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Court Orders Philippine Blog to Remove Post

The blog of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, or PCIJ, has made history — of sorts. Last week, the PCIJ was served with a court order to remove this Aug. 12, 2005 post related to an ongoing political scandal. The scandal revolves around taped wiretaps allegedly of Philippine Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ordering an election official to rig her election. The President admitted the voice on the tape was hers, but her government claimed that the recordings had been doctored. Opposition politicians seized on the ensuing controversy to lead an aborted attempt at her impeachment.

The PCIJ post revealed information from a police dossier on the background of Jonathan Tiangco, an audio expert presented to dispute the authenticity of the recordings. The post described several criminal cases against Tiangco and mentioned that Tiangco had two wives. In October, Tiangco's spouse requested a temporary restraining order against PCIJ, which a lower court granted after the Philippine Supreme Court turned down her petition. The order enjoined PCIJ for 20 days from “broadcasting, publishing or posting or causing to broadcast, publish, or post articles and statements similar and related to, or connected and in conjunction with” that blog post. In its post announcing the gag order and the removal of the post, PCIJ directed its readers to look to Google if they wanted to know the deleted post's contents.

The action spurred much commentary across the Philippine blogosphere, particularly among its most active participants: journalist-bloggers and lawyer-bloggers. Media blogger Jove Francisco fretted that the court action could frustrate efforts by both the local mainstream media and bloggers to police themselves, while columnist-blogger Dean Jorge Bocobo calculated that the Tiangco action will end up where most libel suits in the Philippines go: dead in the water. Law professor-blogger Edwin Laceirda launched an email-writing campaign. Journalist-blogger Manuel L. Quezon III called for full support of PCIJ. Sassy Lawyer isn't so sure, pointing out that the PCIJ backgrounder on Tiangco didn't have to mention his marital arrangements:

[I]f you must write to the Supreme Court regarding this issue, then write you must. We all want to see the right to freedom of expression upheld. But neither should we triviliaze Rona Tiongco’s right to privacy. If we do that, we triviliaze our own right to privacy.

Other bloggers wondered about the reach of the order. Technology blogger yuga asked: “What if every other Filipino blogger re-posts the entry in their respective blogs?” Some already have. Another intriguing and potentially far-reaching question: In directing blog readers to a Google cache, did PCIJ violate its obligation to refrain from “causing to broadcast, publish, or post articles and statements similar and related to, or connected and in conjunction with” the post? Law professor J.J. Disini thinks there is an argument that it did.

5 comments

  • Just a clarification, PCIJ and Newsbreak are not related, they are separate organizations.

  • Corrected.

  • There is a particularly compliant kind of personality in Philippine society–those who’ve a string of criminal cases in the Courts. Mike Defensor probably “owns” Jonathan Tiongco in this way because those serious criminal cases Tiongco has, can be turned on and off at the Palace’s will. I think he is probably being blackmailed and his family threatened to ensure his obedience. That is why it is his wife into whose mouth they have put the complaint of an invasion of privacy. To remind him! Now, why put down an obscure and mysterious thing like a blog when all the same information had been printed in the newspapers and broadcast on the radio TV? Maybe because blog readership in the Philippines is tiny compared to main stream media (with Internet penetration of about 1%) and most of that devoted to the online pathos of the local entertainment world. But how can anyone can take seriously a “right to privacy” in a case such as this, where its enforcement is utterly MOOT and FUTILE and its only effect the harassment of the country’s top investigative journalists? The TRO is a mockery of the Law, and Common Sense. PCIJ lawyers will make mincemeat of it and the libel case, both. Btw, Jonathan Tiongco isn’t exactly a private citizen, since Julius Babao says he bailed out terrorist Dawud Islam Santos of the Rajah Solaiman Movement, but that’s another hair-raising story…

  • […] This was the first restraining order issued on a blog in the Philippines and has generated a lively debate on free expression versus privacy in the Pinoy blogosphere. […]

  • Steven Aaron

    I’am from New York. And visited the Philippines in February, and after what I have seen, is living proof of the way the government operates there. I do believe that Gloria Aquino wants her election rigged…just like she had it done in the past. I have spoken to hundreds of people there and not one single person, rich or poor, wants her in office. But yet she wins? When the Military coalition went to Irag, a Filipino was taken hostage. She pulled her roops out to save him from terrorist treats of being executed. In my opinion, after his release, she should have sent her troops right back. Her claim was “a filipinos life is not worth losing just to “show off” like the others in the coalition. Well, I say this to Mrs Aquino..Because of your poor lack of leadership, corruption, no health care system, the poor dying in the steets from illness because they have no funds to pay Doctors or Hospitals no jobs (reason why so many Filipinos must work abroad)…you have been the cause of more deaths in your country. Sooner of later the people are going to have enough of being the worst off country in Asia. The Government must be revamped…Gloria Aquino must step down. If not, there will definitly be an uprising…believe me…its coming!

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