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”.


  1. jigs arquiza

    sarcasm is a literary device, yes, but in this case, the sarcasm was meant to damage the reputation of cabral, which is where the malice lay.

    that journalists took the cue from ella’s post does not justify her post at all.

    personal views notwithstanding, most bloggers know that they REACH a lot of people. it is one thing for me to say something to another person as a personal view. it is another thing to post something on my blog for the whole world to see. when you put your personal thoughts online, in a blog, the idea is to have as many people see it.

    that is the thing most bloggers don’t understand, that when you make your thoughts public, then these are not personal anymore, rather, these become remarks that cause reactions.

    that is what happened. ella posted, cabral got pissed, ella should face the consequences. anyway, it’s up to cabral to prove malice, right? so what is ella afraid of?

  2. tonyo

    Sarcastic yan, but not malicious in the sense that it is libelous. You should check the entire post and not forget the suggestions made so the DSWD would be more efficient and quick in handling the relief goods.

    Next step now is to wait and see if the prosecutors find probable cause to charge Ella with libel before the courts. Baka sa piskal pa lang, ibasura na ang Cabral case.

  3. jigs arquiza

    it is libelous in the sense that the post sought to destroy the reputation the dswd. cabral may not have been the immediate target, but the post directly malign dswd personnel.

  4. jigs arquiza

    here are the suggestions:

    Suggestions lang po sa DSWD:
    # Alam ‘nyo palang walang mag-volunteer sa inyo, bakit hindi kayo mag-hire ng mga tao? Bayaran ‘nyo ng arawan para mag-repack. Ang daming walang trabaho, makakatulong pa kayo. Hindi naman malaking kabawasan ‘yon sa bilyong pisong donasyon na natanggap ninyo.
    # Isa pa, gaano ba karami ang mga sundalo natin? Hindi ba puwedeng ipagawa sa kanila ‘yan? Baka isang araw lang, tapos na ang problema ‘nyo
    # Bakit hindi ‘nyo ibigay ang trabaho sa mga NGO, churches, private charities, TV stations? I’m sure they are more than willing to help. Time is of the essence. Huwag kayong suwapang. Obvious ba, hindi ‘nyo naman kaya.

    Kung talagang gugustuhin ninyong makarating agad sa mga kawawang biktima ang mga donasyong ‘yon, nagawa ‘nyo na ‘yan. Maraming paraan…kung talagang gusto ‘nyo lang.

    You are the government. You have the power, the resources and the money. You just have to really care.

    those don’t read like suggestions. all they read like are sarcastic comments meant to ridicule the dswd for being incompetent.

  5. tonyo

    Some bloggers may indeed have committed irresponsible acts — they must be held to account and compelled to apologize. Its a community issue for netizens, how to uphold basic ethics. It requires a community effort. Perhaps it may even lead to the adoption of a code of ethics.

    Libel is an altogether different animal. In the Philippine media setting, most media organizations want to end it, to decriminalize it because powerful subjects, such as cabinet secretaries, just use it for objectives totally different from yours.

    The saddest thing that could happen is the spread of the toxic view that we have no right to free expression, that we cannot criticize or use sarcasm against the powerful. If that happens, online and legacy media would lose.

  6. Sam

    Thank you for this post. I was wondering when people will start reacting. I am worried for the blogger’s demise – she’s just one little person against one faction of the government. Why do they always go for the little people? There are so many out there that the government can spend time (and money) worrying about. One blog post doesn’t discredit the government’s reputation and work – my goodness, try years and years of blatant graft and corruption.

    I think we should all be aware of this issue: what happens to Ella can happen to any one of us in the future, should we try to expose what happens behind the scenes or have the courage enough to speak up using a medium that will better reach the people instantaneously.

    Also, I would think that the blog post has even spurred a good thing into action – remember the volunteer shifts organized by RockEd and Bayanihan Online? If Ella didn’t put this out in her blog, would any one of us know that the goods weren’t moving, especially when those goods are identified as emergency relief? Would DSWD really have called for volunteers when it’s apparent that they weren’t doing so?

    I urge everyone to support Ella. Thank you, Tonyo.

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