MANILA, Philippines — A regional trial court judge in Ormoc City has convicted a returning overseas Filipino worker (OFW) of cyber libel for his Facebook criticisms against then Ormoc Mayor Richard Gomez during the early days of the COVID pandemic in May 2020.

Gomez is now congressman of the 4th district of Leyte.

Judge Maria Corazon Vergara-Naraja convicted returning OFW Julius Bactol Tahanlangit to serve an indeterminate term of six months and one day of prision correccional as minimum, to five years, five months and 11 days as maximum for bashing Gomez for his alleged “sluggish response and lack of a genuine heart to help” in May 2020, about two months after the pandemic was declared.

He was also ordered to pay Gomez P300,000 as moral damage with legal interest at the rate of six percent per annum until fully paid.

The OFW bashed Gomez for not being able to fetch them as soon as they arrived in the Tacloban airport on May 25, claiming Ormoc was the only local government unit (LGU) that did not send vehicles to fetch her returning overseas workers.

During the trial of the case, Tahanlangit admitted that it was still the LGU who fetched him and his companions the next morning. The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) billeted them at the Hotel Rodolfo in Tacloban City while waiting for their ride.

It was on May 26 when Tahanlangit made his post, claiming he wanted to get the attention of LGU-Ormoc.

Tahanlangit continued to criticize Gomez for “thinking like it was a scene of ‘Palibhasa Lalaki’ and that the director can just cut the scene out if he messes up.”

He made imputations to Gomez’s capability as a mayor in various posts, including in his responses to friends and commenters.

In her decision, Naraja said that first two posts were made in the valid exercise of his constitutionally-protected right to freedom of expression. The following posts and comments, the judge noted, were sarcastic and imputed on Gomez’s worth, competence and mettle as mayor of Ormoc City.

“The court finds that accused was motivated by actual malice in posting the defamatory statements on Facebook because said statements were no longer relevant to his supposed purpose of seeking the help of LGU-Ormoc City. There is even no evidence showing that he exerted effort to contact said LGU to ascertain the cause of the delay.”

“The derisive remarks came at a time when respect for and obedience to authority were most needed to generate compliance with health protocols imposed by the national and local governments and caused Gomez humiliation and subjected him to ridicule by mocking his previous work as an actor and by portraying him as someone incapable of performing his job as local chief executive,” Naraja said.

The judge also noted that Tahanlangit did not have to wait long in Tacloban. He stayed there for less than 24 hours which he mostly spent in a hotel, with his meals being shouldered by OWWA.

2023-03-18T16:40:52Z dg43tfdfdgfd