Powerful interests use criminal libel and police to muzzle Filipino media

Media Release: Philippines

04 September 2013


International Federation of Journalists is concerned about a spate of assaults

on press freedom by political and business figures in the Philippines in recent

weeks. IFJ affiliate, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, has

reported a series of incidents including the conviction of a columnist in a libel

case filed by a politician, libel suits against journalists uncovering a

businesswoman’s alleged involvement in a multi-billion peso corruption scandal

and journalists being barred by police from covering the elections of a

regional political group.


remains a criminal offence under Filipino law despite the UN Human Rights

Council's view that it violates freedom of expression. The 80-year old Revised

Penal Code can impose prison sentences for libel.

Last week

the Cebu Regional Trial Court found Leo Lastimosa, columnist for The Freeman and radio-television broadcaster for sister stations dyAB and ABS CBN-Cebu,

guilty of libel over a 2007 about former Provincial Governor and now

Representative Gwendolyn Garcia. Lastimosa was ordered to pay Garcia damages

amounting to P2,000,000.00, (USD 44,000) and a fine of P6000 (USD 135).

Lastimosa faces imprisonment if he cannot pay. Lastimosa says the comments in

the article in question did not relate to Garcia.

Last month

lawyers for businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles filed four libel complaints against

five journalists, a newspaper publisher, a blogger, a legal consultant and a

fashion designer. The charges were filed against Philippine Daily Inquirer reporter Gil Cabacungan, managing editor Jose Maria Nolasco, editor-in-chief

Letty Jimenez Magsanoc, and publisher Raul Pangalangan. Also charged were

Rappler.com reporter Natasya Gutierrez; National Press Club legal consultant

and blogger Berteni "Toto" Causing; and fashion designer Eduardo


Napoles has

in hiding since figuring in an alleged corruption in an alleged P10

billion-peso (USD 224 million) scandal. Between July 12 and 17, the Philippine

Daily Inquirer released a six-part investigative report detailing the

alleged misuse of P10 billion worth of Priority Development Assistance Funds

(PDAF) by a syndicate led by Napoles. Rappler.com also reported on the alleged

lavish lifestyle of Napoles' daughter Jeane and on a property in her name in

Los Angeles.

NUJP reports

that police in Catanduanes, in the Bicol Region of Luzon, barred journalists

from covering the elections of the local branch of the Philippine Councilors

League (PCL). Ramil Soliveres, the NUJP’s Catanduanes chairperson, said

reporters were prevented from entering the Provincial Capitol Dome, where the

provincial PCL elections were being held, on orders from PCL chapter president

Juan Velchez. Velchez is understood to have instructed Arnaldo Escober, the

provincial director of the Department of the Interior and Local Government

(DILG), to prohibit the media from covering the elections.

The IFJ is

deeply concerned at the methods used by powerful interests to effectively

bludgeon the Filipino media and prevent them from reporting legitimate news in

the public interest. “There is a constant pattern in the Philippines where the

wealthy and the powerful seek to misuse both the law and the authorities in

attempts to prevent legitimate scrutiny of their activities.

“At the very

least we have seen numerous examples where the wealthy and the powerful simply

bar the media from reporting of what should be open and transparent activities

such as elections. Alternatively, these powerful self-interests misuse the law

to silence or punish the media for carrying out legitimate investigations into

corruption and misbehaviour. At worst, powerful interests use intimidation,

harassment, violence and murder to prevent a story getting out or to kill the

journalists who are doing their duty by upholding the public’s right to know,”

the IFJ said.

“The culture

of impunity in the Philippines, that fails to protect the media, that fails to

bring to justice the guilty, allows the unscrupulous to escape scrutiny and

undermines democracy. The IFJ calls on the administration of President Aquino

to remove libel from the criminal statutes; fully investigate the allegations

of corruption; ensure the entire political process is open, transparent and

subject to legitimate scrutiny; and bring to justice those responsible for the

harassment and murder of our journalist colleagues.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0950

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 131 countries

Find the IFJ on Twitter: @ifjasiapacific

Find the IFJ on Facebook: www.facebook.com/IFJAsiaPacific