MANILA — Media practitioners arrested during last year’s standoff at the Manila Peninsula Hotel between the Magdalo group led by detained Senator Antonio Trillanes IV and government troops are set to file on Monday a multi-million peso class suit against government and law enforcement officials before the Makati Regional Trial Court (RTC).
Named respondents in the class suit were Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Ronaldo Puno, Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Raul Gonzalez Sr., Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Avelino Razon, National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) Chief Geary Barias, Southern Police District (SPD) Chief Luizo Ticman, PNP-Special Action Force Commander Leocadio Santiago and PNP-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG)-NCR Director Asher Dolina.
The decision to file the class suit was reached nearly two months after the November 29 standoff and after several meetings attended by print and broadcast journalists and representatives from the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) and the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR).
NUJP and CMFR were among the two media organizations in the country that will join the journalists in the class action.
University of the Philippines (UP) professor and human rights lawyer Harry Roque said the class suit would send a message that Filipino journalists would fight to assert their Constitutionally-mandated rights against any abuse or oppression.
“The filing of the class suit is important because it sends the message to those who want to trample on our Constitutional rights that members of the media are determined to fight for their rights and for the Constitution,” Roque said.
Roque’s law firm is advising the media practitioners on the class action.
He said the case for injunction and damages will be anchored on the provision of Article 32 of the Philippine Civil Code which states that: “Any public officer or employee, or any private individual, who directly or indirectly obstructs, defeats, violates or in any manner impedes or impairs any of the following rights and liberties of another person shall be liable to the latter for damages.”
Among the rights enumerated are the freedoms of speech and of the press.
Roque said the class suit would be similar to the class suit filed by 36 print and broadcast journalists and three media entities, the CMFR, Daily Tribune, and Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) against First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo last year before the Makati RTC.
The suit, which journalists called a “social experiment”, accused Arroyo of abusing his right to file libel suits and of curtailing press freedom in the country when he filed a flurry of cases against journalists before various courts in Metro Manila.
Aside from the class suit, Roque said the plaintiffs would also ask the Makati RTC to issue an injunction to prevent the respondents from “infringing on the press” especially when face with similar incident as the Manila Peninsula standoff.
About 50 journalists were arrested and “processed” at the NCRPO headquarters at Camp Bagong Diwa although they were released later.
Authorities said the arrest was done to separate and identify legitimate media practitioners from members of the Magdalo group who they alleged were faking media identity to escape authorities.
Aside from the class suit at the lower court, another case will be filed at the Supreme Court (SC) at 2 p.m. on Monday.
A joint press conference will follow the filing of the cases in Manila. (AH/Sunnex)
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