Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Court orders arrest of Malaya editors and reporters

The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility prepared this alert yesterday:

Arrest warrant out for newspaper publisher, staff

Source: Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility

Acting on libel suits filed by Jose Miguel Arroyo, husband of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, a local court issued warrants of arrest against a publisher and several of the newspaper’s staff members, as well as a former senator on 16 October in Manila.

In a resolution released early Monday (16 October), Judge Silvino Pampilo Jr. of the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 26 ordered the arrest of national Malaya publisher Amado Macasaet; editors Enrique Romualdez, Joy de los Reyes, Ma. Teresa Molina, and Minnie Advincula; reporters Ellen Tordesillas, JP Lopez and Regina Bengco; and columnist Francisco Tatad.

A bail of P10,000 (about US$200) for each of the accused was paid, according to Tordesillas, who was reinstated as a respondent after being dropped earlier in the case.

Arroyo’s complaint stemmed from a 19 May 2004 column written by Tatad, who is a former senator, accusing the presidential spouse of manipulating the 2004 presidential elections for his wife, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Malaya also published portions of Tatad’s columns in its news reports in May 2006.

’s stories alleged that First Gentleman Arroyo, with the help of military personnel and government officials, bought certificates of canvass throughout the country, especially in Mindanao. In his libel complaint, Arroyo denied the allegation and insisted that he was in Manila at the time of the elections.

In recent months, Arroyo had filed at least 10 libel suits against 43 journalists. Philippine media organizations deplored the filing of the cases, saying these were aimed at creating a “chilling effect” on the press.

Arroyo is seeking a total of P70 million (about US$1.4 million) in moral damages from the libel suits.

More than 600 journalists and 30 local and foreign media organisations, including CMFR, have supported a joint petition drafted by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines calling for the decriminalization of libel in the country. (With reports from GMANews.tv)

For a related alert, please go to: http://cmfr-phil.org/libel-8-29-06.htm

Ellen Tordesillas was initially taken out of the list of respondents, but the First Gentleman's camp decided otherwise. "I have just been informed by Malaya that I have to go to court to post bail because there’s a warrant of arrest issued for me in connection with the libel suit filed by Mike Arroyo," Ellen Tordesillas wrote in her blog yesterday. "I was already dropped from the case but Arroyo petitioned that I be re-instated. The judge approved it."

Here's the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines on this latest development:

NUJP Slams Arrest Order for Malaya Editors and Reporters

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) is dismayed at the issuance of warrants of arrest against Malaya publisher Amado Macasaet, executive editor Enrique Romualdez, editor-in-chief Joy delos Reyes, Ma. Teresa Molina, Ronnie Advincula, columnist Ellen Tordesillas and former senator Francisco Tatad.

That it comes at a time when more than 600 Filipino journalists, joined by foreign colleagues and media organizations have signed a petition calling for the decriminalization of libel and decrying the propensity of public officials and figures like Mr. Arroyo of using our outdated laws to muzzle a critical press makes it more galling.

It serves to highlight the dangers Filipino journalists face from those who seek to hide the dark deeds from which they profit from the light of media scrutiny.

Yet, at the same time, it gives us more reason to demand the passage of legislation to make the law on libel more attuned to the times and cognizant of the paramount importance of freedom of the press and the people's right to know.

We call on Congress to pass this legislation as soon as possible as part of its sworn duty to continue strengthening our still threatened democracy and freedoms.

We also challenge President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to prove her oft-declared commitment to press freedom by certifying such a measure urgent and reining in her husband, whose propensity for harassment suits against those he does not agree with can only belie her words and further erode her credibility.

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