Tuesday, October 7, 2014

My Day in Court

We were directed to a counter to post bail. The guy behind the counter looked at my papers, looked at me and said “hmmm Raquel…do you know me?” I looked at him blankly and shook my head. 
THE text message from Donna, our newsroom admin assistant couldn’t have come at a better time. I was riding a jeep and almost to the office when I saw her message: “Don’t report to the office today. Police officers are here looking for you, and they have a warrant for your arrest. Don’t call now.”
Time froze and I froze, which was good because I was unable to knock on the roof of the jeep to signal the driver to stop.  

Somebody I wrote a story about filed a libel case against me but we did not get copies of the subpoena, so we were considered a ‘no show’ when the deadline came.It was crunch time and I know it was hard to concentrate to file my stories for the day but in this job, filing an emergency leave was out of the question, unless you die. I had to go to an internet café to file my stories.

It all started a few weeks back when I stumbled upon a complaint filed against a government doctor who conducted a Cesaerian section on a woman who gave birth. The patient experienced non-stop pain in her abdomen for the next months and the doctor prescribed pain relievers. Exactly 18 months later, the baby was playing, bouncing up and down on the patient’s stomach when all of a sudden, a needle protruded from the patient’s stomach. She was brought to the hospital and it was discovered the doctor left a needle inside during the Cesaerian section. 

The patient sued the doctor, and I got the story. Fast forward, the doctor sued me. The problem started when somewhere along the line, one of the editors changed my term ‘indicted’ to ‘convicted’. One word made the drastic difference and now I was slapped with a libel case.
Indict is to formally accuse of or charge with a serious crime, while convict already proves someone of guilt and the complainant won’t accept an erratum. Libel is a criminal offense in the Philippines and punishable by imprisonment plus huge fines. I did not want to go to prison  and I didn't have money to pay for any fines.

Our bail was placed at PhP 10,000 each. Thankfully, the complainant included the assistant editor Nelson and publisher Sir Tony so I was not alone to face my first libel case and the office shelled out money to pay our bail but I was so scared I could hardly concentrate. I watch and listen to court proceedings at the trial courts everyday, but when you are on the other end of the bench, it’s a whole different scary story.
The case was filed in the next city, where the complainant doctor lives. I soon learned that her husband works at the Clerk of Court office there, and I couldn’t help but think that was why we didn’t get copies of the subpoena. Strike one.

We were pointed to a counter to post bail. The guy behind the counter looked at my papers, looked at me and said “hmmm Raquel…do you know me?” I looked at him blankly and shook my head.
“Well, I made it to the headlines because you wrote about me for some alleged wife beating case,” he said. I gulped, mumbling something about just doing my job.Strike two.

Our chances were getting slim. Then I learned that my case was raffled off to a judge who also made it to the headlines because I wrote about him not fulfilling his child support duties. Strike Three.

Our lawyer was a veteran in the field though and played the case filing one hearing postponement after another. That’s one thing in the Philippines. You can hold off a case as long as you have money to pay your lawyer. To cut it short, our lawyer filed a motion to drop me from the case because no malice was proved and I left the country. A couple of years later I learned that the case was dropped altogether. Several more complaints were filed later, but the death threats that often came my way were way scarier. You don’t know who your enemies are. 
Mark this page, more adventures coming up!

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