Belmonte files libel, cyber libel raps vs. Morato, 10 others

By Perfecto Raymundo, Jr.

February 18, 2019, 4:31 pm

MANILA -- Quezon City Vice Mayor Joy Belmonte on Monday filed libel and cyber libel cases against former Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) chairman Manuel Morato and 10 others allegedly for a “factually incorrect and malicious” article, recalling a case that had already been dismissed by the Quezon City Prosecutor’s Office.

Belmonte was accompanied by her lawyers, led by lawyer Ariel Inton, a former majority floor leader in the Quezon City Council.

The article, entitled “Joy Belmonte: Swak sa Graft”, was published on the tabloid newspaper Saksi: Mga Balitang Totoo Ngayon on Feb. 15, 2019. The publication has an online version.

“I have decided to file a libel case against Saksi: Mga Balitang Totoo Ngayon and also against Mr. Manuel "Manoling" Morato - who serves as the source for the story - for the publication of the article,” Belmonte said in a press conference.

The respondents in the libel case also include the article’s author, Joel Amongo, and Saksi publishers former Congressman Antonio Lagdameo, lawyer Victor Rodriguez, Mina Satorre, Tess Sorsogon, Lito Tugadi, Jesus Galang, Eralyn Prado, Virgina Romano and Ruben Banares.

“I am confident that I will be cleared of these false accusations, so I have filed the case to do justice to the truth and, more importantly, show that there is no space for ‘fake news’ and disinformation in Quezon City,” Belmonte added.

In the libel complaint, Belmonte slammed Morato for accusing her of giving a “special permit” for the construction of a 21-storey building in Quezon City that would give “undue favor” to her brothers.

“First of all, I cannot unilaterally pass a resolution as Vice Mayor of Quezon City. It is a collegial act – an act which requires the participation of the whole City Council – to which I am only a presiding officer. My role as presiding officer is merely to administer the sessions,” Belmonte said.

“At the time the questioned resolution was passed, I was not even the presiding officer. It cannot be stressed enough that the resolution does not contain my signature,” she added.

Belmonte noted that the permits for the structure in question were applied for by Sta. Lucia Realty under an existing joint venture with Jose Morato, Manuel Morato’s brother.

She also denounced Saksi for allowing a headline that insinuates that she is already guilty of the said complaint, when, in fact, she had received no copy of the complaint or subpoena from the Office of the Ombudsman.

In the case filed by the Morato clan at the Office of the Ombudsman, it is alleged that it was the Belmontes – Vice Mayor Joy, Feliciano Isaac, Juan Kevin and Jaime Miguel – who conspired with several others, including one of Morato siblings, Jose “Pepito” Morato, to “illegally” acquire the property on which they are now constructing the Tribute Tower.

Also named respondents to the Ombudsman case, numbered IC-OC-19-0133, were City Councilor Lena Marie Juico and Liberato and Exequiel Robles of Sta. Lucia Land, Inc.

“As of press time, I have received no such complaint as the Office of the Ombudsman has not yet established whether the complaint itself has substance,” Belmonte said.

Belmonte also criticized Morato for “forum shopping”, citing that the “complaint had already been dismissed by the city prosecutor.

“For the above points, I have provided all documentary evidence; I will simply let these speak for themselves,” she said.

“It is unfortunate that Mr. Morato, the author of the article and the newspaper's publisher had resorted to this course of action for their own monetary gain, political clout, or false prestige. Whatever their interests, I assure you that my only interest is revealing the blatant lies that have been hurled against me,” she added.

“Throughout my years as a public servant, I have always regarded press freedom as one of the foundations of a healthy, democratic society, but when that freedom impinges on the truth, then we - as public servants - must work to place the pursuit of truth above all else,” Belmonte said. (PNA)