MANILA, Philippines — The lawyer of Jose Miguel Arroyo, the President’s husband, hopes to question in court Friday eight of the journalists who sued his client for millions of pesos in damages in a bid to have the class-action suit filed by media against his client dismissed.
Lawyer Ruy Alberto Rondain said Thursday the eight had been subpoenaed to appear in a Makati court as “hostile witnesses.”
“They will have to take the stand. If I’m successful, the class suit will be dismissed,” Rondain told the Philippine Daily Inquirer, parent company of INQUIRER.net, over the phone.
Arroyo, however, will not attend the hearing at which Rondain said he would present evidence for his affirmative defense — which sets up new matters that provide a defense against the plaintiffs’ case, assuming their complaint to be true. The proceeding would be tantamount to a motion to dismiss.
Rondain said the eight, including Inquirer columnists Conrad de Quiros and Ramon Tulfo, were the “first batch” to be summoned before Judge Zenaida Galapate-Laguilles of Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 143.
The others who were subpoenaed were Maritess Vitug, Ricky Carandang, Erwin Tulfo, Mia Gonzalez, William Esposo and Lito Banayo, he said.
Rondain would not disclose his line of questioning, except to say it would likely take one to two hours depending on how much time the court would grant him.
Sought for comment, De Quiros said he had not received a summons. “No one has called me. Since it’s a big group, they probably thought my presence was not needed,” he said.
Lawyer Harry Roque, who represents the plaintiffs, said they would move to quash the subpoenas. “I told them they don’t have to go. It’s [Arroyo] who should testify,” he said.
Laguilles has given Arroyo until Friday to refute the P12.5-million class suit the journalists had filed against him.
In an order dated May 23, Laguilles said Arroyo shall be deemed to have waived his right to present proof in support of his affirmative defense should he again fail to appear in her court.
Arroyo had been absent twice before, citing medical reasons as well as a pending petition for certiorari with the Court of Appeals.
But Rondain said his client’s presence was not required on Friday. Roque, however, said Arroyo’s absence would mean the motion to dismiss should be thrown out.
Roque said he would file a motion to quash the subpoenas in Laguilles’ court so the journalists would not have to testify.
On May 23, the complainants — 36 journalists and three media organizations — indicated their intention to pursue the charges despite Arroyo’s announcement he was dropping all the libel cases he had filed against them.
The class suit, which the journalists called a “social experiment,” accuses Arroyo of abusing his right to file libel suits and of curtailing press freedom.
But Arroyo, after surviving high-risk heart surgery last April, said he was withdrawing all the libel cases he had filed against members of the press over the past several months.
The journalists, in a joint statement, chided Arroyo for making it appear his decision to drop the libel cases was born out of his magnanimity.
“Apparently, Mr. Arroyo has had a dubious epiphany,” the journalists said.
“Instead of realizing, as might have been the case in a true chastening, that he has filed whimsical, malicious, wholesale suits, and apologizing, he presents himself as in fact the one wronged and offers yet to forgive.”