CA denies Erwin Tulfo, Lynda Jumilla appeal versus tweak of libel case filed by GMA

The Court of Appeals (CA) has denied the appeal of pro-Duterte celebrity Erwin Tulfo and ABS-CBN journalist Lynda Jumilla questioning a lower court order that allowed the amendment of the libel case initiated against them by GMA Network over a 2004 feud.

In a recent 3-page resolution, the CA Former 9th Division sustained its May 31, 2019 decision to affirm the assailed August 14, 2018 order of Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 104 Judge Catherine Manodon.

The libel case concerned a July 23, 2004 broadcast by ABS-CBN that accused GMA of stealing or pirating the former’s exclusive video footage of the arrival of freed hostage Angelo dela Cruz from Iraq.

Charged with libel alongside Tulfo and Jumilla were Maria Progena Reyes, Anna Eugenio Garcia, Eugenio Lopez III, Luis Alejandro, Jose Ramon Olives, Jesus Maderazo, Luisita Cruz-Valdez, Jose Magsaysay, Jr., and Alfonso Marquez.

The defendants questioned Judge Manodon’s order granting the prosecution’s motion to amend the information to state that the defamatory remarks were aired on the now-defunct morning program “Magandang Umaga Bayan,” instead of the now-defunct late evening newscast “Insider.”

Prosecutors said it was an “honest mistake” to cite “Insider” as the title of the show, but the ABS-CBN personalities argued that they were already arraigned under the erroneous charge and that leave of court was not sought before the motion was filed.

The CA refused to revisit the issue on appeal, as its May 31 decision already tackled the “rehashed” arguments and “thoroughly discussed” its finding of substantial compliance on the prosecution’s part.

It noted that the prosecution actually asked permission and did not just file the information with the expectation that the RTC would perfunctorily amend it.

Besides the amendment was not found to be substantial enough, as the alleged defamatory remark remained the same. The defendants would not have been caught off-guard too, because the documentary evidence showed that the assailed remark was made on “Magandang Umaga, Bayan.”

“We have extensively reviewed said arguments again and found no cogent reason to modify or reverse our Decision of 31 May 2019,” read the resolution penned by Associate Justice Apolinario Bruselas, Jr.

The CA also said the petitions was filed out of time to begin with. Although the ABS-CBN personalities claimed to have filed the petition on January 7—or within 60 days of their receipt of the lower court’s order on November 6, 2018—this was belied by the lack of records in the court’s Management Information System.

Instead, the records showed the petition was filed days later on January 18. Moreover, the prosecution should have been served a copy of the petition within the 60-day period, but there was no registry receipt to prove this was complied with.

Still in connection with the Dela Cruz arrival footage, GMA executives faced a separate copyright infringement case. The network had sourced the video from news wire service Reuters, to which ABS-CBN provided footage under the condition that it would only be shared with international media outfits.

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