Court orders arrest of bishop

THE Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) on Tuesday issued a warrant of arrest against former Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz.

Bishop Cruz was charged with libel by a group of lady employees of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) whom he said became “pitiful GROs (guest relation officers)” during the 2004 birthday celebration of First Gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo.

Judge Antonio Rosales of the Manila RTC Branch 52 issued the arrest warrant even after it granted the motion of Cruz’s lawyer, Estelito Mendoza, to post bail last May 9 to satisfy procedural requirements.

The court set the bail at P10,000 for the temporary liberty of Cruz, a known critic of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

The prosecution did not oppose the court’s ruling.

Mendoza filed a motion before the trial court to allow Cruz to post bail on April 28.

The libel case stemmed from the April 14 decision of the Department of Justice (DOJ) reviving the four-year-old libel case lodged by 17 female Pagcor employees who were vexed by Cruz’s column that came out in a daily broadsheet.

In the assailed column of the prelate, Cruz said the Pagcor employees were allegedly forced to look and act like “pitiful GROs” to entertain the presidential spouse and his friends during his June 27, 2004 birthday.

The DOJ decision, penned by Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez Sr., reversed on review an initial finding of prosecutors that dismissed the libel complaint filed by the Pagcor employees and three others working under the Office of the First Gentleman. They felt alluded to in Cruz’s article and which were circulated and came out in Malaya and other broadsheets and tabloids.

Gonzalez said that Cruz “acted with reckless disregard” of whether the report was true as he did not conduct an inquiry into the veracity of the information he received.

He said under contemporary cultural standards, the word GRO has become synonymous and used sparingly or alternately with the words “hostess, bar girl and prostitutes.”

“That the word ‘pitiful’ was added thereto did not in anyway remove the defamatory character that the term ‘GRO’ connotes,” the DOJ resolution stated.

Even assuming that respondent Cruz has good motives and justifiable ends in causing the publication of article, it does not mean that it is not actionable since it is but a matter of defense, Gonzalez said.

The DOJ further said the unnecessary publicity that the event garnered in circulating and publishing the story to media practitioners covering the church beat, “destroyed whatever good faith and good motives or justifiable ends the respondent had.”

Records showed that on June 28, 2004, complainants alleged that Cruz wrote an article entitled “Sad and Saddening,” copies of which were transmitted to the media by telefax.

In the said article, Cruz claimed that the state-run gaming corporation exploited its women employees officially detailed as marketing assistants by assigning them as usherettes during the birthday celebration of the First Gentleman in Malacañang at midnight on June 27, 2004.

Cruz said the women employees, chosen for their physical attributes and winning personalities, were made to dress exceptionally well, courtesy of Pagcor, and were told not to wear wedding rings, if any, and jewelries. (SunStar)

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