Five journalists post bail; editor spends night in police station
THREE editors, including one who was arrested and spent a night in a police station, a staff writer, and a former managing director of Newsbreak magazine, each posted a P10,500 bail bond at the Pasig City police station on March 8 over a P100-million libel suit filed by Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis “Chavit” Singson in 2005. Singson is now a candidate for senator under the Arroyo administration ticket.
Arrest warrants were supposed to be served on editor-in-chief Marites Vitug, former managing director Maan Hontiveros, business editor Lala Rimando, online editor Gemma Bagayaua, and staff writer Aries Rufo on March 7, 2007.
Bagayaua was arrested as she was the only one present in Newsbreak’s office when police officers arrived at around 3 p.m. Libel is a criminal offense in the Philippines.
The arrest warrant was issued on Feb. 15 by Judge Dominador Arquilada of Vigan Regional Trial Court branch 21 but reached the Pasig police only on March 7.
Bagayaua spent the night in the Pasig City police headquarters. She was not able to post bail after her arrest because the head of the police warrant office was not around to release the papers for bail. Vitug said they tried to post bail in a night court in Quezon City, but failed to do so as it was open only until 6 p.m.
Friends and members of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines lighted candles during the night of Bagayaua’s detention in solidarity and to protest the arrest.
The five Newsbreak staffers posted bail at 9 a.m. the following day.
Singson filed the libel suit on June 22, 2005 over the June 6, 2005 issue of Newsbreak that contained stories about his assets as well as his influence on the Arroyo administration.
Singson was reportedly ready to drop the charges if the Newsbreak staff apologized. Vitug however said that they will not apologize as they are standing by their stories.
“Our stories are well- documented. We stand on solid ground,” Vitug said.
Vitug also reiterated the call for libel to be decriminalized as libel has become a potent tool of harassment in the Philippines, where “the powerful can really get away with anything and journalists are at a disadvantage.”
Tribune charged with inciting to sedition
THE DEPARTMENT of Justice (DOJ) has charged the publisher and two columnists of The Daily Tribune, a known critic of the Arroyo administration, with inciting to sedition for allegedly publishing articles that encourage the people to rise against the government.
Under Article 139 of the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines, sedition is “committed by persons who rise publicly and tumultuously in order to attain by force, intimidation, or by other means outside of legal methods” such goals as preventing the promul-gation or execution of any law, or preventing a government official in the performance of his duties.
Article 141 states that a person, “without taking any direct part in the crime of sedition,” has committed inciting to sedition by inciting others “to the accomplishment of any of the acts which constitute sedition, by means of speeches, proclama-tions, writings, emblems, carto-ons, banners, or other representa-tions tending to the same end.”
Chief State Prosecutor Jovencito Zuño approved the filing of separate criminal charges against publisher and editor-in-chief Ninez Cacho Olivares and columnists Ike Señeres and Herman Tiu Laurel and recommended a P12,000 bail for each of the respondents.
Senior state prosecutor Philip Kimpo, who conducted the preliminary investigation, said that “the accused (have) continuously maligned and undermined the present administration.”
A Dec. 21, 2006 ruling by the DOJ stated that the articles and editorials “showed grossly abusive statements against the institutions of the Philippine government as well as its present officials and called for the booting out of this government as the only solution.” The 29-page resolution, which was mailed on Feb. 5, 2006, cited seven of the paper’s editorials and five of Olivares’s columns.
Asher Dolina, National Capital Region chief of the Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), filed the complaint.
The CIDG was the same group that raided the Tribune office on Feb. 25 last year after the declaration of Presidential Proclamation (PP) 1017. The raid was later declared by the Supreme Court as unconsti-tutional on May 3.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo issued PP 1017 on Feb. 24, 2006 placing the country under a state of national emergency. The administration afterwards issued guidelines for the media prohibiting news and commen-taries that are “subversive” and said that the government was closely monitoring the press.
PP 1017 was widely criticized and resulted in a petition by the media before the Court of Appeals asserting their constitu-tionally protected rights against censorship and prior restraint.
Another journalist shot dead in Mindanao
The associate publisher of Lightning Courier, a news weekly in Mindanao, was shot dead by a lone gunman just outside his house in Sultan Kudarat, Shariff Kabunsuan, on the early morning of Feb 19.
According to Sultan Kudarat police chief Ismael Mama, Hernan Pastolero was sitting in a basketball court outside his house in Bulalo village around 6:20 a.m. when an unknown assailant shot him twice in the back of the head using a .45-cal. pistol. Mama added that the killer, who was 25 to 30 years old, also had a lookout.
Avelino Acoymo, publisher of Cotawato Express, who has worked with Pastolero, said that he did not know anyone with whom the late associate publisher had any conflict.
“He was a good person and I don’t think he had any enemies,” Acoymo said.
Mama, who was tasked to head Task Force Pastolero which was created by the police director of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Joel Goltiao, said the police are still establishing the motive behind the killing as no one has been willing to give a statement on the incident.
According to Acoymo, Pastolero, who started in the broadcast industry in 1980s, handled the business aspect of the newspaper rather than wrote stories. Pastolero also served as editor in chief of the defunct Mindanao Newscast, a community paper in the same area.
Pastolero was the second journalist to be killed in Sultan Kudarat after the killing of Marlene Esperat, columnist of The Midland Review on March 24, 2005. Esperat exposed corruption in the local government. The killers—Gerry Cabayag, Estanis-lao Bismanos, and Randy Grecia—were sentenced to life imprisonment on Oct. 6, 2006 after a celebrated 10-month trial.
The murder of Pastolero coincided with the visit of Philip Alston, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings Alston was in the country to investigate the killing of political activists and journalists.
The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility has recorded 62 journalists and media practitioners killed in the line of duty since 1986. Thirty-one of these occurred during the Arroyo administration. In only four cases out of 62 have there been any convictions.
Mike Arroyo files another libel charge
JOSE MIGUEL “Mike” Arroyo, husband of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo sued seven staff members of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, including the publisher and several editors, and demanded P11 million in damages on Feb. 20.
The libel suit was based on an article written by Fe Zamora, “Mike A didn’t go to Marawi? Tell that to the Marines” (March 2, 2006, Inquirer). The article reported the negative reaction of Marine soldiers in Campo Ranao, Marawi City, to denials by Arroyo’s lawyer that the presi-dential spouse was there to buy votes and bribe election officials during the 2004 presidential elections.
Aside from Zamora, the other respondents in the suit were Inquirer publisher Isagani Yambot, editor-in-chief Letty Jimenez Magsanoc, managing editor Jose Ma. Nolasco, associate editors Abelardo Ulanday and Rosario Garcellano, and news editor Artemio Engracia Jr.
The number of journalists sued by Arroyo for libel now totals 46, as Yambot, Magsanoc, and the other editors had already been sued by Arroyo because of a series of columns by Ramon Tulfo that appeared in the Inquirer in 2006.
Zamora’s report had cited the September 2005 testimony of retired Brig. Gen. Francisco Gudani on the alleged involvement of military officers in the 2004 balloting, as revealed in the “Hello, Garci” tapes.
The “Hello, Garci” tapes were a series of wiretapped conversations believed to have taken place between President Arroyo and former elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano discussing the rigging of the 2004 elections.
Gudani alleged in a Senate hearing in September 2005 that Mike Arroyo had flown to Marawi carrying bags containing P500 million which was allegedly used to bribe election officials.
Arroyo, however, said, “I vehemently deny that I ever went to Marawi for the purpose of buying votes or to manipulate the elections in any way. I deny having brought P500 million anywhere for any purpose. I deny having requested anyone, much less any member of the military, to manipulate the election.”
Arroyo filed the libel case before the Manila City Prosecutor’s Office, accompanied by three of his lawyers.
Earlier, a class action suit was filed by more than half of the then 45 journalists sued by Arroyo. Joining the suit were media organizations the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, and The Daily Tribune on Dec. 28 last year. The class action suit, which is asking for P12.5 million in damages, argued that Arroyo has abused his right to sue and violated press freedom by filing a spate of libel cases against journalists.
Arroyo has been tagged by the Paris-based press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders as the “new enemy” of the press in the Philippines for his “raft of defamation suits” against journalists.