JOINT STATEMENT: “Fake news” provision threatens freedom of the press, expression

We, media organizations, advocates of freedom of the press and of expression, journalists and academics, raise the alarm over the insertion of measures to control free expression in the “Bayanihan to Heal As One Act.”

We refer to Section 6(6), which penalizes “individuals or groups creating, perpetrating, or spreading false information regarding the COVID-19 crisis on social media and other platforms, such information having no valid of beneficial effect on the population, and are clearly geared to promote chaos, panic, anarchy, fear, or confusion; and those participating in cyber incidents that make us or take advantage of the current crisis situation to prey on the public through scams, phishing, fraudulent emails, or other similar acts:”

This provision is tellingly embedded in Section 6, Penalties, which seeks to punish a menu of offenses “with imprisonment of two months or a fine of not less than P10,000 but not more than P1 million, or both, such imprisonment and fine at the discretion of the court.”

But the fact is that Section 6(6) seeks to punish people for an offense that, legally, does not even exist.

In effect, the law will leave it up to the government to be the arbiter of what is true or false, a prospect that cannot invite confidence given the fact that many administration officials, including the chief executive, have been sources of disinformation and misinformation.

Even before the measure was signed into law, news reports flagged the Philippine National Police’s formation of a task force that would go against supposed purveyors of “fake news. ”  In Cebu, Governor Gwendolyn Garcia publicly humiliated rapper Brandon Perang for making fun of government efforts against the pandemic on social media. She forced Perang  to “swear” an oath to “obey the law” in front of her and other officials. She also announced the creation of a “special unit” to go after other critics.

While we acknowledge the need to fight disinformation in this time of crisis, we fear the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act will only end up criminalizing free speech. We assert that the best way to fight disinformation is through education and the truth.

In times of crisis, when the swift delivery of accurate information to our people is vital, we need more, not less, independent reporting.

Alas, Section 6(6) and the accreditation requirement imposed on media will result in the opposite, to the detriment of our people.

To the community of independent journalists, let us tighten our ranks and stand firm in opposing any restrictions on the free performance of our duties.

To all freedom-loving Filipinos, stand with us in defending freedom of the press and of expression and your, the people’s, right to know.

Signed by the following media organizations and individuals:

Altermidya – Alternative People’s Media Network
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility
Center for Community Journalism and Development
College Editors Guild of the Philippines
Concerned Artists of the Philippines
Davao Today
The International Association of Women in Radio and Television – Philippines
Kilab Multimedia
Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity (LODI)
National Union of Journalists of the Philippines
Rappler
Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism
Vera Files
Photojournalists’ Center of the Philippines
University of the Philippines – College of Mass Communication

Interaksyon Editors
Rosette Adel
Camille Diola
Jeline Malasig

Philstar.com Editors
Jaira Krishelle Balboa
Deni Bernardo
Kristine Bersamina
Gaea Cabico
Ian Cigaral
Jonathan de Santos
Franco Luna
Prinza Magtulis
Dino Maragay
Kristine Joy Patag
Kristofer Purnell
James Relativo
Ratziel San Juan
Matikas Santos
E.C. Toledo

Alan Alegre, Consortium on Democracy and Disinformation
Cong B. Corrales, Associate Editor, Gold Star Daily
Danny Arao, Dept. of Journalism, University of the Philippines Diliman
Noemi L. Dado, blogger
Jimmy Domingo, photojournalist
Inday Espina-Varona
Lisa Garcia, Foundation for Media Alternatives
Bart Guingona, MediaNation
Ma. Diosa Labiste, Dept. of Journalism, University of the Philippines Diliman
Dominic Ligot, Democracy.Net.PH
Ed Lingao
Luz Rimban, Konrad Adenauer Asian Center for Journalism
Manny Mogato
Carlos Nazareno, Democracy.Net.PH
John Nery, Columnist, Philippine Daily Inquirer
Marian Pastor Roces, MediaNation
Bernice Soriano, Foundation for Media Alternatives
Lucia Tangi, Dept. of Journalism, University of the Philippines Diliman
Jane Uymatiao, blogger
Tyrone Velez, columnist, SunStar Davao

Emergency should not curtail independence of media

March 23, 2020

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines is concerned over the bill Malacañang has asked Congress to pass in special session today, Monday, March 23, declaring a national emergency on account of the COVID-19 crisis and allowing President Rodrigo Duterte to wield extraordinary powers.

While we recognize the gravity of the health crisis our country and people are confronted with, we are just as worried that the emergency may be used as justification to suppress basic civil and political rights, including the freedom of the press and of expression.

We cite, in particular, Section 4 (4), “Authorized Powers,” which provides:

“When the public interest so requires, temporarily take over or direct the operation of any privately-owned public utility or business affected with public interest to be used in addressing the needs of the public during the CoVID- 19 emergency as determined by the President, including but not limited to, hotels and other similar establishments to house health workers, serve as quarantine areas, quarantine centers, medical relief and aid distribution locations or other temporary medical facilities; public transportation to ferry health, emergency, and frontline personnel and other persons; and telecommunications entities to facilitate uninterrupted communication channels between the government and the public; and Provided, however, that to the extent feasible, management shall be retained by the owners of the public service or enterprise, under the direction and supervision of the President or his duly designated representative who shall render a full accounting to the President of the operations of the utility or business taken over; Provided further, That whenever the President shall determine that the further use or operation by the Government of an such public service or enterprise is no longer necessary under existing conditions, the same shall be restored to the person entitled to the possession thereof; Provided, finally, That reasonable compensation for any additional damages or costs incurred by the owner or the possessor of the subject property solely on account of the take-over may be given to the person entitled to the possession of such private properties or businesses after the situation has stabilized or at the soonest time practicable;”

The open-ended phrase “including but not limited to” exposes all possible enterprises imbued with public interest, including the media, to potential takeover, while broadcasters, which are regulated by the National Telecommunications Commission, could be construed to be “telecommunications entities to facilitate uninterrupted communication channels between the government and the public,” a function all media outfits perform.

We call on the community of independent Filipino journalists to be vigilant and close ranks against any attempts to prevent us from carrying out our duties. We also call on media houses to assert independence from government interference.

In this time of crisis, we owe it to our people to assure the continued and timely delivery of accurate information. #

The NUJP National Directorate

JOINT STATEMENT by Kodao, Bulatlat, Pinoy Weekly, Altermidya, Suniway, and IP Converge

The parties understand that the plaintiffs claimed to have been victims of what appear to be repeated cyberattacks on their respective online platforms.

Collectively, the parties declare:

IP Converge Data Services, Inc. (IPC), Suniway Group of Companies (Suniway), as well as the individual defendants, namely Ernesto R. Alberto, Nerissa S. Ramos, Anabelle L. Chua, Juan Victor I. Hernandez, Patrick David R. De Leon, Sherwin Torres, Christian Villanueva, Cean Archievald Reyes, Rolando O. Fernando, Julia Mae D. Celis, Mary Ann F. Recomono, and Jiang Zongye (collecively referred to as “defendants”),  express their utmost respect and full support of press freedom as a constitutional guarantee and a tenet of a democratic society.

As defendants have no prior knowledge of, much less consented to, the use of IPC’s and Suniway’s respective cyber-infrastructure for the perpetration of these cyberattacks, defendants commit to support a free press. Effective mechanisms to combat such attacks shall further be improved to prevent a repeat of this kind of situation.

In consideration of such declaration and commitment, plaintiff-operators of Bulatlat.com, Kodao.org, PinoyWeekly.org, and Altermidya.net hereby collectively withdraw their Complaint against defendants with prejudice. Likewise, defendants shall withdraw their counterclaims against the plaintiffs.

With this agreement, the four media outfits as plaintiffs are satisfied that their rights to press freedom and free expression have been recognized and upheld even as they vow to remain vigilant against any future or similar attacks. #

AMARC condemns the arrest of broadcaster Frenchie Mae Cumpio of the Philippines

February 19, 2020, Kathmandu, Nepal.

The World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC Asia-Pacific) joins its members, human rights defenders and advocates of free media in the Philippines in condemning the illegal arrest of Frenchie Mae Cumpio, 21, a community broadcaster and journalist associated with the Aksyon Radyo – Tacloban DYVL 819 kHz. Frenchie Mae is also the Executive Director of the independent media outfit Eastern Vista, correspondent of Altermidya in Tacloban City and an active member of the Philippine chapter of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television. According to statements, she and four other human rights defenders were arrested in Tacloban City early Friday morning, February 7, 2020.

According to human rights groups in the Philippines, the arrest of Frenchie Mae and the others is part of the government’s work to silence those media personalities that are critical to the policies and principles of the state. Frenchie Mae was under surveillance by the state forces since 2018. The last one was this year, January 31 where a suspected element of the Armed Forces of the Philippines visited her office in Tacloban City carrying a bouquet of flower with Frenchie’s photo inserted on it. Even though it was meant to be a death threat to her Frenchie Mae continued her work until her arrest.

AMARC and its global family of community radios and advocates of freedom of expression stand in solidarity with our members and colleagues in the Philippines in protesting against the attacks by the Duterte administration against human rights defenders and free media,” said Ram Bhat, President of AMARC Asia-Pacific. #

(The World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) gathers more than 5,000 community radios, federations and community media stakeholders in approximately 115 countries.)

‘Detained for interviewing protester’: Altermidya denounces arrest of Radyo Ni Juan reporter

AlterMidya

National alternative media group Altermidya strongly denounces the intimidation and arrest of Davao-based reporter Glenn Jester Hitgano of Radyo ni Juan. 

Hitgano was interviewing protesting workers from banana company Philippine Dream Farm Dev’t in Carmen, Davao del Norte on Jan. 21 when police cut short his interview and took him to the police station. 

The police claimed that Hitgano “insulted” them by interviewing the protesters, and attempted to handcuff the reporter. They also tried to confiscate his phone and demanded him to delete the interview.  

Hitgano was held for an hour, and was released only after convincing the police that he will not report on the workers’ protest. The Radyo ni Juan reporter said he covered the protest after receiving information that the workers were harassed by uniformed men the previous night. 

Altermidya condemns this attack on our colleague, who was clearly being coerced into silence by state forces who were uncomfortable with the truth. The arrest and intimidation of journalists like Hitgano is a blatant violation of media’s task of exposing the truth to the public. It is pure assault not just on press freedom but on the public’s right to know. 

Altermidya calls for an independent investigation to hold into immediate account the members of the Carmen police involved in this gross wrongdoing. State forces should be at the forefront of safeguarding rights such as free speech and expression, and not be the purveyors of abuse. 

Initial people’s victory in the long march for justice

STATEMENT OF ALTERMIDYA NETWORK ON THE AMPATUAN MASSACRE VERDICT

AlterMidya

December 19, 2019

The conviction of members of the Ampatuan clan is an initial victory of the families and of the people who have joined their long journey for justice.

We hail the courage and determination of families, witnesses and lawyers who stood up against the powerful Ampatuan clan.

We commend Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes for upholding the rule of law.

The decision today is a small step toward ending impunity. It sends the message that the powers-that-be can still be held accountable, albeit belatedly.

This is not the endgame. Eighty of the accused are still at large and it is crucial for the Duterte administration to make sure that they are arrested and tried. Legal options for appeal can still be availed – from the RTC, to the appelate court, up to the Supreme Court. We will soldier on, no matter how long.

The past ten years have galvanized us, fortified our ranks. After the massacre, killings of journalists continued. Fifteen of our colleagues have been gunned down under this administration.

Moreover, warlordism, political patronage and all the conditions that led to the tragedy ten years ago remain. The enablers of this dome of impunity remain vastly untouched.

We will continue to engulf the reign of impunity in the blaze of the people’s wrath.

State of Media Freedom in PH

Red-tagging, intimidation vs. press: Du30, state agents behind 69 cases

By The Freedom for Media, Freedom for All Network*

  • A network composed of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), MindaNews, Philippine Press Institute (PPI), and Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ)

THE STATE OF MEDIA FREEDOM in the Philippines under the Duterte Administration remains a tragic story as new and more cases of attacks and threats continue, with marked uptick for certain incidents.

The situation highlights the unyielding reign of impunity, and the shrinking democratic space in the country, even as the nation awaits next week, on Dec. 19, 2019, the promulgation of judgment on the Ampatuan Massacre case of Nov. 23, 2009 that claimed the lives of 58 persons, including 32 journalists and media workers.

After over nine years of trial, Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes, presiding judge of Branch 221 of the regional trial court of Quezon City, will decide on the case that has been described as the “deadliest strike against the press in history.”

From June 30, 2016 to Dec. 5, 2019, or in the last 41 months, 154 incidents of attacks and threats against the news media had been documented jointly by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP).

The 154 cases include 15 journalists who had been killed under the Duterte Administration even as cases of intimidation and online harassment registered the highest numbers, by category of incidents.

The most worrisome numbers are 28 incidents of intimidation, 20 online harassment, 12 threats via text messages, 12 libel cases, 10 website attacks, eight slay attempts, and eight cases of journalists barred from coverage.

Sixty cases of attacks were made against online media — the highest by media platform — apart from 41 cases against radio networks, 33 against print media agencies, and 15 cases against television networks.

Of the 154 cases, at least 69 had linked state agents — public officials from the Executive and Legislative branches, uniformed personnel, and Cabinet appointees of President Duterte – as known or alleged perpetrators. Of these 69 state agents, about half or 27 are from national government agencies.

Luzon island logged the biggest number of cases at 99, including 69 in Metro Manila alone. Mindanao logged 37 cases, and the Visayas, 18.

In the last six months, however, the most disconcerting and fastest rising numbers of attacks and threats include:

  • Multiple instances of public broadsides and attacks by President Duterte and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. against certain journalists and media agencies, and threats by the President to personally see after the denial of franchise renewal for a television network. “Ayan. Nationwide man ‘yan. Ikaw, ABS-CBN, you’re a mouthpiece of… Ang inyong franchise, mag-end next year. If you are expecting na ma-renew ‘yan, I’m sorry. You’re out. I will see to it that you’re out,” the President warned ABS-CBN network;
  • Red-tagging of journalists and media organizations as alleged fronts of leftist and communist groups by officers of the Armed Forces, Philippine National Police, Philippine Communications Operations Office, and other state agents;
  • Workshops conducted by the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) in the regions compelling journalists to sign off to a “Manifesto of Commitment” to “wholeheartedly support” the Administration’s “Whole-Of-Nation Approach In Attaining Inclusive And Sustainable Peace, Creating A National Task Force To End Local Communist Armed Conflict, And Directing The Adoption Of A National Peace Framework,” as mandated by Executive Order No. 70 that Duterte issued in December 2018; and
  • A case of mistaken arrest of a journalist had also happened. In June 2019, Fidelina Margarita Avellanosa-Valle, Davao Today columnist, was arrested at the Laguindingan airport allegedly based on a warrant of arrest for murder and other alleged cases. She was brought to Pagadian, held incommunicado for hours, and later released in the evening with just an apology from the Philippine National Police or PNP.

RED-TAGGING

More cases of red-tagging or red-baiting of journalists by police or military officers or their intelligence assets and allies have been reported.

· On Nov. 4, 2019, in an interview with the anchors of “The Chiefs” program of TV5, Lorraine Marie T. Badoy, undersecretary for New Media and External Affairs, tagged the National Union of Journalists and other media personnel as so-called fronts of Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army. “Are they or are they not part of the CPP-NPA? They are,” Badoy said. Asked if she was saying that these groups are fronting or are part of terrorist organizations, Badoy replied, “Unequivocally. Yes.” Badoy added, “I just don’t want a reporting. I want a clear and unequivocal denunciation of the human rights violations of the CPP-NPA.”

In a statement, NUJP said that Badoy clearly painted the NUJP as enemies of the state. “This is essentially an open call for state forces to threaten, harass, arrest, detain and kill journalists for doing their job,” NUJP said.

“Clearly,” added NUJP, “the intent of this red-tagging spree and all other assaults on press freedom is to intimidate the independent media into abandoning their critical stance as watchdogs and become mouthpieces of government.”

· On Sept. 17, 2019, at a public forum at the Don Honorio Ventura State University in Bacolor, Pampanga, Rolando Asuncion, regional director of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) claimed Pampanga TV manager Sonia Soto was among 31 identified media personalities in the NICA’s list of alleged rebels. “Sa CLTV36, kilala niyo ba yun? Si Sonia Soto, ‘yong maganda? Iyon.(Do you know Sonia Soto? The pretty one in CLTV36?)”

A report by SunStar said that in a Facebook post, Soto denied the accusation in no uncertain terms. “I cannot accept this label or tag because I am neither a communist nor a terrorist,” the report quoted Soto as saying. “I am a professional TV station manager and a Kapisanan ng Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP)-licensed TV broadcaster. I have never allowed CLTV36 or any of its shows to be a mouthpiece for anyone advocating terrorism or to raise arms against government in the course of my work as a broadcaster and general manager of CLTV36.”

“As a matter of fact,” Soto added, “like all TV stations, we use a standard disclaimer to caution the viewers should anyone among the guests in a TV show utter words that may be misconstrued as reflective of the Management’s views on a specific topic being discussed. Please know that I am concerned for my safety.”

Soto, a student leader at the Lyceum of the Philippines, was a signatory to a 1982 agreement between the League of Filipino Students and the Ministry of National Defense that bars state security forces from entering state universities.

The incident allegedly happened during a “Situational Awareness and Knowledge Management” briefing, which Asuncion described as “pursuant to the mandate of NICA in implementing Executive Order 70 calling for the creation of a National Task Force specifically in the adoption of a National Peace Framework to end the local communist armed conflict,” according to those who were invited to the event.

On multiple occasions, various state agents and pro-Duterte groups have tagged independent and critical journalists and media agencies as supposed fronts or supporters of the leftist and communist groups, via social-media posts and in press statements.

Those who had been targeted include journalists from Mindanao Gold Star Daily, MindaNews, Visayan Daily Star, Davao Today, radyo Natin Gumaca, the PNP Press Corps, Rappler, Vera Files, the NUJP chapter members in Cagayan de Oro, and PCIJ.

COMPELLED CONSENT

Statements by military officers and forums conducted by the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) in the regions compel journalists to sign off to a “Manifesto of Commitment” declaring their “wholehearted support and commitment to the implementation of President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s Executive Order No. 70 to the Regional Task Force To End Local Communist Armed Conflict.”

  • On Nov. 19, 2019, journalists in Eastern Visayas were invited to a forum organized by NICA’s Region 8 Task Force in Tacloban City. “Partnering with the Media in Winning Peace and development in Eastern Visayas” was the theme of the forum conducted by the Task Force’s “Strategic Communications Cluster” and “Situation Awareness and Knowledge Management Center.” Some participants said that NICA’s invitation for journalists to sign off to the “Manifesto of Commitment” was practically compelled and demanded. To decline could have been interpreted as going against the Task Force’s supposed goal of ending the “communist armed conflict.”
  • On Dec. 6, 2019 in Butuan City, Agusan del Sur, the Philippine Information Agency reported the conduct of another meeting with journalists by the Strategic Communications Cluster of the Regional Task Force To End Local Communist Armed Conflict (RTF-ELCAC) with NICA Regional Director Manuel Orduña.
  • In May 2019, members of the Defense Press Corps took exception to a letter to editors and social-media posts by Maj. Gen. Antonio Parlade, Armed Forces of the Philippines deputy chief of staff for civil-military operations.

The Philippine Star reported that Parlade had accused reporters of being “biased and of colluding with communists” when they failed to carry the statement made by Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, AFP spokesperson, about the writs of amparo and habeas data that the Supreme Court had granted the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers.

“These media are allowing their government to be punched and bullied without giving it an opportunity to air its side, or more appropriately, to express the truth,” Parlade had said. The reporters “do not want to expose the truth about these front organizations” of the Communist Party of the Philippines, Parlade added.

The Defense Press Corps said that not one of its members carried the AFP’s statement because “it was, to put it bluntly, a rehash of a written statement he issued three days earlier.” It stressed that DPC is an organization “indebted to no one—not to the AFP, the Department of National Defense, the NUPL, the left and other state and non-state actors.”

“It is a very unfortunate that MGen. Parlade, who is supposed to bridge the gap between the AFP and the ordinary people as the military’s top civil military operations officer, is shooting the messenger by falsely and randomly accusing DPC members of transgression on our core values,” the reporters said, adding that Parlade’s intention of spreading his letter in social media is questionable.

“To be accused of bias, merely by not carrying a stale statement, sends a chilling message to media practitioners to parrot the military line or else, be discredited,” the Defense Press Corps said. Freedom for Media, Freedom for All Network, 10 December 2019

DATA TABLES:

By the numbers, here are the cases of attacks and threats on media freedom in the Philippines covering the period from June 30, 2016 to Dec. 5, 2019. Some numbers/data may have changed from previous reports after some cases, upon further investigation/consolidation of data, were proven to be not work-related.

INCIDENTS, BY CATEGORY, PLATFORM, GENDER:

INCIDENTS, BY LOCATION:

INCIDENTS, BY ALLEGED PERPETRATOR:

South East Asia: Too many journalists targeted for simply doing their job

Journalists directly targeted for attack by public or private individuals is the primary threat for media workers in South East Asia with far too many facing arrest or detainment for simply for doing their jobs. Today, on International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists (IDEI), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the South East Asia Journalists Unions (SEAJU) launch the preliminary findings of the 2019 annual survey of journalist working conditions in the region and call on governments and authorities to do more to enhance the safety of journalists in South East Asia.

The survey, which is the second collaboration of the IFJ and journalist unions in South East Asia, found that the single biggest threat to the safety and security of journalists was their working conditions. The survey delves into the issues impacting journalist safety and working conditions on the region as a whole, as well as taking a focused look at the situation on the ground for media workers in the seven SEAJU member countries including Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand and Timor Leste.

The survey of 1,265 journalists also revealed that one in two journalists had felt insecure in their jobs in the past year. Noted key threats were physical random attacks by members of the general public, threats to journalists’ families or others close to them, and poor working conditions.

The survey also showed that 38% of journalists felt that the media freedom in their countries had worsened or seriously declined in the past 12 months. Impunity for crimes against journalists was seen as a major problem or considered to be at epidemic levels in the region.

Government and political leadership were the two biggest determinants of impunity for crimes against journalists, while the prevailing poor performance of the criminal and civil justice system to deal with such threats and acts of violence against journalists was a major contributing factor. Full results of the survey and an in-depth report will be released later this month on November 23, the anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre – the single deadliest attack on journalists in history.

Ten years on from the massacre of 58 people including 32 journalists in Maguindanao in the Southern Philippines, there is still no justice for the victims and their families. This year, the Philippines is one of the five countries that IFJ is giving focus to in its global campaign to end impunity.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), the IFJ’s Philippines affiliate, has launched a month-long campaign and commemoration of the massacre. #

The chairperson of the NUJP, Nonoy Espina, said: “While a verdict on the Ampatuan massacre would be most welcome, it would not ensure complete justice with many of the suspects remaining at large after a decade, and still hardly make a dent on the dismal record of 186 journalists’ murders in the Philippines since 1986, all but a handful of which have been solved.”

In Indonesia, the chairman of the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) Indonesia, Abdul Manan, said the survey is a brutal reflection of the violence journalists face day today. Ironically, the authorities that should be protecting journalists are the perpetrators of too many assaults.

“We should not stop increasing our efforts to push the government to ensure the safety of journalists. We demand the authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice and end the culture of impunity not only to Indonesian government but also governments in the region, including Philippines,” Manan added.

The IFJ said: “Attacks on journalists are attacks on our freedom. Together with our South East Asia affiliates, today we call the authorities to take urgent action and ensure the freedom and safety of journalists and end all attempts to silence journalists.”

On Panelo’s ‘honor’

Presidential legal counsel and spokesperson Salvador Panelo again proved that both libel and cyberlibel should be decriminalized when he threatened both Rappler and the Inquirer.net with legal charges for simply reporting on an important and raging public issue. Panelo is showing the Filipino people that this country’s criminal libel and cyberlibel laws are, more often than not, used as weapons wielded by the powerful to exact revenge and to punish than a legal remedy for justice.

In a press briefing in Malacañan Palace Tuesday, Panelo said his office is drafting the libel complaints, against both media outfits for being “irresponsible” and “malicious.” To his mind, reports about his February 26, 2019 letter to the Board of Pardons and Parole forwarding Antonio Sanchez’s family’s request for executive clemency were meant to discredit him in public and to tarnish his honor.

“Balat-sibuyas” is what we Filipinos call officials who are incapable of thinking beyond their imagined hurt and fail to see that the reports are not all about them. Officials of Panelo’s kind must at least admit that, in this case, those reports helped avert the travesty of the convicted rapist and murderer’s early release. Those reports informed the public that flawed laws are being abused by powerful people and that such laws beggars revisiting. Those reports also serve to warn officials like Panelo to be careful in dispensing both duties and favors, even to old friends.

If protecting his honor is what Panelo is really after, he should refrain from carrying out his threat against Rappler and Inquirer.net. Magnanimity is key. Honor is, after all, like a nice shirt seen by others on the wearer, not a sword wielded harshly by the bearer. #

The National Directorate

NATIONAL UNION OF JOURNALISTS OF THE PHILIPPINES

September 4, 2019