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Vicki Belo's Cyberspace Libel Suit Ought to be Heard Nowhere but on Netizen's Facebook Forum

Here we go again, libel, libel everywhere, where it stops no one knows? The Philippines indeed is teeming with onion skinned indiciduals, as if filing a libel suit really clears what they believe was their good name and refutation. As if we don't have enough pending cases due to the snail paced justice dispensation we see frivolous libel suits clogging the system when there are serious pressing cases that deserved to be heard expediently.

Once again we are about to witness a spectacle involving Dr. Vicki Belo of the botched ass job against activist lawyer Argee Guevarra, I am posting this article sent to my FB inbox

Facebook User Welcomes Dr. Vicky Belo's Libel Suit "As First of its Kind" in the World

Facebook user and activist-lawyer Argee Guevarra today welcomed the libel suit filed by the Belo Medical Group and Dr..Vicki Belo against him at the Office of the City Prosecutor in Taytay, Rizal, Philippines, for his status updates and shout-outs in his private Facebook account.

Guevarra, who acts as counsel for Belo victim Josefina Norcio over two botched butt augmentation procedures performed by the Belo Medical Group using the banned substance Hydrogel, was sued for libel over status update posts in his Facebook account where Guevarra called for a national patients’ boycott of Belo Clinics and for referring to Dr. Belo as “Reyna ng Kaplastikan, Reyna ng Kapalpakan” (Queen of False Pretenses, Queen of Incompetence).

Dr.Vicki Belo is a celebrity doctor previously involved in a video sex scandal. She operates upscale plastic and cosmetic surgery clinics frequented by this impoverished nation’s elite and owns various offshore clinics and booking offices in Thailand, South Korea and the United States. Dr. Belo, however, is not licensed by the Philippine Association of Plastic Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (PAPRAS) to perform cosmetic surgery procedures. She presides over a multi-million dollar empire consisting of plastic surgery clinics, beauty salons and manufactures health and beauty products.

The suit is the first Facebook libel case in the world where the complainant does not even belong to the defendant’s network of Facebook friends. A previous Facebook libel case was, however, filed in UK where businessman Mathew Firsht sued a former school friend over a false personal profile on the site that included private information about him and untrue allegations about his sexual orientation.

The libel suit against Guevarra was commenced vicariously through Dr. Belo’s general manager who managed to add herself to Guevarra’s network of 1,472 friends.

Guevarra, a political activist previously jailed by the Arroyo regime for his participation in two failed uprisings, similarly faced a Php 300 million ($6 million) libel suit from former First Lady Imelda Marcos 13 years ago after Guevarra wrote in his erstwhile column in BusinessWorld, a series of commentaries accusing the former strongman’s wife of widespread plunder during the reign of the Marcos dictatorship. The libel suit was eventually dismissed.

Guevarra welcomes the libel suit as an opportunity to invite public attention to the hazards and dangers of cosmetic surgery clinics performing surgeries with untrained, unskilled, incompetent and unlicensed medical practitioners and advertising such services as safe and hopes to ring alarm bells at the Health Department against the proliferation of such colorum clinics which is destroying the country’s medical tourism industry and earning for the country the moniker of being Asia’s No. 1 Chop Shop. More than this, Guevarra seeks to defend himself all the way to the Supreme Court in order to elicit jurisprudence regarding internet-based libels.

Guevarra reacted to the libel suit in his Facebook status update which states: "A wannabe mortician masquerading as a cosmetic surgeon will never be able to stitch up the difference between formalin or botox, between free speech or slander when suing for libel a Facebook user for his shout outs and status updates. Such surgical stupidity results in mistaking Facebook for Erasebook”.

For his part, Atty.Guevarra’s counsel, Atty. J.V. Bautista, a U.P. classmate of Dr. Belo, laughed off the libel suit and pointed out its material defects – “The libel case filed by Dr. Belo needs a serious facelift before it could even be dignified in any court of law. The pleading itself reads and looks like a failed surgery on the laws of libel …

First, the venue is improperly laid. It should not have been filed before the Taytay Prosecutor Office and instead filed before Makati City Prosecutor’s Office which is the place of the offended party (Dr. Belo) and where Facebook, Philippines holds Office. The filing of the case in Taytay may have sinister motives. What is so special about filing the case in Taytay?

Second, the libelous statements were printed and published by Dr. Belo’s own general manager and upon the authority given her by Dr. Belo’s estranged husband and Belo Medical Group Corporate Secretary Atom Henares, which should make said general manager a co-respondent of Atty. Guevarra. In effect, Dr. Belo should be suing her own general manager;

Third, the alleged defamatory statements are privileged communication and are per se, not libelous. Said statements of Atty.Guevarra fall under constitutionally protected exercise of free speech;

Finally, the analogous libel case of Alfonso Yuchengco/Pacific Plans vs. Philip Piccio, arising from a blog written by Mr. Piccio against Pacific Plans was ordered dismissed by the Department of Justice which ruled that there is no such thing as internet libel since Art. 355 of the Revised Penal Code strictly provides that libel can only be committed by means set forth therein (writing, printing, radio etc.) and does not include the internet. Furthermore, criminal statutes are construed strictly in favor of the accused.”

The preliminary investigation is set on Sept. 24, 2009 at the Taytay Hall of Justice, Taytay, Rizal before Asst. City Prosecutor Cheloy Garrafil.

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