Facebook user welcomes Belo libel suit

Posted at 09/21/2009 10:52 AM | Updated as of 09/21/2009 10:52 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Activist-lawyer Argee Guevarra, who was sued by doctor to the stars Vicky Belo for allegedly maligning her in his Facebook account, yesterday welcomed the move, saying it was “an opportunity to invite public attention to the hazards of cosmetic surgery clinics performing surgeries with untrained and unskilled medical practitioners and advertising such services as safe.”

“We hope to ring alarm bells at the Health Department against the proliferation of such colorum clinics, which is destroying the country’s medical tourism industry and earning for the country the moniker of being Asia’s No. 1 Chop Shop,” Guevarra said in a statement sent to The STAR.

Belo and the Belo Medical Group filed the suit against Guevarra at the Office of the City Prosecutor in Taytay, Rizal.

Belo protested Guevarra’s shoutouts referring to her as “Reyna ng Kaplastikan, Reyna ng Kapalpakan” (Queen of False Pretenses, Queen of Incompetence) and updates calling for a national patients’ boycott of Belo clinics in his Facebook account.

Facebook is a popular social networking site.

Guevarra is the counsel of Josefina Norcio who sued the Belo Medical Group for botched butt augmentation procedures using the banned substance Hydrogel.

Belo, previously involved in a video sex scandal, operates swanky plastic and cosmetic surgery clinics frequented by the elite. She also owns various offshore clinics and booking offices in Thailand, South Korea and the United States.

She, however, is not licensed by the Philippine Association of Plastic Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (PAPRAS) to perform cosmetic surgery procedures.

The suit is the first Facebook libel case in the world where Belo does not even belong to the defendant’s network of Facebook friends, Guevarra said.

A previous Facebook libel case was, however, filed in the United Kingdom where businessman Mathew Firsht sued a former school friend over a false personal profile status on the site, which included private information about him and untrue allegations about his sexual orientation.

The libel suit against Guevarra was commenced through Dr. Belo’s general manager who managed to add herself to Guevarra’s network of 1,472 friends.

More than this, Guevarra seeks to defend himself all the way to the Supreme Court in order to elicit jurisprudence regarding internet-based libels.

Unfazed

Guevarra remained unfazed by Belo and reacted about his latest legal battle in his Facebook status update and referred to Belo as a “wannabe mortician.”

“A wannabe mortician masquerading as a cosmetic surgeon will never be able to stitch up the difference between formalin or botox, between free speech or slander when suing for libel a Facebook user for his shoutouts and status updates. Such surgical stupidity results in mistaking Facebook for Erasebook.”

For his part, Guevarra’s counsel J.V. Bautista pointed out the suit’s material defects, saying it would not prosper because there’s no such thing as Internet libel.

“The alleged defamatory statements are privileged communication and are per se, not libelous. Said statements of Atty. Guevarra fall under constitutionally protected exercise of free speech,” Bautista said.

“Finally, the analogous libel case of Alfonso Yuchengco/Pacific Plans vs. Philip Piccio, arising from a blog written by Mr. Piccio against Pacific Plans, was ordered dismissed by the Department of Justice which ruled that there is no such thing as Internet libel since Art. 355 of the Revised Penal Code strictly provides that libel can only be committed by means set forth therein (writing, printing, radio etc.) and does not include the Internet. Furthermore, criminal statutes are construed strictly in favor of the accused.”

The STAR tried to contact Belo’s counsel Adel Tamano through his cell phone, but he was not available for comment.

The preliminary investigation is set on Sept. 24 at the Taytay Hall of Justice, Rizal before Asst. City Prosecutor Cheloy Garafil.