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RTC dismisses civil complaint for damages versus GMA Network, Mike Enriquez

MANILA, Philippines (Dec 29, 2011) - The Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 126 of Caloocan City recently dismissed a civil complaint for damages against GMA Network and Imbestigador host Mike Enriquez filed by plaintiff Ronald Virola owing to episodes of Imbestigador aired December 14 and 28, 2002.

The said episodes carried a story on Virola, whose house in Caloocan was raided on the strength of a search warrant for allegedly containing undetermined quantity of regulated and/or prohibited drugs, one of which is labeled as Ativan. Likewise searched were video tapes containing nude and obscene footages of different women, who seem to be under the influence of such drugs and victimized by his sexual escapades.

Virola alleged that Enriquez, through the GMA program Imbestigador, falsely imputed the crimes of rape and obscene publication upon his person.

Virola sought P1.2 million worth of damages from GMA Network owing to the latter's alleged malicious reporting aired abroad and on nationwide television that caused him serious anxiety and humiliation.

Presiding Judge Lorenza Bordios, in the 26-page Decision dated November 10, 2011, found no merit to award damages to Virola since GMA Network cannot be held liable for defamatory imputation or libel in the said Imbestigador episodes.

The Court said that GMA's broadcast of the said story falls under privileged communication since it is a fair commentary on matters of public interest, a valid defense in an action for libel, which had its origin in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution which guaranteed freedom of speech and of the press.

The Court likewise said that the issues on the use of drugs as an instrument in rape involving minors and in making of obscene publications are matters of public and/or general interest, which the public has the right to be informed. It is Enriquez's duty as broadcaster to keep the public abreast of how the latest technology and drugs can be used to commit such crimes.

The Decision read, "the plaintiff failed to prove by preponderance of evidence that defendants [GMA Network and Mike Enriquez] made the audio-video publication of the questioned portions of Imbestigador with malice."

The Court said that Enriquez's utterances were based on affidavits of witnesses and court orders filed against Virola prior to the airing of the said episodes.

Then Imbestigador executive producer Jaileen F. Jimeno said that the subject episodes were never aired abroad as it was only in February 2005 that GMA began international broadcasts of its programs.

Jimeno also said that the Imbestigador team did not personally know Virola and had neither reason nor motive to cause him damage or harm. (GMA 7 Press Release)