The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has again called for reform to the Philippines’ defamation laws after an editor spent the night in a police station, and along with four other media workers, was forced to post more than US$200 bond, over a US$2.06 million libel suit.
According to local reports, editors of Philippine online magazine Newsbreak, Marites Vitug, Maan Hontiveros, Lala Rimando and Gemma Bagayaua - and staff writer Aries Rufo were supposed to be served with arrest warrants on March 7.
However, as Bagayaua was reportedly the only one of the group present in Newsbreak’s Manila office when police officers arrived, she was the only one arrested.
The libel suit was filed in 2005 by Luis “Chavit” Singson, the governor of Ilocos Sur province north of Manila, and a candidate for the senate under the administration ticket, according to IFJ affiliate the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP).
IFJ President Christopher Warren said it is an affront to the Philippines’ freedom of speech that libel remains a criminal offence.
“As they stand, these libel laws are effectively a means for the government to intimidate and censor the media and to silence dissent,” said the president of the IFJ, the organisation representing more than 500,000 journalists in over 115 countries.
“This deplorable incident adds to the already long list of people in positions of power using these outdated laws to stifle criticism, a trend that is all too familiar,” Warren said.
“The IFJ reiterates its calls for President Arroyo to decriminalise libel laws, and introduce reasonable civil remedies instead,” Warren said.
Administrative red-tape reportedly prevented Bagayaua from posting bail after her arrest, so she spent the night at the Pasig City police station.
Friends and members of the NUJP lit candles in solidarity with Bagayaua and to protest her 21-hour detention.
Despite arriving at 9am on March 8 to post bail, legal technicalities kept the rest of the Newsbreak staff at the police station until 2.30pm.
“Such treatment of journalists is disgraceful, and only intensifies the already precarious press freedom situation in the Philippines,” Warren said.
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0919
The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 115 countries