MANILA – In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a former newspaper editor who filed an illegal dismissal case against his publisher almost seven years earlier, after being relieved over the publication of articles that involved anomalies in the Southern Philippines Development Authority (SPDA) and high officials from the Davao region, including the current Speaker of the House of Representatives and an incumbent governor who was then a member of the Lower House of Congress.
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Chaired by Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno himself, the SC First Division ruled against the petition of Mindanao Times Corporation, publisher of the Davao City-based newspaper Mindanao TIMES, asking to reverse an earlier decision of the Court of Appeals (CA) ruling in favor of Mr. Mitchel R. Confesor, who edited articles in mid-2003 that exposed anomalies in the task force then tasked to deactivate the SPDA before it was reactivated again in late 2006.
Confesor, who was Mindanao TIMES associate editor from November 1998 to June 2003 after being promoted as a 22-year-old staff writer when he was first hired in May 1998, also wrote a separate news article in June 2003 regarding “questionable deals” involving the SPDA. During that time, the SPDA was being deactivated by virtue of Executive Order No. 149 dated 18 November 2002, but it was later reactivated by virtue of E.O. No. 560 dated 29 August 2006.
In a decision (posted in the SC website as G.R. No. 183417) promulgated on 5 February 2010 and penned by Associate Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales, the SC denied the petition for certiorari of Mindanao Times Corp. to reverse the CA’s November 2007 amended decision and May 2008 resolution which both ruled in Confesor’s favor.
The news articles cited anomalies in the SPDA deactivation task force under Atty. Dominador “Boy” Zuño, a former Davao City vice mayor. The articles also cited the latter’s connections and close friendships with Davao City first-district Rep. Prospero “Boy” Nograles, now a last-term congressman and House Speaker who is running again as Davao City mayor in the coming elections, and erstwhile Davao Oriental congresswoman and incumbent provincial governor Corazon Malanyaon.
When he filed a case of constructive dismissal against the top corporation honcho in August 2003, Confesor cited the fact that Mindanao Times Corp. president–chief operations officer and TIMES publisher Guillermo E. Torres Jr. also happened to be a close friend of Zuño.
After the articles were published on 14 June 2003, Confesor was relieved three days later as associate editor, who before June 17 that year had also been writing editorials and publishing a weekly column every Monday in the paper’s editorial section, as well as writing investigative reports such as the SPDA anomalies.
The articles stemmed from a memorandum against Zuño written by his then SPDA deactivation task force vice-chair, Atty. Zosimo Paredes, before the latter became the Commissioner of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and now a two-time senatorial candidate of the Kapatiran party. The memo was actually sent to then Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Eduardo Ermita before he became Executive Secretary.
Aside from Chief Justice Puno as chair of the SC First Division, those who concurred with the decision that Associate Justice Carpio-Morales penned in favor of Confesor were Associate Justices Teresita J. Leonardo-de Castro, Lucas P. Bersamin, and Martin S. Villarama Jr.
Meanwhile, the CA resolution dated 26 May 2008 and amended decision dated 29 November 2007 (amending in favor of Confesor an earlier decision dated 13 November 2006 in favor of Mindanao Times Corp.) were penned by Associate Justice Edgardo A. Camello and concurred in by Associate Justices Jane Aurora C. Lantion and Elihu A. Ybañez.
“I am humbled yet at the same time honored, and thankful that the High Court has ensured that justice can be dispensed also in favor of the disempowered, and not only in favor of the powers-that-be,” Confesor said in a press statement. “With utmost humility, this supreme ruling has made me a better individual and a prouder citizen of this freedom-loving republic, where stewards of law and order strive to put premium on truth, fairness, and equality.”(pr)