Cabral’s libel case, bad for blogging

Secretary Esparanza Cabral, formerly of the DSWD and currently with the Department of Health. Photo grabbed from the DSWD website.

Secretary Esperanza Cabral is apparently harassing the blogger who blogged about the relief goods stockpiled in warehouses of the agency she used to head in the aftermath of supertyphoon Ondoy (Ketsana). She has filed a libel case against Ella Ganda for supposedly defaming her, the men and women of the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the agency itself.

Cabral is committing a grave mistake for which she would probably shame herself before the court which will hear the libel case. The subsequent events after Ella Ganda published her controversial post — Cabral admitting that there indeed were plenty of relief goods in DSWD warehouses and Cabral accepting the offer of citizens to help in repacking them to speed up distribution, the online community’s response to such call for volunteers — would only confirm what the blogger wrote. In fact, Ella Ganda did the country a favor by ensuring speedy and transparent distribution of these relief goods for their intended recipients.

It is doubtful too whether Cabral, the entire DSWD, the National Bureau of Investigation and the state prosecutors could prove malice on the part of the blogger. I think the blog post in question was an expression of concern over how the government was perceived to be working at a time when tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands were waiting for relief aid. There is no indication in the blog post that the blogger maliciously wrote about the relief goods she claimed to have seen “rotting” in one such DSWD warehouse. By “rotting”, she may have meant being left there even amid the dire situation of Ondoy evacuees.

Authorities have so far failed to identify the person behind Ella Ganda so we suspect this will delay the legal proceedings. But if she surfaces and she fights back, I am hopeful the online community and ordinary citizens would rise up and back her up.

Cabral, an alter-ego of President Arroyo, should not use her powers to intimidate Ella Ganda and consequently the blogging community into a false sense of objectivity. She must recognize that her position carries with it the responsibility of accepting criticism and fair comment from the public she has sworn to serve. Criticism is part of the territory she has placed herself into.

[Of course, there are opposing views on this issue, but I think Cabral is going overboard in her drive to save face. She could just have answered back by publishing a full accounting of relief goods that passed through the DSWD and other government agencies, when they were received and from whom, whenand where they were distributed, etc. The government owes such a report to the donors and the citizens to whom these agencies and officials are accountable.]

We owe it to ourselves, future bloggers and netizens and our readers to defend our fundamental rights to free expression, to redress of grievance, to fair comment, to hold government accountable and to exchange of information without threats of persecution a la Cabral.  If it goes unchallenged, it would be bad for blogging, sending a chilling effect on the online community.

Otherwise, blogging and the internet would be useless, toothless and bereft of the hope for great possibilities as we have seen in the great bayanihan after Ondoy. That would be a sad terrible day when our rights and the medium we have grown to love would itself “rot”.

122 Comments

  1. tribong upos

    I don’t agree.

    Sometimes we are quick to criticize without even getting the other side of the story. This should serve as a lesson to all bloggers that with freedom comes responsibility.

    To believe that you can say anything regardless if you are already defaming another person’s reputation (which, by the way is not easy to come by) is plain and simple arrogance. And right now that is the prevailing attitude among bloggers. At least those that i come in contact with. This should change.

    It would be interesting to monitor this case. I myself would want to see Ella Ganda go to jail if proven that she defamed Cabral.

    Being a public servant does not mean that Cabral no longer has the right to protect her reputation. Yes, she should be open to criticism, but it doesn’t mean that she should just accept criticisms and not do anything about it especially if it would put an institution and her reputation in bad light.

    Criticism is good but only if it is constructive and not if it is malicious.

    And I don’t think she is trying to intimidate Ella Ganda. She is just trying to protect her reputation.

    Let the court decide if this Ella Ganda did put the institution in bad light and tainted Cabral’s reputation.

  2. tonyo

    The issue is here whether Ella Ganda committed libel — which I found doubtful and too difficult to prove. The element of malice is not present in the assailed blog post.

    Could this be a test case to perhaps “teach bloggers a lesson”? Maybe or maybe not. While I don’t wish to say Filipino bloggers are perfect, the rule must be to uphold their right to expression. If they commit a mistake, there are ways to correct it. Libel cannot be the first or only way.

    Cabral has at her disposal all the means to correct what she perceives to be wrong or mistaken in Ella’s blog post. Unfortunately, she has opted to use libel, the same tool used against crusading journalists to silence them.

  3. jigs arquiza

    tonyo, if ella ganda’s blog did not show any “malice”, then what exactly was she trying to do? her post was very personal; it seems she was trying to gain reaction from her readers, and getting it. she was fancying herself as a “whistleblower” and enjoying the ruckus that she created.

    she said that there were no volunteers except the eight of them. if she had sincerely wanted to help, she could have posted in her blog that the dswd needed volunteers.

    gusto lang niya ata gumawa ng gulo eh.

  4. jigs arquiza

    looking at your credentials, it’s surprising that you are taking a stand against cabral’s actions. paano naman ang reputation ni cabral? nasira na dahil sa post ng manok mo.

    you, with all your affiliations and ek-ek, should know better than to defend someone who obviously don’t know what JOURNALISM is. it’s not about freedom of speech, dude. it’s about being able to say or write what you want, AS LONG AS YOU HAVE THE FACTS TO BACK IT UP, and as long as YOU HAVE SHOWN EVERY SIDE OF THE STORY.

    the ella ganda post is just too ONE-SIDED.

    if this ella person submitted that story to me, i would throw it in the trash as soon as i finished reading it and would have given her hell for not showing cabral’s side.

  5. tonyo

    Jigs, thanks for coming over.

    Yun na nga – kailangang patunayan na may malisya. Cabral has to make that case and its very hard to prove.

    But whether Ella just craved for attention is beside the point. Libel is just too much – she could be jailed. Cabral meanwhile has the luxury of her position to demolish Ella’s claims, point by point.

    Read Ella’s blog post again. She apparently was expressing her dismay at the inefficiency and delays she witnessed. And remember the time she posted it. Twas when more relief aid was needed by more people across Luzon. She perhaps merely wants the DSWD to efficiently and quickly bring relief aid to those who need it.

  6. tonyo

    Cabral’s reputation appears to be intact. She even got to be appointed as DOH secretary. She still has the trust and confidence of President Arroyo.

    Yes, it would have been better had Ella interviewed DSWD officials. But she didn’t. She may have her reasons. But that does not make her comment unfair or invalid. That also does not give Cabral a license to sue her for libel.

    Anyway, journalists went after the story, taking their cue from Ella’s blog post. Cabral then had the opportunities to explain to far wider audiences and she did it many times.

  7. jigs arquiza

    tonyo, that’s exactly the point. ella can be jailed. therefore, she should not have shot her mouth off just like that. she was very irresponsible in doing that.

    you say her comments were not malicious. i found them to be very sarcastic, ergo, malicious. believe me, i am a master of sarcasm and i know it when i see it.

  8. tonyo

    Those are two different things, sarcasm and malice. Sarcasm is a literary device. Malice is the overriding and key element in libel.

    As it is, Ella’s blog post is not a news story and the blog is not a news outlet. It is a personal blog for expressing her personal view. She is legally entitled to expressing those views. If she criticized Cabral and her handling of the relief goods, that’s fair commentary. We have a right to express fair comments.

  9. jigs arquiza

    malicious/sarcastic comments:

    “Para sa mga “special victims” kaya ito? Ire-repack kaya ang mga “imported” camp pads na ito ever?”

    “Sabagay, may BANIG naman para sa “ordinary victims”. Ito ang kasama sa inimpake namin. Sayang ‘yung imported.”

    “Hindi rin ito kasali, of course. Hindi namin alam kung ano ang laman nito. “Imported” are not included, we have concluded.”

    “Naaah! “Imported” pork and beans from Spain po ito. Sorry, hindi pa rin included”

    “Relief goods na ayaw yata ibigay sa mga nasalanta. Halatang-halata.”

    Millions of dollars in donations, walang extrang pang-gasolina.

    “Susulpot din siguro ang laman ng mga mahiwagang kahon at mapapasakamay din ng mga tao…sa ARAW NG ELEKSYON. O mabibili na nila ang mga imported goods na ‘yon sa mga puwesto sa Quiapo at Divisoria.”

    these are just a few of the comments. don’t tell me there is no malice in them, especially in the last one.

    oh, and by the way, i am a section editor of a newspaper, so i think i do know what i’m talking about when i say “malice”.

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