GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines -- Boxing icon and Sarangani Rep. Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao has filed a P75-million libel case against a news correspondent here over a controversy involving the alleged sale of a stolen car by one of his close associates.
The alleged dealer, Mohammad “Bong” Aquia, former chief of the Presidential Anti-Smuggling Group in Region 12 or Central Mindanao, also filed a separate P18-million libel complaint against freelance journalist Edwin Espejo, who mainly writes for online site Asian Correspondent.
Pacquiao’s counsel filed the charges against Espejo before the City Prosecutor’s Office late Monday afternoon.
Espejo is former editor-in-chief of the defunct Sun Star daily General Santos and also contributes for the Davao-based news service MindaNews, Sun Star Davao and the Mindanao Times.
He is also chairman of the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines’ South Cotabato-Sarangani-General Santos City chapter.
Pacquiao’s case stemmed from recent articles of Espejo, which appeared at online news outfits Asian Correspondent and MindaNews, as well as in Eurasia Review, which reposted the Asian Correspondent story.
The boxing champion’s complaint cites Espejo for three counts of libel and sought P20 million in exemplary damages and another P5 million in attorney’s fees for each count.
However, none of the complaints cited the news sites on which Espejo’s articles were posted.
On Asian Correspondent, the piece was entitled, “Stolen car dealer finds refuge in Pacman mansion,” while MindaNews titled it “Dealer of stolen cars last seen in Pacman mansion."
In his articles, Espejo cited a February 26 report on www.journal.com.ph that said Aquia was about to be arrested by police at the General Santos airport but evaded the arresting officers by approaching Pacquiao, who had just arrived on a commercial flight from Manila, and boarding the boxing champion’s vehicle.
“Reports said Akia (sic) accompanied Pacquiao in the latter’s residence and has not been seen since,” Espejo quoted the Journal report as saying.
In an earlier press statement, the Philippine National Police said Aquia has been charged with violation of Republic Act 6539 or the Anti-Carnapping Act.
The case was filed after the Highway Patrol Group arrested a village official here for possession of a stolen Hyundai Starex van.
The village official identified Aquia as the source of the “hot car” that was allegedly stolen from a businessman in Angeles City and replaced with a license plate registered to showbiz celebrity Luis Manzano, the PNP statement said.
In his articles, Espejo wrote that Pacquiao could not be reached for comment because he is “in the US promoting his June 9 fight against American Timothy Bradley.”
Instead, Espejo wrote, he talked to Pacquiao lawyer Francisco Gacal, who said he was not aware Aquia was in the boxing champion’s residence.
“Knowing Congressman (Pacquiao) and Jinky (Paquiao’s wife), they do not allow Gensan (General Santos) guests to stay in their mansion,” Gacal was quoted as saying by Espejo.
He added that the lawyer also said he would inform Pacquiao about the report.
In the Mindanews report, Espejo also cited a statement by PNP Director General Nicanor Bartolome about the busting of Aquia’s alleged syndicate, which he described as a “well-entrenched car theft ring” buying stolen motor vehicles in Metro Manila and other parts of Luzon and transporting them to Mindanao where they are given fraudulent Land Transportation Office registration papers and license plates.
In his affidavit of complaint, Pacquiao said he was informed about Espejo’s articles by his public information officer, Rosemarie Tamayo and, on reading them, “I was shocked and stunned to know the accusations against me made by the author, especially as the author made repeated mention of my name and portrayed me to be harboring a suspected carnapper.”
Pacquiao claimed Espejo “has intentionally and maliciously dragged my name to cause dishonor and discredit to my reputation and public image …”
He also claimed that the articles “caused me enormous shock and awe resulting to countless sleepless nights, distress and wounded feelings. It virtually tarnished my reputation in the public.”
In his own complaint, Aquia sought P10 million in moral damages, P5 million in exemplary damages and P3 million in attorney’s fees for the “enormous shock and awe resulting to sleepless nights and besmirched reputation.