Magalong should be more tolerant of public criticism

One who seeks a part of public power should be ready to face public criticism.

Baguio City Mayor and former police general Benjamin Magalong recently announced that he is considering taking legal action against Lorraine Badoy, the outspoken former spokesman of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict created by the government.

Magalong claims Badoy linked him to communists during a series of broadcasts soon after the mayor was appointed to a committee to investigate police officials suspected of involvement in the illegal drug trade.

He said Badoy called him a friend of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army.

Magalong claimed this was the second time Badoy engaged in “red-tagging” him for “protecting communists.”

The Baguio City mayor alleged that Badoy’s statements were aired on the Sonshine Media Network International’s AM radio station DWSI owned by Apollo Quiboloy, a pastor close to ex-President Rodrigo Duterte.

Magalong disclosed that his legal team, composed of his daughter and her husband, is also considering taking legal action against Quiboloy.

It appears that Badoy’s statement came about when a guest on Badoy’s radio program, a former communist rebel identified in news reports as Jeffrey Celiz, raised questions about Magalong’s inclusion in the investigation committee.

During the discussion, Badoy allegedly said, “That’s going to be a problem because Benjamin Magalong is a friend of the CPP-NPA.”

Magalong graduated from the Philippine Military Academy in 1982. He said he had been wounded in a military operation against insurgents in Abra when he was a young soldier.

He insists that he “didn’t dedicate his life to fighting the communist insurgents to simply turn around and abandon that cause.” His critics in the SMNI, Magalong said, never went to battle and never experienced actual conflict with the rebels.

It appears that in March 2022, Badoy scored Magalong for ordering the removal of all posters in Baguio City which allegedly evoked red-tagging. Magalong defended his order, saying that he was defending the city’s youth activists, not communists, from what he perceived as their persecution and harassment.

After Magalong spoke to the media, a certain Louise Montenegro of the Kabataan party-list group denounced SMNI. Montenegro labeled SMNI “a disgrace,” and accused the station of “mocking journalism integrity” through the alleged spread of fake news and malicious disinformation against Magalong. She also criticized Badoy and the NTF-ELCAC.

Montenegro did not provide any proof to support her tirade against Badoy, SMNI, and the NTF-ELCAC.

From the foregoing narrative, it may not be a good move for Magalong to sue Badoy and Quiboloy.

As a public official, he is expected to be more tolerant of public criticism thrown his way, as gleaned from the legal doctrine of fair comment.

Under this doctrine repeatedly upheld by the Supreme Court, public officials will not prosper in any suit arising from public criticism, as long as the criticism is not libelous.

Badoy’s alleged statement that Magalong is a friend of the communists is not libelous because a communist sympathizer is not necessarily a communist.

Moreover, there is no law prohibiting red-tagging, and the old law declaring membership in the CPP a crime has long been repealed.

Besides, a libel suit filed by a public official is always an uphill legal battle.

Nobody forced Magalong to hold public office, and he is a public officer of his own free will. He should, therefore, be more tolerant of all public criticism. One who seeks a part of public power should be ready to face public criticism.

Legal experts say Badoy and Quiboloy should question in court Magalong’s inclusion in the investigation panel. As an elected city official, Magalong is not allowed by law to assume a public duty outside of his being Baguio City mayor.

Magalong’s remedy lies not in court litigation but in comporting himself in such a way that will show that Badoy is mistaken in perceiving him as red-leaning.

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