John Hay row impact: Judge orders ex-BCDA execs’ arrest

Marlon Ramos | Inquirer | May 8, 2017

Seven former senior officials of the state-owned Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) have been ordered arrested by a Pasig City Regional Trial Court (RTC) over a P100-million libel case filed by the operator of Camp John Hay in Baguio City.

Ordered arrested were former BCDA president Arnel Casanova, former chair Felicito Payumo and five erstwhile members of its board of directors—Zorayda Amelia Alonzo, Ma. Aurora Geotina-Garcia, Ferdinand Golez, Elmer Gomez and Maximo Sangil.

Judge Maria Paz Reyes-Yson of Pasig RTC Branch 67 did not issue a warrant for another accused, Teresita Desierto, as she had previously posted a cash bond for her temporary freedom.

Yson required a bail of P10,000 for the provisional liberty of each respondent for libel as defined under Article 353 of the Revised Penal Code.

In her April 10 order, a copy of which was forwarded to the Department of Justice last week, the judge instructed law enforcement authorities to “bring (the accused) before this court as soon as possible to be dealt with as the law and the rules of court direct.”

R&R in Baguio

Businessman John Roberto Sobrepena brought the case against Casanova et al. after the BCDA placed an advertisement in the Inquirer on April 10, 2012, warning the public against investing in the projects of Camp John Hay Development Corp. (CJHDevco) in Camp John Hay, a former American rest and recreation facility in Baguio City.

The real estate magnate is the chair and owner of CJHDevco, which had been at loggerheads with the BCDA over several legal issues pertaining to the development projects inside the popular tourist destination.

In its notice to the public, the BCDA said Sobrepena was the owner of Fil-Estate Corp., which “owned and managed” College Assurance Plan (CAP), a preneed insurance firm that “failed to give educational benefits to its hundreds of thousands of plan holders.”

It also noted that Sobrepena’s company likewise ran the Metro Rail Transit Corp. (MRTDevCo), which “owes more than P1 billion” to the government.

Interestingly, the Baguio City prosecutor’s office threw out in November 2012 a similar complaint filed by CJHDevco against the then BCDA officials in connection with the same newspaper advertisement.

Privileged communication

Casanova had defended the placing of the ad, saying the publication of the notice was not defamatory and should be considered a “privileged communication for being fair and true commentary on matters of public interest” and that the case was just among the harassment suits filed by Sobrepena against the BCDA.

But in a March 30 resolution, Yson found probable cause to order the formal trial of Casanova and the others based on the recommendation of Pasig Assistant City Prosecutor Joselito de Asas, who excluded the Inquirer editors from the criminal suit.

The judge said the information in the advertisement “[tended] to impute the commission of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary” against Sobrepena and that it “[tended] to injure (his) reputation.”

“After a painstaking examination of the allegations … this court holds that there is probable cause to believe that [the] accused … committed the offense charged and should be held for trial,” Yson said in a 12-page ruling.

“While it could be said that it just contained information that were of public knowledge, it mentioned matters involving the business interests of the private complainant to CAP and MRTDevCo that had neither relevance nor relation to CJHDevCo,” it added.

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