A veteran radio broadcaster was cleared of libel charges filed by Wellington Lim, brother of businessman Peter Lim who was publicly identified by President Rodrigo Duterte as among the country’s biggest drug lords.
In an order, Judge Sylva Aguirre-Paderanga of the Regional Trial Court Branch 16 in Cebu City granted the plea of hard-hitting broadcaster Cirse “Choy” Torralba to dismiss the case against him.
The judge cited the failure of the prosecution to formally offer as evidence the tape-recorded remarks of Torralba in his radio program that he saw the Lim brothers having dinner with the then top official of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in 2005 while an investigation was conducted against them over their alleged involvement in illegal drugs.
Paderanga also noted some inconsistencies in the testimonies of the lone witness, an employee of the Lims.
“Viewed from the foregoing established facts, this court finds that the evidence of the prosecution is insufficient to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt of the crime charged,” she said.
Torralba was a news anchor and commentator at dyAR Angel Radio when he was sued by Wellington for allegedly maligning him and his brother Peter in his radio program in January 2005.
The Lim brothers were investigated by Congress as early as 2001 over their alleged involvement in the illegal drugs trade.
Former Rep. Antonio Cuenco of Cebu City’s south district and one of those who conducted the investigation earlier said the House of Representatives had found probable cause for the prosecution of the Lims, but the NBI later cleared them for alleged insufficiency of evidence that would link them to the narcotics business.
In January 2005, while the investigation against the Lims was ongoing, Torralba said in his radio program that he saw Peter and Wellington with the late NBI director Reynaldo Wycoco having dinner in a restaurant in uptown Cebu City.
Wellington fought back and filed libel charges against Torralba.
The prosecution presented as witness Lims’ staff Dioscoro Fuentes Jr. who claimed he recorded Torralba’s “nasty and unkind” remarks on the radio. But the tape-recorded remarks were not presented as evidence in court, the judge said.
“Neither was the court stenographer who allegedly made the transcription of the tape-recorded remarks presented to corroborate the claim of the prosecution witness,” Paderanga said.
She said Fuentes’ testimonies were also unworthy of belief.
During cross-examination, Paderanga said Fuentes claimed that it was he who recorded Torralba’s alleged defamatory remarks.
But in an affidavit executed by Fuentes, he said it was a certain Evangeline Cañares who recorded Torralba’s attacks against the Lims.
“The lone and uncorroborated testimony of Dioscoro Fuentes Jr. cannot be relied upon by the court for it to render a guilty verdict against the accused,” Paderanga said.
The court ruling, however, was released a few days after the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) recently filed a complaint for drug trafficking against Peter Lim and seven others at the Department of Justice.
The filing of the case prompted Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II to place Peter Lim and his co-accused on the immigration watch list to prevent them from leaving the country to evade prosecution. The DOJ had already subpoenaed them to attend the preliminary investigation set on Aug. 14 and 17. Lim denied the accusations against him, saying he was never involved in the illegal drugs trade.
Last year, Peter Lim’s name surfaced after he was identified by President Duterte as one of the biggest drug lords in the country.