ORMOC CITY – A regional trial court judge here has convicted a returning Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) for cyber libel for his Facebook criticisms hurled against then Ormoc Mayor Richard I. Gomez during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in May 2020.

Mayor Gomez is now Congressman of the Fourth District of Leyte. 

RTC judge Maria Corazon S. Vergara-Naraja convicted returning OFW Julius Bactol Tahanlangit to serve an indeterminate prison term of 6 months and one day of prision correcional as minimum, to five years, five months and 11 days as maximum for bashing then Ormoc Mayor Gomez for his alleged “sluggish response” and lack of “a genuine heart to help” last May 26, 2020, about two months after the COVID-19 pandemic was declared. He was also ordered to pay Gomez PHP 300,000.0 as “moral damage with legal interest at the rate of 6% per annum until fully paid.”

The convicted OFW bashed Gomez for not being able to fetch them as soon as they arrived in the Tacloban airport on May 25, claiming Ormoc was the only local government unit who did not send vehicles to fetch her returning overseas workers. 

During the trial of the case, Tahanlangit admitted that it was still the LGU who fetched him and his companions the next morning after they arrived in May 25, 2020. The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) billeted them at the Hotel Rodolfo in Tacloban City, while waiting for their ride. 

It was on the next day, May 26, that Tahanlangit posted first, claiming “he wanted to get the attention of LGU-Ormoc.”

Tahanlangit did not stop there. He continued to criticize Gomez for “thinking like it was a scene of Palibhasa Lalaki,” and that the director can just cut the scene out if he messes up. Tahanlangit made imputations to Gomez’s capability as a mayor in various posts, including in his responses to friends and commenters. 

In her decision, Judge Naraja said that Tahanlangit’s first two posts “were made in the valid exercise” of his Constitutionally-protected right to freedom of expression. The following posts and comments, the judge noted, were sarcastic and imputed on Gomez’s worth, competence and mettle as Mayor of Ormoc City. 

The judge said, “The Court finds that accused was motivated by actual malice in posting the defamatory statements on Facebook because said statements were no longer relevant to his supposed purpose of seeking the help of LGU-Ormoc City. There is even no evidence showing that he exerted effort to contact said LGU to ascertain the cause of the delay.”

“The derisive remarks came at a time when respect for and obedience to authority were most needed to generate compliance with health protocols imposed by the national and local governments,” and caused Gomez “humiliation and subjected him to ridicule by mocking his previous work as an actor and by portraying him as someone incapable of performing his job as local chief executive,” Naraja said.  The judge also noted that Tahanlangit “did not have to wait long in Tacloban. He stayed there for less than 24 hours which he mostly spent in a hotel.” His stay and meals were shouldered by the OWWA. By the EV Mail editorial team (EV Mail March 13-19, 2023 issue)