THE National Press Club of the Philippines (NPC) vows to file a counter suit against the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) after the Manila Regional Trial Court dismissed the criminal case (estafa) it filed against past NPC officials in 2008 “for lack of probable cause.”
In an order promulgated last March 17, Judge Marino Dela Cruz of Branch 22 approved the “motion to withdraw information” filed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) against the accused under CC No. 08-26256 and who include: Roy Mabasa, president; Benny Antiporda, vice president; Louie Logarta, secretary; Amor Virata, treasurer; and, Rolly Gonzalo, auditor. Charged along with them were directors, Jun Cobarrubias, Jerry Yap, Alvin Feliciano, Joey Venancio, William Depasupil, Denis Fetalino, Joel Egco, Conrado Generoso and, Samuel Julian.
Citing the arguments of both sides and the previous rulings made by the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, Judge Dela Cruz said: “Inevitably, the only conclusion deduced from the foregoing discussion is that there is no crime committed.”
The case stemmed from the decision at the time by the NPC officials headed by Mabasa to sell the famous ‘Manansala Mural,’ which was done, free of charge, by the late national artist, Vicente Manansala. It used to occupy a portion of the wall of the NPC Bar and Restaurant.
The club decided to sell the mural for P10 million to an art collector to prevent it from further deterioration and to raise fund to settle its gargantuan maintenance bills and debts.
A huge part of the money, P6 million was held in trust and helped financed the construction of the club’s housing project in Bulacan for its members. Eleven of the completed units are now ready for occupancy.
Then GSIS general manager, Winston Garcia, a known art collector, sued the NPC, claiming the GSIS is the “owner” of all NPC properties including the mural.
In coming out with the decision, Judge Dela Cruz gave weight to a Court of Appeals ruling in a related case that belied the GSIS’ claim that it owned the mural.
The CA, in its ruling under CA-GR SP No. 115685 (GSIS vs. Acting Secretary Alberto Agra, et. al), ruled that, “Clearly, petitioner GSIS never became the owner of the subject painting when it bought the NPC building as well as the land on which it stood.
“Ergo, petitioner GSIS cannot charge private respondent for Qualified Theft and Violation of the Anti-Fencing Law for selling the subject property” (mural), the CA said.
The Manila RTC also ruled that the accused did not benefit “either as corporate officers and directors or in their own personal capacities” from the proceeds of the sale.
“Therefore, the conclusion would be that NPC officials who are accused for estafa did not convert the proceeds of the same to their own benefit or personal use,” Dela Cruz stressed.
“We consider this decision as a ‘vindication,’ a victory not only for the officers and members of the NPC but for press freedom itself,” said current NPC president Benny Antiporda.
With the development, Antiporda said they are now readying a “counter-suit” against the GSIS for damages arising from its “unfounded and dubious claims.”
“I guess it’s time to set the record straight and turn the table against our accuser,” the NPC head stressed.
The ownership issue ended when the Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling on August 13, 2012 that junked with finality the complaint of the GSIS.
Although the GSIS repeatedly filed its appeals, the NPC’s position that it did not commit any illegal act related to the sale was sustained by the DOJ and the CA, hence the DOJ motion withdrawing its complaint on behalf of the government.