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Philippines: Cabinet member sues blogger

Categories: East Asia, Philippines, Freedom of Speech, Governance, Law, Media & Journalism, Technology

Blogger Ella Ganda [1] is facing a libel lawsuit [2] in connection to a post she wrote last October. Ella alleged [3] that relief goods intended for typhoon victims are being hoarded in a government warehouse owned by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) [4].

The Philippines was hit by a powerful tropical storm [5] last September which displaced half a million people in Luzon Island alone. The DSWD was the major government agency in charge of coordinating relief efforts throughout the country. Responding to the appeal of the government for more volunteers, Ella went to a DSWD warehouse to help in the repacking of relief goods.

Ella’s expose was picked up by the mainstream media. DSWD officials denied that the agency was hoarding relief goods but they admitted that the agency lacked volunteers. DSWD Secretary Esperanza Cabral [6] (now the Secretary of the Department of Health) issued this statement in response to the blog report of Ella:

We would like to assure all of you that the relief goods will reach the intended beneficiaries as they become necessary and will be used only to assist them. However, the relief goods don’t all go out at the same time and an empty warehouse is not proof that the goods were used properly just as a full warehouse is not evidence that the goods are being hoarded.

dswd [3]
warehouse [3]

Three months after reporting what she witnessed in the DSWD compound, Ella was charged with libel [7] by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). This was requested by Secretary Cabral who said that her reputation was maligned by Ella. Secretary Cabral and the NBI have been trying to identify the real name of Ella. They want Ella to answer the charges and to take some polygraph tests [8].

This is not the first time that a blogger was charged with libel in the Philippines. But this is the first time that a Cabinet member, in cooperation with the NBI, has charged an anonymous blogger with a libel suit.

What are the reactions of Filipino bloggers? Most are supportive of Ella.

FOO Law and Economics believes the case is weak [9]

I would volunteer a common-sense opinion. I believe that Ella’s postings are fully within the definition of “fair commentary” in the jurisprudence on libel. In the jurisprudence, fair comment is a sufficient defense if the subject matter of the libel case is a matter of public concern.

Resurgence 2.0 warns that the libel suit sends a chilling effect on bloggers [10]

I saw the blog during its height. There’s nothing libelous about it. The blogger stood with nothing to gain — other than the unsolicited fame the blog resulted from. If there was anything Ella was about during that time, she was sincerely bothered by the fact that people were hungry and homeless and without clothes and the government doesn’t seem to care.

This sends a chilling effect on bloggers. Blogging — and social networks — as we now know, is the future of media. It may not be as formal as the print or even TV, but I will argue that it’s the fastest and even more accurate source of information nowadays

Carlo's Think Pieces insists [11]: “It is not libel, it is free speech.”

What I found was a proper blog by a concerned citizen re the relief goods which apparently were not being distributed promptly to the typhoon victims. Nowhere in that blog post did she say that relief goods were “rotting” – the word she used was “inaalikabok” (which means “gathering dust”). She was decrying the lack of volunteers to do the repacking work, and even suggested that NGOs or the military could help in this work. She in no way accused the Secretary or the DSWD of corruption.

I think that Secretary Cabral is overstepping her authority and being arrogant, by trying to silence Ella and her blog. Her libel suit is totally without merit. Ella’s blog told the truth, and it was done without any malicious intent. It is not libel, it is free speech.

Barrio Siete shares [12] a similar point

First, the blog article in question, as we can find in most blogs, is a matter of opinion. If a person makes a statement that is, as Cabral said, contrary to the facts, it may not necessarily be libelous. On the other hand, a statement can be seen as an expression of fact or opinion depends on whether or not the person making such statement would be in a position to know such facts.

Reacting to the Ella libel case, Technograph urges bloggers [13] to be ready to back up their statements in their blogs, and apologize if proven wrong

Personally, I now find the accusations of “Ella Rose” less credible. If the NBI is to be believed, she never took steps to back up her statements, including requesting “an investigation from the Office of the Ombudsman or any law enforcement agency.” Whether or not “Ella Rose” fights the charges off or not, remember bloggers, be prepared to back up what you say, and to apologize if you’re wrong!

Journalist Jigs Arquiza advises Ella to face the charges [14].

to all the rest who really don’t get my point and who think that ella is being treated unfairly: it’s your right to side with ella. i am not saying all of you are wrong. all i am saying is that there is always more than one side to a story. ella did not disclose all the facts, did not try to get certain information, did not practice responsible blogging, and is now hiding behind the defense of “freedom of speech”.

a lot of bloggers feel they can say anything in their blogs because they can remain anonymous. and like i said, if ella feels that what she posted was not malicious, then she should come out and face the charges

that is the thing most bloggers don’t understand, that when you make your thoughts public, then these are not personal anymore, rather, these become remarks that cause reactions.

that is what happened. ella posted, cabral got pissed, ella should face the consequences. anyway, it’s up to cabral to prove malice, right? so what is ella afraid of?