MANILA, Philippines - The Court of Appeals (CA) has dismissed a P100 million civil suit filed by GMA Network against ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation.
The CA granted ABS-CBN's petition to dismiss the civil suit filed by GMA for the former's statements accusing the rival network of stealing footage on the arrival of Iraqi hostage victim Angelo de la Cruz in 2004.
In seven-page decision penned by Associate Justice Florito Macalino, the CA’s Sixth Division nullified the order issued by the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City on December 17, 2007 and July 18, 2008 which reinstated GMA’s civil case against ABS-CBN and denied the latter’s motion for reconsideration, respectively.
In both orders, the trial court suspended proceedings on the civil case for damages pending disposition of the criminal case for libel.
However, the CA ruled that QC RTC Branch 216 presiding Judge Ofelia Arellano Marquez violated Section 2, Rule 111 of the Rules of Court when she ordered reinstating GMA's civil suit despite a pending criminal complaint for libel filed by GMA Network against ABS-CBN, and where the complaint for damages arose.
The rule provides that “after the criminal action has been commenced, the separate civil action arising therefore cannot be instituted until final judgment has been entered in the criminal action.”
If the criminal complaint is filed after the civil suit has already been instituted, “the latter shall be suspended in whatever stage it may be found before judgment on the merits.”
"Despite the availability of the separate civil action for damages to the private respondents, however, they cannot file the same in view of the pendency of their criminal complaint. There should be nothing to suspend since the criminal action was filed ahead of the separate civil action," the CA said.
"The public respondent should have dismissed this civil action and should have reinstated and suspended it while the criminal action is not yet disposed of. The assailed orders, as such, are patently void for being contrary to law," said the appellate court.
Associate Justices Juan Enriquez, Jr. and Ramon Bato Jr. concurred with the ruling.
The case goes back to the July 24, 2004 coverage of the arrival of the former Iraqi hostage at the Ninoy International Airport. ABS-CBN broadcast live footage of the arrival of de la Cruz and the subsequent press conference.
Based on their their existing agreement, ABS-CBN’s news coverage was also carried by Reuters Television Service with the condition that any footage will be considered by the latter as "embargo" against use by its other subscribers in the country.
GMA, a subscriber of Reuters and CNN, received and immediately used the live video feed beamed by Reuters from the NAIA. It later explained that it failed to notice Reuters was airing footage of ABS-CBN.
After the incident, GMA Network claimed that ABS-CBN aired a report of the incident in its news programs and defamatory statements were made against them. GMA filed a complaint-affidavit in 2004 charging ABS-CBN and its executives with libel.
In a resolution issued on December 3, 2004, the complaint for libel was dismissed by the Office of the City Prosecutor of Quezon City for lack of probable cause. The Department of Justice denied GMA's appeal, although a motion for reconsideration of the denial is still pending.
GMA Network also filed a complaint for damages in November 2005 with the QC RTC which was later dismissed by the court due to prescription. The Civil Code states that a civil case for defamation must be filed within one year.
Acting on the motion for reconsideration of GMA, the trial court reinstated the civil case for damages but suspended such, pending the disposition of the criminal case for libel.