Everything You Need to Know About Atom Araullo's P2 Million Damage Suit vs. Red-Taggers Lorraine Badoy, Jeffrey Celiz
GMA Integrated News anchor Atom Araullo formally filed a civil complaint against SMNI hosts Lorraine Badoy-Partosa and Jeffrey Celiz.
Badoy was a former undersecretary in the Presidential Communications Operations Office during the administration of former President Rodrigo Duterte.
SMNI or Sonshine Media Network International is a TV network owned by controversial televangelist Apollo Quiboloy.
Atom filed his complaint with the Office of the Clerk of Court at the Quezon City Regional Trial Court, on September 11, 2023.
Following this, Atom participated in a press conference to detail the "defamatory red-tagging statements" being thrown at him by Badoy and Celis.
Atom was accompanied by his team of legal counsels—Atty. Antonio La Viña, Atty. Ayn Tolentino, Atty. Rico Domingo, Atty. Artemio Calumpong, and Atty. Cris Yambot—part of the Movement Against Disinformation (MAD) organization.
Reg-tagging is a controversial act that endangers the accused by aligning them with the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
"Bagamat ito ay partikular na atake sa akin at sa aking pamilya, tingin ko, ito ay bahagi ng mas malawak na pattern ng panggigipit sa members of the press. Red-tagging is just a specific form of intimidating members of the media, whose reporting does not fit their particular agenda," said 40-year-old Kapuso broadcaster Atom Araullo.
Atom shared that, at first, he intended to ignore what he calls baseless accusations against him by Badoy and Celiz. But he decided it was time to correct the wrongs done to him and his family.
Atom further explained, "Tingin ko kasi, mali. Ang tingin ko, dapat managot ang mga pasimuno ng ganitong disinformation. Ginagamit natin ang lahat ng ating mga kakayahan at paraan para gawin ito. Isang hakbang lamang ang legal battle.
"Pero siyempre, patuloy din ang ating pakikipaglaban sa disinformation sa ating sariling paraan—sa pamamagitan ng ating social media, at sa pamamgitan ng ating trabaho bilang mamamahayag. Ito ay espesyal na kaso kunsaan meron tayong kakayahan na dalhin yung ganitong klase na malinaw na pagkakalat ng disinformation sa korte para mapanagot sila sa isang legal na paraan."
Atty. Tolentino further elaborated, saying that labeling Atom as a "komunista" was malicious.
He said, "Meron ding sinabi, pinubly declare that he was part or a member of the Communist Party or at least an enabler. Inakusahan si Atom din na binibiktma niya ang mga Pilipino at pinoprotektahan niya ang mga komunista. Sinabi rin na ginagamit niya ang kanyang trabaho bilang journalist to destroy and attack others. Gumagawa rin daw siya ng mga dokumentaryo na faithful to the likes of CCP-NPA-NDF."
The CCP-NPA-NDF or Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front refers to rebel communist groups in the country.
Atty. Tolentino added, "Maraming beses din tinawag siya [Atom] na spawn of an active CCP central committee leader. Yung mga bagay na yun, yung mga statements na ganun, hindi mo sasabihin broadcasted on air. Lalo na ngayon, meron tayong anti-terrorism act. It could place his life, liberty, and security at risk."
It was seconded by Atty. La Viña, who revealed that their camp has evidence of the lies spread by Badoy and Celiz in their SMNI program, Laban Kasama Ang Bayan, particularly during the special episodes on August 10, 2022; August 25, 2022; and November 1, 2022.
He added, "Lahat yung mga complaint documented through mga downloads, Facebook, yung mga sa SMNI... We have feeds already. Na-memorialize namin. Kasi evidence yun later on kung di nila in-admit. But I think they will admit it kasi, even yesterday, when we sent out feelers, basically, si Mr. Celiz nag-comment sa isa dun, and basically admitted everything na ginagawa nila. Importante pa rin yung to show the evidence of what they did... Parang they believe actually na tama yung ginagawa nila."
Atom said the following about the derogatory statements being thrown at him by Badoy and Celiz: "Ayoko naman i-gatekeep kung ano ang journalism. Pero kung ito ang indikasyon ng aking pananaw sa kanilang programming, partikular sa programming ni Lorraine at Jeffrey, tingin ko may malinaw na lapses sa kanilang code of conduct, sa kanilang media ethics. Kailangan nila panagutan."
The civil complaint filed by Atom is related to the violation of Articles 19, 20, 21, 26, and 33 of the Civil Code. Atom's legal team explained that the aforementioned laws aim to protect the "personal rights, human relations, and dignity" of an individual.
Because of the alleged defamatory statements by Celiz and Badoy, Atom is said to have experienced "serious damage" and "injury" to his "reputation, peace of mind, and personal relations."
"Si Atom and his reputation and his peace of mind is worth more than P50 million, baka more than a hundred million," said Atty. La Viña. "But the court will consider that unreasonable from a legal point..."
Meanwhile, Rico said the P2.07 million damage is still small: "Hindi naman sa pera yan, sa prinsipyo that underpins the complaint. Ang ipinapakita natin dito, meron dapat managot sa ginagawa nilang kasinungalingan. At kung mananagot yan, ang damages ay unquantifiable."
Atom also said that if he wins the legal battle and receives the damages he is asking for, he will donate it all to an advocacy that fights for "freedom and truth tellers."
On July 20, Atom's mother, Carol Araullo, first filed a separate P2 million damage suit against Badoy and Celiz. Carol is chairperson of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), which according to the organization's Facebook bio is a "multisectoral formation struggling for national and social liberation against imperialism."
On Atom Receiving Death Threats
Atom also revealed that he has been receiving threats on his life due to false information being spread about him.
"Marami namang threats sa social media to the point na medyo masasanay ka na nga," said Atom. "Sinasabi nila, 'Pupugutan kita ng ulo pag nakita kita,' 'isang araw mabubura ka rin sa mundo.' I guess, para sa ating mga journalists, dahil minsan lagi mo siya natatanggap, pinagwawalang-bahala mo na lang. Pero hindi naman puwedeng ganun, dahil di natin alam kung ano iniisip ng mga tao."
Araullo also shared how he's cautious in these situations since part of his job as a journalist is to go to remote and dangerous places.
Why Did Atom Not File a Criminal Complaint?
Atom also explained why he did not file a criminal complaint like libel against Badoy and Celiz.
"Personally, I draw the line at filing a civil case rather than a criminal case dahil nakita ko in many cases in the past, kahit na yung mga legitimate journalists, kinakasuhan ng libel. Ayoko naman maging halimbawa na ginagamit din yung libel... Tinutulan ko as an individual the criminalization of libel," said Araullo.
"But yeah, I mean, yun naman minsan ang problema sa batas. Kahit maganda yung adhikain, maganda yung nakasulat sa papel, iba yung practice kung paano siya ginagamit. Hangga't di naaamyendahan iyon, hindi nagkakaroon ng mga safeguards para sa legitimate journalists, mas pinipili ko na magsampa lamang ng kasong sibil."
When asked what his direct message was for Badoy and Celiz, Atom simply said: "None in particular. This is my message, this case. I think they will receive it, and they have a chance to answer."
On the Impact of Red-Tagging on Journalism
Atom's lawyers stressed the importance of fighting disinformation, particularly on the issue of red-tagging.
"Kumbaga sa target shooting, markado ka na. And antecedent facts will show na yung minarkahan na yun, either tini-threaten o talagang pinapapatay. Wag na tayong lumayo, maraming napatay na journalists," said Atty. Domingo.
He added, "Ang pinaka-impact nito sa mga journalists, itong red-taggers dine-destroy nila ang tunay na function ng journalists. Binibigyan nila ng political color ang sinasabi nila sa media. Red-tagging actually stifles dissent and impinges on the freedom of the press and expression.
"At ito ay may chilling effect sa journalists. Ang mga mamamahayag ay natatakot na ngayon na biglang maging subject kayo ng extrajudicial, and threats and violence sa inyong liberty and physical being."
From: Pep.ph. This article has been translated from Tagalog to English.