20 years “warranted”

    WHEREFORE, this case is ordered DISMISSED against accused Caesar Lacson y Zapata for lack of interest to prosecute…


    Given in open Court this 18th day of August, 2016 in Angeles City.

    Thus, the Honorable Irin Zenaida S. Buan, presiding judge of RTC Branch 56, in a singlepage decision, thoroughly expunged any iota of guilt and defi nitively “unwarranted” an alias arrest order on my person.

    The case that dragged on – absent my knowledge – for all of 20 years took but two hearings to be scratched off the court archives. But that is already rushing right to the end of the long story.

    Accused Lacson was absolved of any liability in Criminal Case No. 97-149 – Libel fi led by one Rowena Domingo of the Mabalacat Water District that stemmed from a Sun-Star Clark news story which exposed alleged cases of nepotism and abuse of authority in the managerial succession in the agency. Cited in the story were the investigations conducted by the Mabalacat municipal council which pointed to the alleged irregularities.

    Soon as the complaint was fi led in 1996, a common friend brokered a meeting between us respondents and the complainants and diff erences were resolved. In my book Of the Press (1999), there is this short account included in the chapter The Libel Tradition, to wit:

    Ody shared two libel cases with me and Joe Pavia, the publisher of Sun-Star Clark in 1996.

    The fi rst was lodged by the Mabalacat Water District…No, we did not write the story but we were included in the charge sheet just the same as managing and associate editors. Toy Soto, a consultant of the water district offi ce, intervened in our behalf and the complaint was promptly withdrawn.

    Hence, we did not fi nd it necessary to present any counter-affi davits. And nothing more was heard about that case. In the meantime, Sun-Star Clark re-birthed itself as Sun-Star Pampanga with Ashley Manabat as editor in 2001. Ody Fabian died in February 2005, and Joe Pavia in 2011. Toy Soto died in 2007, or thereabouts.

    In November last year, Ashley and I applied for NBI clearances pursuant to the renewal of our gun licenses. It was there that CC No. 97-149 surfaced, with a corresponding alias warrant. Ashley also had a libel case to his name but “provisionally dismissed.” Surprisingly, my case did not show up in two previous applications for NBI clearances.

    Promptly, I presented myself at RTC 62 where my case was lodged, and posted the required cash bond of P2,000 for my “provisional liberty.” On the other hand, Ashley’s elation over the dismissal of his case turned to total dismay with the discovery of another libel case – fi led by Angeles Electric Company in 2004 – with prescribed bail of P10,000. He is currently at pre-trial stage on this case.

    With RTC 62 now designated a “drug court,” and me having not been arraigned yet, the records of my case were turned over to the Offi ce of the Clerk of Court for re-raffl e.

    Initially assigned to RTC 60, CC No. 97- 149 was – upon motion of counsel Enrico P. Quiambao – re-raffl ed and landed at RTC 56 last April.

    At the arraignment on June 20, counsel Quiambao already made manifest the “absence” of the complainant, given the return of copies of his entry of appearance and motion for re-raffl e sent by LBC Express to complainant Domingo at her given address in Lourdes Sur East, Angeles City.

    Counsel Quiambao highlighted the number of years the complaint remained archived without any word from the complainant or her counsels. And moved for its dismissal.

    Judge Buan designated the Court to serve notice anew to the complainant and scheduled the pre-trial on August 18. That day, with the complainant remaining unaccounted for, counsel Quiambao made an impassioned plea for dismissal of the case, as much for lack of interest on the part of the complainant as injustice against the accused for its chilling eff ect in the performance of his profession.

    Dismissed. So ordered.

    For all the 20 years that the case took through its conclusion, it was never – to me – an instance of delayed justice being justice denied. It just makes one wonder how a case could last this long without the slightest of interest expressed by the complainant or her counsel.

    Still, it was sheer luck for me that none of my professed haters knew of the alias warrant of arrest against my person. Else I could have been readily cuff ed and taken in by the police. Which, under the present dispensation could have had a grim repercussion.

    Think of the tabloid account now: Editor, patay matapos mang-agaw ng baril habang nakaposas.

    Shudder at that cardboard justice: Libeler ako. ‘Wag tularan. Uh-oh, could have been speaking too soon. Yes, I have yet to be arraigned in one more libel case. Though I have already posted bail – P10,000 this time – to pre-empt the issuance of any warrant of arrest. Hopefully, this one won’t last another 20 years.

    Yeah, nice to serve as link in the continuity of Pampanga media’s libel tradition.


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