputation, identity of the person defamed; and existence of malice.
It can be noted that senators and congressmen enjoy immunity from prosecution even if they defame or accuse anyone of any wrongdoing in their privilege speeches or any other act performed by public officers in the exercise of their functions.
No less than Senate President Franklin Drilon himself pointed out the documents should have been substantiated before it was made readily available to the public,
“Dati ko nang sinasabi na tayo ay pabor na ilabas ang listahan, ngunit dapat ay sana may pruweba mula sa isang testigo, at hindi allegation lang. Yung listahan ay puro pangalan, walang malinaw na dokumento. Hindi naman yata tama na ilabas yang mga pangalan na walang basehan, dahil ang reputasyon ng isang tao ang nakasalalay,” Drilon said in one of the interviews.
“Katulad nga ng sinasabi ni Sen. (Francis) Chiz (Escudero) , nasa listahan siya ng isa (Napoles list provided by Lacson), pero wala siya sa iba. Ipinasa na ni (former) Sen. Lacson sa blue ribbon committee ung affidavit daw ni Napoles, pero meron pang ibang listahan. Kaya po iyan ay uulitin ko lang, kailangan may pruweba ang listahan,” he stressed, during an interview with dzMM.
In another radio interview, the Senate chief reiterated the same, emphasizing that he does not stand opposed to disclosing the contents of such documents supposedly from Napoles provided that it’s backed up with proof or testimony to substantiate the allegations contained therein.
“Mag-ingat tayo sa mga listahan na walang detalye, dahil ang reputasyon ng mga tao ang nakasalalay diyan,” he said.
The documents comprised of unsigned supposed sworn affidavit of Napoles, a typewritten notes of sort and a “list” of names of senators, congressmen, government officials and alleged “agents” was accompanied by a mere cover letter signed by Lacson.
“As agreed earlier, I am hereby transmitting to your office the following documents: draft affidavit of Janet Lim Napoles; narration of events; and list of senators, congressmen and other personalities that she allegedly dealt with in connection with the PDAF. Please acknowledge receipt of the foregoing documents. I hope that these documents will assist the investigation being conducted by your committee and address the clamor of our people for transparency in public service,” Lacson said in his letter to Guingona dated May 13.
Unlike in the case of committee members whom Sen. Koko Pimentel emphasized have every right to be given copies, including such unsigned documents although he pointed out that insofar as probative value is concerned, there’s none.
“It’s just a list. Let us be more concerned with evidence…it’s useless
kung ganun lang. It has no probative value at meron na kasing draft and signed Senate blue ribbon report eh. If we feel na may additional pa, let’s start a new one, a new investigation na lang.
At that time when Pimentel made the statement prior to the submission of De Lima’s version of the “Napolist” as well as Napoles’ two sets of affidavits.
He pointed out that the Napolist, on its face, was useless as it “has no probative value at meron na kasing draft and signed Senate blue ribbon report eh. If we feel na may additional pa, let’s start a new one, a new investigation na lang.”
Also, calling Napoles to testify on the list provided by Lacson then, was viewed by Pimentel as premature, adding that it should have been accompanied by a sworn affidavit, which De Lima eventually provided.
Pimentel said that those mentioned in the “Napolist” can avail of a legal remedy by filing perjury charges, considering that Napoles, in her appearance before the Senate blue ribbon issued a flat denial regarding her involvement in the pork scam.