Last April 28, 2000, what would’ve been a simple clarificatory hearing on a libel complaint, filed by Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) against Bombo Radyo before the provincial prosecutor’s office, spawned an ugly incident involving Iglesia followers and broadcasters.

—Bombo lawyer Marcelo Bacalso alleged he was hit on the shoulder with the palm of INC Carcar minister Rizalino Ocampo while Bacalso was reading before the prosecutor a Supreme Court decision on a libel case filed by INC against a woman who “defamed” a high Iglesia official (the SC cleared the woman). The “assault” disrupted and stopped the hearing. Bacalso named three prosecutors who, he said, witnessed the incident.

—Bombo reporters Gerry Auxilio and Ruphil Bañoc, with station manager German “Jojo” Solante, outside the MBF Palace of Justice at the Capitol were “mobbed” by “over a hundred” INC devotees who accompanied minister Ocampo to the hearing. An irate INC follower, Bañoc alleged, punched his face, cutting him in the lip while they were walking toward the van.

—Bañoc allegedly pulled his gun to shoo the INC followers and was disarmed by one PO3 Joel Sanchez, who turned out to be an INC member.

—Bacalso charged the minister with serious disturbance; the INC-member cop charged Bañoc with illegal possession of firearm and, with other Bombo personnel, obstructing justice; the police officer, in turn, faced summary dismissal.

What would seem to be a plain libel case could worsen and spring other cases if emotionally charged litigants would resort to violence and intimidation at any stage of the proceeding, as the incident 15 years ago graphically showed.

Reports by Karlon N. Rama, Rene H. Martel and Allan I. Varquez in Sun.Star Cebu didn’t tell what happened to the criminal complaints, except the illegal gun possession case against Bañoc which the prosecutor dropped (he was a “civilian agent” of the Army intelligence unit and service group and “qualified” to carry a gun). Rama, Martel and Varquez have since left Sun.Star for non-journalistic work. Bañoc is with dyHP, CCTN, Sun.Star Superbalita and Bisdak Magasin and Auxilio is with dySS: they’re both opinion makers in the said media outfits.

Bañoc, now a lawyer, said the charges against the broadcaster and those they filed against the INC followers were dismissed in an “amicable settlement.” Only Marcelo’s complaint against the minister reached its conclusion, with the accused found guilty, Bañoc said. They sought the settlement, he said, so he could take the lawyer’s oath before the Supreme Court.

AMID A MOB of Iglesia ni Cristo devotees, then Bombo Radyo reporter Ruphil Bañoc was punched in the face outside the MBF Palace of Justice at the Capitol in Cebu City.

What 2000 incident instructs journalists

Some lessons learned by the broadcasters involved and must instruct current and future practitioners:

[1] Sensitivity to religious feelings. Broadcast commentaries by Bombo Radyo underestimated the strong sentiment for, and devotion of Iglesia followers to, their leader. When the leader’s name was mentioned and criticized in the radio talk shows, INC members were incensed. The horde that attended the fiscals’ hearing blew up when the Bombo lawyer read the Supreme Court decision about a woman who was acquitted of libel after alleging the INC leader had raped her.

[2] Carrying a gun to the Palace of Justice was ill-advised. Ruphil Bañoc had to pull it when he was mobbed. Good that he didn’t fire it and hurt anyone. Then there was the matter of
accepting the job of special agent which enabled him to possess the weapon and carry it. A young reporter at the time, Bañoc, now a lawyer-journalist, said he wouldn’t be placed in such a situation these days.

(CJJ10 was published in hardcopy in September 2015.)