Philippine mayor sues activist over Facebook posting

Gongaza town leader files defamation lawsuit over post relating to mining operations, calling defendant a 'crazy woman who tells lies'

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 November, 2012, 4:05am

The operations of two mining firms with Chinese investors in a remote Philippines seaside town have triggered the first defamation lawsuit by a government official over postings about him on Facebook.

Carlito Pentecostes Jnr, mayor of Gonzaga town in northern Cagayan province, said he filed a libel suit against Esperlita Garcia whom he called "this crazy woman who always uses her Facebook [account] to attack me and tell lies".

Garcia, an environmental activist opposing magnetite mining by Huaxia Mining and Trading Corporation and Lian Xing Philippines Stone Carving Company in her hometown of Gonzaga, was arrested recently over the charge. She posted bail of 10,000 pesos (HK$1,900) and has countered by filing her certificate of candidacy to run for mayor against Pentecostes in May next year.

This form of mining extracts magnetite, a key ingredient in making steel, from black sand. Last year, some 168 applications to mine for magnetite in various seaside towns in the northern Philippines were filed by companies, many of them with Chinese mainland partners.

Mining industry sources said these joint ventures have proliferated due to the closeness of the mining sites to two sea ports that ease transporting the ore to China.

Garcia's arrest made headlines since it came after the Supreme Court had temporarily halted the implementation of the controversial Cybercrime Law, which punished with higher jail terms "online libel" committed on Facebook, Twitter, e-mail and even on SMS mobile phone messages.

Garcia said that she is running for mayor because "I want to save Gonzaga from possible devastation brought about by black sand mining operations within prohibited zones and the planned offshore mining", which will pollute the sea.

She claimed she never defamed the mayor.

She said she had posted on Facebook what the mayor said at a rally in April last year and some soldiers were present when the mayor confronted protestors.

She said that when one rally speaker told the mayor it was the people's constitutional right to air their grievances, Pentecostes had accused the speaker of being an armed communist rebel, shouted invectives at her and said: "There is no constitution here. I am the mayor and I don't want to see you here."

Pentecostes has denied the presence of the soldiers during the rally and repeatedly called Garcia "crazy" for opposing magnetite mining.

"When done responsibly, mining will not destroy the environment. Why will I deprive my people of the progress and development that comes with mining," he said.

He said that from January to October this year, mining had provided the town with 126 million pesos in taxes. He had used this to build a new slaughterhouse, a new health centre, classrooms, 100 stalls in the public market, a 16-room hotel with swimming pool and roads.

He said that contrary to what Garcia portrayed on Facebook, residents did not oppose mining. The two mining companies had given jobs to 1,000 local workers, he said.

However, as a result of protests, Huaxia was forced early this year to curtail its 24-hour operations. Huaxia could not be contacted for comment.

However, Jurry Tagnia, a Filipino business partner in Lian Xing mining, said: "No one is protesting against our operations here. I don't know anything about a libel suit."

The Filipino business partner also said he owned the property that was being mined. Tagnia added that there were no more crimes in his area because the mining company was employing 200 locals.