Media groups ask Supreme Court to issue habeas corpus for jailed broadcaster

CMFR/Philippines – Last 30 May 2008, media groups filed a petition for habeas corpus before the Philippine Supreme Court asking for the release of jailed radio commentator Alexander “Alex” Adonis.

The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, questioned before the Supreme Court the refusal of Superintendent Venancio Tesoro to release Adonis despite a discharge on parole from the Department of Justice’s Board of Pardon and Paroles (DOJ-BPP) in December 2007 and a release order from the Davao Regional Trial Court Branch 14 on 26 May 2008. Tesoro is the warden of the Davao Penal Colony (Dapecol) where Adonis is serving his sentence.

“There is no legal basis for the continued detention of Adonis since he already has a discharge order on the first case and a release order on the second case,” said Adonis’s counsel, lawyer Harry Roque.

Adonis’s party stated in their petition that “the pending case for libel now with Branch 14 of the city’s Regional Trial Court…should not be a bar to his enjoyment of the parole already granted (to) him.” They added that “Tesoro cannot arrogate unto himself the power to unilaterally declare that there is no legal ground to release Petitioner (Adonis) from detention.”

Adonis was sentenced to a maximum of four years, six months, and one-day imprisonment for a libel case filed against him by House Speaker Prospero Nograles. Nograles filed libel charges after Adonis reported on his program that Nograles and his alleged former paramour, Davao-based broadcaster Jeanette Leuterio, were caught by the latter’s husband in an uncompromising situation at a hotel in Manila.

The DOJ-BPP issued on 11 December 2007 parole to Adonis after serving the minimum sentence for his first case, which was received by the regional parole officer in February 2008. But Adonis was not informed of the parole. Tesoro decided not to implement the parole because of Adonis’s pending case with the female broadcaster. Adonis, fellow journalists, and his counsel only found out about the parole on 2 May when they accidentally ran into the Davao City’s parole officer.

Adonis, through his counsel Roque, asked on 26 May Davao RTC Branch 14 Judge George Omelio to allow him to post bail for the second libel case on the strength of his parole for the first case. Omelio granted the petition and issued a release order after Davao media paid the P5,000 bail bond. But Tesoro refused to honor the court order still arguing that Adonis has a pending case (the libel case filed by the broadcaster). “We had to inform the higher authorities before obeying the court order to release Adonis,” Tesoro told the journalists who came to fetch Adonis last 26 May.

Adonis also sought for the implementation of the Supreme Court Administrative Circular No. 08-2008 on Guidelines in the Observance of a Rule of Preference in the Imposition of Penalties in Libel Cases, which prefers the imposition of fines over imprisonment, on the libel case filed by Nograles. “We are questioning whether or not the SC Circular could be given a retroactive effect like in the case of Adonis where he is already imprisoned when the circular came out,” Roque explained.

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