Government official: stop the criticisms or face libel

CMFR/Philippines – Cebu’s provincial legal officer and head of the province’s Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) threatened during a press conference to file a libel complaint against a journalist last 30 June 2014 if the journalist does not stop “attacking” him and his family.

Cebu City is approximately 1,100 kilometers south of Metro Manila.

“I have no intention to file a case against (journalist Bobby) Nalzaro, but if he won’t stop criticizing me, we’ll see each other in court, if that’s what he wants,” a report from MetroCebu News quoted Orvi Ortega as saying during his press conference.

Bobby Nalzaro, anchor for dySS AM radio and columnist for Sun.Star Cebu, had been criticizing Ortega for allegedly receiving payment for fixing a the bidding for security services for the provincial government.

In the press conference, Ortega denied any wrongdoing and claimed that those who lost in the bidding must be behind the “demolition job” against him.

“I called for a press-con because I can’t let him (Nalzaro) destroy me. He even said there’s no one in media whom I can run to.”

In his column in Sun.Star Cebu, Nalzaro denounced Ortega’s threat and challenged the government official to move forward with filing the libel complaint. “I am gladly waiting for the case that you will file,” Nalzaro said.

“He didn’t need to threaten me and announce it to the world,” Nalzaro wrote in his column. “I am raising a very legitimate issue.”

Sun.Star Cebu’s Public and Standards editor Pachico Seares agreed with Nalzaro. “You don’t tell a radio commentator to ‘cease attack of face a lawsuit.’ That amounts to gagging, to ‘prior restraint’ that journalists loathe,” Seares said in his column for the newspaper. “Orvi could’ve just sued minus the threat, and explained why, by himself.  (There was) no need to drag his family before the cameras.”

“If he was denied air time or newspaper space, did he complain about the shutout to the station owner or manager or ask the Cebu Citizens-Press Council (CCPC) or KBP’s (Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas; Association of Broadcasters of the Philippines) Bureau of Standards to mediate? Seeking the right of reply is always worth trying, though at times it doesn’t work if the broadcaster ignores rules of his station and his industry.”

Libel is still a criminal offense in the Philippines despite calls for its decriminalization. In October 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Committee urged the Philippine government to review its old libel law which it described as “excessive.” CMFR and journalists’ groups have been urging the decriminalization of libel for nearly two decades.