Oswald Magno seen here with wife Mila (left) and Philippine Consul General Rosalita Prospero at a Raul Sunico concert.(Photo: The Philippine Reporter)
Updated: May 31, 2018, 9:00 AM
Could this be the end for Balita newspaper?
By Ted Alcuitas
Less than two years after Balita lost a libel case filed by the late Senator Tobias Enverga, Jr., it has now been slapped with another libel conviction.
Balita newspaper, publisher Tess Cusipag and Managing Editor Romeo Marquez, has been ‘severally and individually’ convicted of defaming Oswald Magno.
Oswald Magno says he is “completely vindicated by this decision,” and that justice has been served. (Provided)
In a 20-page decision handed down last Wednesday, May 23, Madame Justice Jane E. Ferguson of the Ontario Superior Court awarded Magno a total of $410,000 in general, aggravated and punitive damages excluding legal costs.
Link to the decision: http://canlii.ca/t/hs66l
This is the second major loss to what is touted as Toronto’s largest newspaper and one of the oldest, founded by the late Ruben Cusipag in 1978.
In July 2016, the paper was found guilty of defaming Senator Enverga, the first Filipino senator appointed to the Senate of Canada.Enverga was awarded over $410,00 in damages and other costs. Payment for the award was confirmed by no less than Romeo P. Marquez who wrote in The Filipino Web Channel, Nov. 28, 2017.
“A day prior (November 15) to his death on November 16, Tess’ family wrote a cheque for $4,714.86 in the name of Enverga’s lawyer in compliance with their demand. That amount was in addition to the two cheques paid three weeks earlier in the amount of $407,955 and $2,045. Overall, the three cheques totaled $414,714.86 (four hundred fourteen thousand seven hundred fourteen and eighty-six cents).”
Cusipag was also convicted of criminal contempt of court for violating the injunction to refrain from publishing anymore articles about Enverga after the decision. She served 13 days out of a 21-day sentence.
Teresita ‘Tess’ Cusipag, publisher of Balita newspaper shown here after her release from prison. (Balita)
Managing Editor Romeo Marquez who wrote most of the offending articles.
The previous award to Enverga and the current award to Magno would bring the total to over $800,000. This does not include legal fees to Cusipag on several cases she has to defend. Legal costs could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to lawyers PCN consulted.
She is still facing another Iibel case filed in 2013 against the paper by the Rustias’ KOL Foundation for $2.5 million. The case is still pending and has not been set for hearing.
The Magno case was heard for two days – January 22 and 25, 2018 and after receiving “voluminous written materials,” Justice Ferguson determined that a summary judgement was appropriate, saving the parties of a costly and long trial.
She awarded Magno $300,000 in general/aggravated damages and $110,000 in punitive damages jointly and severally against the defendants Balita Media Inc., Teresita Cusipag, Editor & Publisher and in her personal capacity and Romeo P. Marquez.
The defendants were represented by Roy Respicio and the plaintiff, Oswald Magno, by Michael Alexander and David A. Potts.
Magno was a former lawyer in the Philippines who immigrated to Canada in 1972, establishing a consulting business.
“The case arose in 2012 when Magno and others commenced a petition to the Philippine Press Club of Ontario complaining about the journalism practiced by the defendants.”
Another issue between the parties was that Magno was a supporter of the Envergas. Enverga’s wife, Rosemere ran a competing beauty pageant with Cusipag.
The court found that during the period in question, Balita published 35 articles in print and online calling Magno as (among other things) an “arrogant gasbag, a shambles bully a habitual liar, a fraudster, etc.”
Despite being given sufficient time to prepare their pleadings, defendants failed to submit sufficient particulars to prove their allegations against plaintiff.
The court ruled in para (26):
“The court is faced with a bald plea of justification/truth without particulars. In the absence of particulars pleaded no particular evidence can be adduced. There is no admissible evidence to support the defendants’ justification/truth defence. The defendants attempted unsuccessfully to explain the defendants’ actions/defences in unhelpful, non-responsive submissions.”
Finding defendants acted with malice, the court in para (62) accepted substantial evidence of Cusipag’s express malice”….establish that the vilification campaign she waged against Magno,with Marquez’s help, was driven by spite, ill-will, revenge and other improper motives…”
In arriving at the amount of damages awarded to Magno, Justice Ferguson relied on the Enverga case as well as other cases.
In his final paragraph the Justice expressed concern that the “defendants will behave the same way as they did with the Enverga case where Cusipag was found guilty of contempt of the injunction and was jailed. “
“I have a concern that the defendants will also be undeterred in this case and will continue to publish defamatory statements against Magno.”
Accordingly, the judge issued a permanent injunction against the defendant from publishing further defamatory materials against Magno.
Magno sees a long road ahead ,”for me, there’s a long road ahead in terms of having the judgment satisfied, he told philippinecanadiannews.com in an email.
Our own research shows that in the absence of other assets, a judge could award ownership of the paper to the plaintiffs. This was the case of the Vancouver-based Philippine Chronicle who lost a case filed against them by a business partner.