DAVAO CITY — Backing up the case of jailed Davao broadcaster Alexander Adonis, journalist groups questioned the country’s libel laws before the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, saying that jailing a journalist for libel is a violation of the country’s treaty obligation to promote freedom of expression.
Adonis, former anchorman of Bombo radio-Davao jailed for libel, filed the communication addressed to the UN High Commission on Human Rights, challenging the legality of the criminal libel laws in the Philippines, arguing that criminal libel violates treaty obligations to promote freedom of expression.
“We’re filing the case, not only in the name of Adonis but also in the name of all media people in the Philippines and in the name of press freedom in the whole world,” said Lawyer Harry Roque, Adonis’ legal counsel and the chair of the lawyer’s advocacy group Center for International Law (CenterLaw), which assisted in the filing of the motion.
Aside from Adonis, the signatory of the complaint included the press freedom group Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) and the National Union of Journalist of the Philippines (NUJP).
Represented by his brother Colly Adonis, the Davao broadcaster filed the electronic motion to the UN at 11:35 a.m. Friday, only hours after he attended a pre-trial hearing of another libel suit filed against him by Davao TV personality Jeanette Lomanta Leuterio in relation to the same Burlesque King scandal that earned him his conviction.
Adonis has already spent over a year inside the Davao Penal Colony (Dapecol) prison after a Davao court convicted him of four and a half years for libel early last year.
The libel case was filed by Davao first district Congressman Prospero Nograles after Adonis ran a series of commentaries dubbed as the “Burlesque King,” where according to Court proceedings, Adonis identified Nograles as the man running naked in a Manila hotel after he was caught by his paramour’s husband inside a hotel room.
The UN case was the first to be filed in Asia, questioning the country’s libel laws as inconsistent to its treaty obligations to uphold press freedom under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Roque, however, clarified that the filing of the case in the UN was only taken as the last resort, after Congress failed to pass the law to decriminalized libel.
“Considering that the present Speaker of the House is the same man that filed the case that convicted Adonis, we need to explore other options and tap all available international remedies,” Roque said.
He also filed before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 17 a motion to reopen the case filed by Nograles against Adonis to invoke a Supreme Court circular calling on all judges to impose fines rather than mete out jail terms to newsmen convicted for libel.
Earlier, Adonis showed up at the Regional Trial Court Branch 14 to face charges on a second libel complaint filed by the woman allegedly caught in bed with Nograles.
Handcuffed and wearing a blue inmates uniform, a gaunt Adonis sat side by side with suspects of cell phone snatching and killings, listening as the court deliberated on his case.
Roque had sought dismissal of Lomanta’s complaint on the basis of the Supreme Court ruling discouraging the lower courts from imposing jail terms for libel.
He argued that Adonis’s imprisonment “defeats” the country’s Constitutionally-enshrined rights to freedom of expression and that there is no reason for the state to continue prosecuting Adonis because he has already been serving time in jail.
But state prosecutor Victoriano M. Bello Jr. inhibited himself from giving a decision, effectively moving the case to another pre-trial on May 26.
The revival of Lomanta’s complaint came at the time when Adonis could have qualified to seek parole, having spent his six-month minimum term in jail. Lomanta’s case cited the same circumstances that convicted Adonis. Its arraignment came six years after the case was filed. (Germelina Lacorte/Cheryll Fiel/davaotoday.com)