By Ma. Teresa Montemayor

Consul General Elmer Cato (File photo)

MANILA – The Consul General of the Philippines in Milan on Monday filed a PHP10-million defamation suit against Daily Tribune for accusing him of coddling the owners of an immigration consultancy firm that is under investigation for allegedly defrauding Filipinos applying for jobs in Italy.

Consul General Elmer Cato filed 17 counts of cyberlibel or violation of Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Law against the Daily Tribune before Angeles City Chief Prosecutor Oliver Garcia in Pampanga, according to a news release shared with the media on Monday.

Cato’s counsel, Jocelyn Martinez-Clemente, said Willie Fernandez, president of Concept and Information Group Inc., publisher of the Tribune; editors; and reporters of the publication were named respondents in the complaints together with other individuals.

The complaint stemmed from a series of news reports and commentary published in both print and online editions of the Tribune and its sister publication, Dyaryo Tirada, that accused Cato of “dereliction of duty and corruption for supposedly sitting on the complaints of Filipinos who claim to have been defrauded by the Filipino-owned Alpha Assistenza SRL”.

“The series of articles and commentary published by the Tribune beginning in September were part of a narrative that was all made up to depict Consul General Cato as a negligent, insensitive, incompetent, and corrupt diplomat who should be removed from his position because he is an embarrassment to the foreign service,” Clemente said in a statement.

“The fact that 92 complaints of aggravated fraud have been filed against Alpha Assistenza before the Office of the Public Prosecutor in Milan is proof enough that the Consulate was not sleeping on the job,” she added.

Clemente noted Cato was dragged into the controversy because of business rivalry among Filipino-owned agencies in Milan, called patronatos (patronage), and his announced intention to regulate the companies to put a stop on the exorbitant fees charged for services rendered to Filipinos.

Cato accused the Tribune of waging a disinformation campaign against him, saying the allegations that he sat on the complaints were fabricated and based on hearsay.

He said Vanessa Antonio, Enrique Catilo, and Apple Cabasis, who are also respondents in the cyberlibel case, could not accuse the Consulate of sitting on their complaints because they could not have filed any because they are in the Philippines.

Antonio, Catilo, and Cabasis are among the more than 200 applicants in the Philippines who paid Alpha Assistenza more than PHP20 million for “nonexistent jobs in Italy.”

Cato emphasized some of those quoted by the Tribune included individuals who disowned the statements attributed to them.

He said the Tribune also “deliberately omitted” in its reporting factual information, including official statements from the Department of Foreign Affairs, that would disprove the alleged inaction that the publication kept on insisting.

The Tribune said it could not respond yet as it is not aware of the case as of posting time. (PNA)