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Diplomat files P10-M cyberlibel suit vs Tribune

ANGELES CITY — The Consul General of the Philippines in Milan has filed a P10-million defamation suit against a Manila newspaper for falsely accusing him of coddling the owners of an immigration consultancy firm in Milan that is being investigated for allegedly defrauding hundreds of Filipinos applying for jobs in Italy.

Consul General Elmer G. Cato appeared before Angeles City Chief Prosecutor Oliver Garcia on Monday afternoon to file 17 counts of cyber libel or violation of Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Law of 2012 against the Daily Tribune.

Named respondents in the complaints were Willie Fernandez, president of Concept and Information Group Inc., publisher of the Tribune, editors and reporters of the publication, and several other individuals.

The complaint stemmed from a series of news reports and commentary published in both print and online editions of the Tribune and its sister publication Dyaryo Tirada that accused Consul General Cato of dereliction of duty and corruption for supposedly sitting on the complaints of Filipinos who claim to have been defrauded by the Filipino-owned Alpha Assistenza SRL.

The Tribune based its repeated allegations on the statements made by Vanessa Antonio, Enrique Catilo, and Apple Cabasis who are among the more than 200 applicants in the Philippines who paid Alpha Assistenza more than P20 million for what they said were nonexistent jobs in Italy.

In his complaint, Consul General Cato accused the Tribune of waging a disinformation campaign against him, saying the allegations that he sat on the complaints were fabricated and based on hearsay. He said Antonio, Catilo, and Cabasis, who are also respondents in the cyber libel case, could not accuse the Consulate of sitting on their complaints because they could not have file any because they are in the Philippines.

Consul General Cato also said some of those quoted by the Tribune include individuals who disowned the statements attributed to them. He also said the Tribune also deliberately omitted in its reporting factual information, including official statements from the Department of Foreign Affairs, that would disprove the alleged inaction that the publication kept on insisting.

“The series of articles and commentary published by the Tribune beginning in September were part of a narrative that was all made up to depict Consul General Cato as a negligent, insensitive, incompetent, and corrupt diplomat who should be removed from his position because he is an embarrassment to the foreign service, ” Cato’s counsel Jocelyn Martinez-Clemente said in a statement.

“The fact that 92 complaints of aggravated fraud have been filed against Alpha Assistenza before the Office of the Public Prosecutor in Milan is proof enough that the Consulate was not sleeping on the job,” Martinez-Clemente said.

Martinez-Clemente said Consul General Cato was dragged into the controversy because of business rivalry among Filipino-owned agencies in Milan called patronatos and his announced intention to regulate these companies to put a stop to the exorbitant fees being charged for services rendered to Filipino clients.