Local radio and TV owner-broadcaster charged with libel

A FORMER Digos city mayor filed more than 225 counts of criminal libel against an owner and broadcaster of a local radio and television station in Digos City, Davao del Sur province. The radio and television stations were also ordered to cease operations on 16 September 2015 following a complaint filed before the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC).

Digos City is 1,382 kilometers south of Manila.

Muews 7.5 fm and K 37 TV owner and broadcaster Arvin Malaza, also known as Jun Blanco, was sued for more than 225 counts of libel  by former Digos city mayor Atty. Arsenio Latasa. The libel charges stemmed from the commentaries made by Malaza on his radio program Isumbong mo kay Blanco (Complain to Blanco) aired daily from 9:00 am to 12:00 pm with simulcast on K 37 TV. Malaza had discussed in his program the extrajudicial killings and questionable projects during Latasa’s administration (1992 to 2010).

The former mayor claimed in the complaint that “he (Malaza) not only belittled the judicial system but also belittled my constitutional right to enjoy my private reputation.” Latasa has been out of government service since 2010.

Malaza told CMFR that the libel complaint was a form of harassment to prevent him from reporting the truth.

Latasa said in a Sun.Star report on September 6 that “I have not attacked him, so what I did was not media harassment. That’s also why I brought it to the proper court so there would be due process and he can face the consequences of what he was saying about me. I will not go to his program because it is not the proper battle ground.”

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 83-year-old libel law which it described as “excessive.” CMFR and journalists’ groups have been urging the decriminalization of libel for nearly two decades.

In what could be a related incident, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) implemented a cease and desist order demanding the closure of Muews 97.5 fm and K 37 TV on September 16.

According to NTC Region XI Director Josue de Villa Go, the cease and desist order was issued on June 24 this year. Go told CMFR that MUEWS 97.5 fm and K 37 TV  had complied with all the requirements except for the Provisional Authority (PA) to operate. The NTC regional director claimed that he had written the station to provide the documents.

Go added that implementation of the cease and desist order was after several complainants wrote a letter to the office of the President.

Malaza said that there are other stations operating without provisional authority, and that his stations were being singled out by the NTC.

The media owner-broadcaster also told CMFR that before the libel suits were filed, he had received several threats and had been harassed by unidentified sources.

In 2013, unidentified men stole a radio transmitter and other equipment of Muews 97.5 fm, wounding the radio station’s caretaker in the process.

CMFR reported that Malaza was at the radio station airing coverage of Digos’s 13th cityhood anniversary when the transmitter housing was taken over by armed men. The transmitter housing was in Barangay (village) Soong, some seven kilometers from the radio station in downtown Digos City.