Monday, August 27, 2001

Landmark E-Libel Suit dismissed

The Pasig City Prosecutor’s office dismissed recently the landmark libel case filed by Emmanuel Disini, Chief Executive Officer of Dotph, Inc., against Joel Contreras, a fellow IT executive.

The case stemmed from alleged libelous statements made by Mr. Contreras in a Powerpoint presentation, email, and online newspaper that allegedly portrayed Mr. Disini as an unethical businessman who was also engaged in extortion by demanding unreasonable consideration for services. The Pasig City Prosecutor’s Office dismissed the complaint on the ground that malice is not present in any of Mr. Contreras's statements, and that the statements "do not indicate anything that would portray the complainant as an unethical businessman or extortionist."

Many observers consider the case a landmark case because it was supposed to test the admissibility of email and internet publications as evidence to support a criminal charge for libel. In addition, the case involved the Philippines's leading internet personalities. The Pasig City Prosecutor said, however, that it would not pretend to have extensive knowledge of matters concerning the internet because it does not, take special knowledge, skill or know-how to assess the import of the subject statements. It added further that Mr. Contreras’s statements do not portray Disini as an "unethical businessman or extortionist."

Dotph, Inc., a company headed by Mr. Disini, is the ph domain name administrator. Mr. Contreras is the head of Phildac a multi-sectoral organization which is seeking the re-delegation of the ph domain administration from Dotph to Phildac. The alleged libelous statements were made in the course of Phildac’s media campaign to generate support for its cause to gain control of the ph registry. According to Mr. Contreras’s presentation, Mr. Disini would only agree to the re-delegation of the ph domain registry if he would be paid PHp 50,000 and other perks like a free leased line service and access to ph bandwidth. Mr. Disini felt that the statements made him look like he was unethical or an extortionist.

Under Philippine law, the order of dismissal may be appealed to the Department of Justice within fifteen days from notice to the parties of the decision. Thereafter, any party may appeal further to the Office of the President or to the Court of Appeals through a special remedy called petition for certiorari. The final say can be obtained from the Supreme Court should the parties still fail to obtain what they want from the Court of Appeals.

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