DOJ indicts ex-Top Gear PH editor-in-chief for ‘cyber libel’

MANILA — The Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed criminal charges against a former editor-in-chief of motoring news website, Top Gear Philippines, in connection with an online libel complaint filed by a man who was mistakenly tagged in a road rage incident in Manila.

The DOJ panel of prosecutors found probable cause to indict Vernon Sarne on charges of violation of the libel provision of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, filed by Nestor Punzalan after he was mistakenly identified in a report published by the website as the gunman behind the shooting of cyclist Mark Vincent Geralde in Quiapo, Manila.

Punzalan, in his complaint, accused Sarne of imputing him as the suspect who drove a red Hyundai Eon and shot Geralde dead on July 26, 2016.

After checking the plate number of the Hyundai vehicle from the closed circuit television (CCTV) footage of the incident, Sarne posted on the Facebook page of Top Gear the complainant’s Facebook account and his Hyundai Eon.

“The above posts by the officials of Top Gear Philippines allegedly subjected complainant and his wife to public ridicule, trauma, shame, casting dishonor, discredit and contempt,” read the resolution approved by Senior Deputy State Prosecutor Richard Anthony Fadullon and Acting Prosecutor General Jorge Catalan Jr.

“He admitted having posted the subject photo and video of complainant’s vehicle and assumed full responsibility on the said act,” the resolution noted, adding that the alleged offense checked off all the elements for it to be considered as libel.

The case was referred to the City Prosecutor of Manila last February 23.

Punzalan filed the complaint against Top Gear Philippines’ editors with the National Bureau of Investigation in August 2016, less than a month after he became the subject of netizens’ bullying due to the misidentification.

Authorities have earlier cleared Punzalan of wrongdoing, instead tracing the cyclist and gaming attendant Geralde’s killing to ex-Army reservist Vhon Tanto.

Meanwhile, the DOJ dismissed the complaint filed against other respondents — Top Gear Philippines officers Dinzo Tabamo, Tracy Carpena, Jeffrey Reyes, and Adelbert Christopher de Jesus for Punzalan’s alleged failure to establish their involvement in the uploading of the controversial post.

“The complaint against them is recommended dismissed for lack of probable cause,” the resolution said.