An end to ululations

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    “THERE WAS nothing defamatory in the questioned article of Lacson.”

     With that, 1st Asst. City Prosecutor Nereo T. Dela Cruz recommended the dismissal of the libel case filed against me and the rest of Punto by businessman Rene Romero as president of the Pampanga Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and chairman of the Advocacy for the Development of Central Luzon.

    The case arose from my piece Romero Ululating published in our issue of  Dec. 17-18, 2010. The recommendation was approved by Deputy Regional Prosecutor Giselle Marie S. Geronimo on June 16, 2011.

    Simple, succinct, even terse was the decision, belying the wealth of arguments and counter-arguments in rejoinders and replies attendant to the case that are interesting, and to those learned in journalism praxis, even amusing.

    Selective prosecution

    Romero found my column defamatory but did not find its earlier publication en toto in Sun-Star Pampanga as a letter to the editor as libellous. Indeed, Romero was even quoted in a subsequent story in that paper as saying he was “amused” by my letter. Filing a case against Punto and not against Sun Star Pampanga for the same article constituted selective prosecution.

    Romero deposed “I did not find Sun-Star Pampanga liable for merely publishing the Letter to the Editor in the Sun Star issue of December 15, 2010 because a) the Lacson letter was plainly a Letter to the Editor and not a regular column…”

    My response: Romero thereby shifted the actionability of libel from the content and context of an article to its placement in a newspaper. A totally absurd proposition Romero advanced: Neither defamation nor malice that may obtain in an article matters so long as it is published as a Letter to the Editor. Culpability arises though once the same article is published as a column.

    Furthered Romero: “Lacson is obviously testing the waters when he sent a copy of his libellous article as Letter to the Editor of Sun-Star Pampanga…”

    My reply: What water is there to test? Lacson’s article is an exercise of his basic right to reply as it is a reaction to the Sun-Star Pampanga banner story of the previous day, “Sector: Why no biz awardee in MOKA” in which Romero made unfounded allegations against certain but unnamed members of the MOKA panel of judges which included Lacson.

    It was not Lacson who determined that his rejoinder be printed as a Letter to the Editor but the Sun-Star Pampanga editor who inserted the clarificatory note before the start of the article thus: “Editor’s note: The following is a reaction of a member of the Most Outstanding Kapampangan Awards 2010 Board of Judges on our December 14, Tuesday banner “Sector: Why no biz awardee in MOKA?” 

    Romero: “He was also trying to sow enmity between me and Sun-Star Pampanga – one of Pampanga’s most decent newspaper (sic)…” 

    My response: Absurd of Romero to infuse ill motives in a plain exercise of free speech. Here, however, Romero implied a close relationship with Sun-Star Pampanga which is publicly known as partly owned by Levy Laus, Romero’s friend and chairman in the Pampanga Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

     It is that relationship which may have prevented Romero from filing libel against Sun-Star Pampanga where the article in question first appeared. With his statement Romero virtually made an affirmation of Lacson’s contention that he is engaged in selective prosecution.

    Defining “ululating”

    Romero took the title of the article Romero ululating as by itself defamatory. He said “His (Lacson’s) choice of words in his column are maliciously designed to sow intrigue and ridicule me in public. The starting four-letter word “ulul” either in Kapampangan or Tagalog is an invective, a cussy word as it means crazy. Connecting this with the last syllables”lating” is the verb “ululating.”

    My response: This can only be supreme absurdity. The choice of words in a story is the sole responsibility of the writer, manifest as it is of his or her own creativity.

    The level of comprehension or miscomprehension of the reader does not fall within the writer’s responsibility as he would not know who reads his articles. Lacson – the writer – therefore cannot be responsible on the understanding or misunderstanding of his words by Romero – the reader.

    The article Romero ululating is written in the English language. (But for the Tagalog quotations of Romero cited in the Sun-Star Pampanga banner it responded to.) Necessarily so, all the words used in that article should be taken in their English context. To append the meaning of a similar word in another language or dialect is to perverse the context, indeed the very meaning of the word. The writer could not be held liable for such perversion, the act being that of the reader.  

    “Ululating” in its English dictionary meaning of “lamenting loudly” (The American Heritage Dictionary) is a precise word to describe Romero’s action given his statements in the article “Sector: Why no biz awardee in MOKA”, to wit:

    “xxx One or two of these, pardon my terms, ‘termites’, would destroy what we and Capitol have started in terms of development. Wala bang qualified sa sector namin? Galit ba sila sa amin? Is this the kind of government we have which allows such people to influence something? Where has professionalism gone? Changed with personal conflicts?…”

    “xxx There are at least two in these committees whom we really don’t see eye to eye with. With what happened , we might reassess and evaluate our position towards the provincial government and slow down a bit…”
    Just read the statements and hear the lament – “ululation” – of Romero there. And what noisier howl of lament can there be than when it is made the screaming banner headline of a newspaper as “Sector: Why no biz awardee in MOKA.”

    SO INDEED, as Asst. City Prosecutor Dela Cruz penned: “The article “Romero Ululating” can be considered as part of the freedom of expression of its author Caesar Z. Lacson

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