” They are again free. “
(Part 1 of 2)
In what is surely a triumph for the justice system and for the rule of law, reason, and logic, a criminal complaint filed against six historians for their research findings has been thrown out by the Office of the City Prosecutor of Butuan City.
In a previous column (“The Limasawa 6 case: criminalizing research?”) published June 14, I wrote about the curious case of six eminent and distinguished historians who were criminally charged for libel and falsification.
This was after they submitted a report on their findings on whether Limasawa Island or Butuan was the site of the first Easter Sunday Mass held in the Philippines.
The “Mojares Panel,” now famously known as the “Limasawa 6,” consists of the following: National Artist Dr. Resil Mojares, Dr. Antonio Francisco B. De Castro S.J., Dr. Danilo M. Gerona, Dr. Francis M. Navarro, Dr. Jose Victor Z. Torres, and Dr. Carlos Madrid Alvarez-Piñer.
Their panel was constituted and formed by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP).
As did three previous panels assembled for the same reason over the decades, they found for Limasawa over Butuan after consideration of the arguments and documentary evidence that were presented by various individuals. But one of those whose findings they did not adopt filed criminal charges against them.
Lawyer friends told me this is a one-of-a-kind case. Its outcome was awaited with much anticipation especially by historians here and abroad (Dr. Alvarez-Piñer is a well-known Spanish historian whose ancestor gave Pablo Picasso painting lessons).
Finally, after due consideration of the matter, Assistant Prosecutor Rambo F. Quico and City Prosecutor Aljay O. Go, City Prosecutor of Butuan City, issued a resolution dismissing the case because, among others, the report was privileged communication.
“Granting that the Mojares Panel issued the subject report,” wrote the Butuan prosecutors, “the publication of the said report is considered as privileged communication. The person or persons who makes the report of the official proceedings is not guilty of libel, even if the report contains defamatory and injurious matters affecting another person.”
According to their lawyer, Atty. Saul Hofileña Jr., his clients are indeed vested with immunity from suit and the NHCP should have come out with an official statement invoking their immunity from the moment the case was filed.
He said the NHCP should have had made a statement in support of the historians who were criminally charged for submitting a report that they were asked to make pursuant to the legal mandate of the government agency. This should be a matter of policy. This is especially true, he added, if the historian’s subject of research deals with contentious matters in our nation’s history.
The respondents, including their lawyer Hofileña, can claim credit to the authorship of books and papers that could very well fill up several library shelves.
The dismissal of the criminal cases filed against the “Limasawa 6” by the prosecutors of Butuan without regard to regionalism is welcome news to all researchers and historians. For development to occur, whether it be on the micro level in the laboratory to the macro level of a society, research must be allowed to flourish.
Research is the pure expression of scientific and humanistic inquiry; for humankind to reach for the stars, they must be allowed to stretch as high as they can. Criminalizing research would retard that; it is folly that would force humans to retreat back into the muck of ignorance.
The dismissal is a heartening assurance that the curse of the Inquisition has not returned together with the scourge of another pandemic. The fabled Limasawa 6 can now return to their libraries to study musty documents and ancient books in order to remind us of our nation’s past. They are again free.
*** Dr. Ortuoste is a multi-awarded writer, editor, and researcher. FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO