ZAMBOANGA CITY -- A town councilor in the province of Zamboanga del Sur has been convicted for eight years imprisonment for the crime of cyber libel, the first of its kind, by a regional court.

In a 14-page decision penned by Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 12 Judge Gregorio dela Peña, Councilor Archie Yongco of Aurora, Zamboanga del Sur, was found guilty "beyond reasonable doubt" for violation of Section 4 (C)(4) of Republic Act 10175, otherwise known as the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.

The decision is dated February 24, 2020.

Lawyer Quirino Esguerra Jr. bared Monday that his client, former Mayor Emmanuel Palma II, of Aurora, Zamboanga del Sur, filed the case against Yongco for the malicious post on his Facebook account dated May 10, 2019.

The Facebook post reads as: “P**ang ina nimo Jojo ning patay napud kag tawo sa Bemposa! Magsulti2x kag wala ky goons !!! yawa kang daku asa man tong challenge mag usa mog kuwarta tanan!!! Buwesit ka!!! Yawa…”

(God damn you Jojo, again you killed someone in Bemposa (barangay) and you told us that you don’t have any goons, damn you. Where is the challenge that you will use all your money?”)

The alleged post on the Facebook account of Archie T. Yongco was deleted minutes later, but several witnesses took screenshots of the post that were later used by Esguerra presented as evidence in court.

Esguerra said that after Yongco deleted his first post, he made an apology 20 minutes later, which reads as follows: “I will take the consequence that there will be a case filed against me towards that post na dili maayo (which is not good). Mangayu ko ug pasaylo sa katauhan sa (I ask for apology to the people of) Aurora na naka post ko attu because of my anger.”

Seeing the gravity of what he did, Yongco deleted his Archie Yongco Facebook account and made another profile as Ching Yongco.

Esguerra said that Palma has consistently won in many elections since 2001 as councilor, vice mayor and mayor in Aurora, Zamboanga del Sur.

He said that Palma narrowly lost in the May 13, 2019 elections because of Yongco’s malicious and defamatory post, which spread like wildfire among the voters three days before the local polls.

Esguerra successfully presented six witnesses including Palma, the complainant, who all corroborated that the Archie Yongco Facebook account is owned by the councilor himself and the Jojo mentioned in the post is the former mayor.

Yongco, in his testimony, vehemently denied having been the one who posted the malicious statements, adding that he was even shocked upon learning that his name was used in social media.

However, the court said it was not "swayed by the uncorroborated defense" of Yongco, characterizing the latter's defense as "a mere denial and a very poor attempt to avoid the charges against him".

In addition to the prison sentence, Yongco was also ordered to pay a fine of PHP10,000, PHP500,000 in moral damages, PHP100,000 in exemplary damages, and PHP100,000 in attorney’s fees, plus PHP3,000 to the private prosecutor in court.

Yongco's conviction is the first of its kind by the RTC Branch 12, which is the designated court to hear cyber libel cases in the region. (PNA)