Journalists urge Rules of Court review

Esperat and other cases

The abuse of the rules of court is also evident in other cases such as that of Marlene Esperat, who was killed on March 24, 2005 in her home in Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat. Osmeña Montañer and Estrella Sabay, the alleged masterminds of the killing, have delayed the criminal proceedings against them for more than two years due to their countless petitions and motions filed in different courts.  They are still to be arraigned.

Quinsayas explained that although murder is an offense against the State and not a private crime, complainants’ accepting an offer of compromise from the accused in exchange for withdrawing their complaint can weaken the cases against the accused.

An example is the case of Philip Agustin, who was killed on the night of May 10, 2005 in his house in Dingalan, Aurora. In December 2008, charges against the alleged mastermind, former mayor Jaime Ylarde, were dismissed after Agustin’s daughter Rosebelle withdrew her complaint.

HB 5835 and SB 2965

The participants noted in the last day of the seminar that two bills that would abridge freedom of the press and expression as well as the right to information were in Congress.

House Bill (HB) 5835, filed by Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Jay Velasco, plans to increase the fine for each count of libel.

Senate Bill (SB) 2965, or “The Data Privacy Act”, plans to establish a National Privacy Commission that would monitor the processing of personal information in all forms of media and communication under the guise of privacy and national security. The bill’s definition of “personal information” would impinge on transparency and accountability on the government and private agencies which work has a bearing on public interest.

It seeks to penalize violators, including private entities, government officials and agencies as well as the media, for obtaining, or causing the release or publication of, “personal information”. The proposed penalty is from two years and four months’ to five years’ imprisonment and a fine as high as P2 million.

SB 2965 also conflicts with the freedom of information bill Congress has failed to pass despite a nearly fourteen- year campaign for its passage.

In another statement, the participants opposed HB 5835 and SB 2965, declaring that “Not only media and journalists’ organizations must oppose SB 2965 and HB 5835. Human rights  organizations and accountability and transparency watch groups—every organization concerned with freedom of information, government accountability and with the right not only to disseminate but also to receive information– must unite in preventing these and similar bills from passing the legislative mill, which, in contrast to the speed with which it has processed SB 2965, has failed to act on the FOI bill despite the painstaking efforts of its stakeholders, which include no less than the free press, free expression groups, and the entire Philippine citizenry.” – with Bryant L. Macale

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