Since the fall of Marcos dictatorship in 1986, the Philippine press has been described as one of the freest in the world. But in recent years, various groups have taken notice of the widespread attacks on Philippine media. Many journalists from the provinces have been murdered The government closed down a newspaper for almost a week last year. The First Family is harassing journalists by filing libel cases in the Courts.
Pinoy Press quotes a statement from journalists who accused the First Gentleman of redefining libel:
“We are deeply concerned that the First Gentleman, Mike Arroyo, is not using this libel suit to seek legitimate redress. Rather he is redefining libel, a clear affront to the Philippine press. As we know, the test of libel is the presence of malice. But Mr. Arroyo disregards this basic tenet and recklessly uses libel to intimidate and silence the press. The message we’re getting is this: anything that hints of criticism of the First Gentleman or is considered unfavorable coverage of his activities is “libelous.” In effect, he hinders the public’s right to information on matters of public concern.”
Freedom Watch details how journalists are fighting back:
“More than half of the 45 reporters, columnists, editors and publishers the First Gentleman, Jose Miguel Arroyo, has sued for libel are filing a civil class action suit against him. The first of its kind in the Philippines, it is a civil as well as class action suit. The class action suit is asking for damages for the anxiety, loss of income, and other inconveniences Mr. Arroyo’s libel suits have allegedly caused. But it also argues that the suits have not only caused the respondents sleepless nights; they also have a chilling effect on press freedom.”
In a related news, the Southeast Asian press alliance reports that the lawyer handling the suit against the First Gentleman has been receiving death threats.
A group of journalists has launched a signature campaign for the decriminalization of libel:
“The record number of cases Mr. Arroyo has filed highlight how the powerful in this benighted land regularly abuse libel laws to curtail the democratic right of the press to delve into the truth behind matters of public interest and the people's right to know. It is also the best argument for decriminalizing an outdated law that has been used not so much to protect the innocent as to shield the guilty. We demand that Congress immediately work to repeal the law on libel, to strike it off the book of criminal statutes, as part of its sworn duty to strengthen our badly eroded and still beleaguered democracy”.
“Thirteen journalists died last year, bringing to 49 the number of media practitioners murdered since President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo came to power in 2001. This number surpasses the numbers killed during the Marcos regime (1965-1986). This also makes the country the most dangerous place in the world for journalists, second only to Iraq.”