NUJP statement on Erap’s libel case vs PDI

Estrada is shooting the messenger

Former president Joseph Estrada is barking up the wrong tree by including editors and reporters of the Philippine Daily Inquirer in the libel suit he has filed against taipan Alfonso Yuchengco, who claimed Estrada had forced him to sell his shares in the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. Yuchengco was backing allegations raised by Senator Panfilo Lacson in a privilege speech against his former boss.

It is unfortunate that Estrada has chosen to target the messenger instead of addressing the message.

What the Philippine Daily Inquirer did was simply to publish a factual report on a matter of interest, quoting one of the players in Lacson’s expose. In short, it was simply following up on a story, and rightly so, since the truth or falsity of Lacson and Yuchengco’s allegations could impact tremendously on a major sector of our economy as well as become another benchmark of the quality of governance in this country.

As reported by the Inquirer, Estrada, in filing his case, claimed Yuchengco’s statements were not true and were only maliciously meant to destroy his reputation. We will not even argue his assertion for that is for him and Yuchengco to prove either way.

What we will dispute is his assertion that the Inquirer should not have printed the September 16 story because Yuchengco’s statement was not a verified document because it did not have the businessman’s signature.

Surely, as an actor and politician, Estrada realizes that his statements have been quoted probably a million times without the need for his signature, as many other public or even private figures involved in matters reported on by the press have been. Surely, there have been countless times when he has, in fact, sought media out to quote him on this issue or another. In this instance, in fact, media did seek him out for his side of the issues hurled against him.

And in this instance, it is not only media’s right but, in fact, its responsibility to dig deeper into the allegations of Lacson since these involve matters of public interest. And who better to seek out than the very person Lacson claimed had been victimized?

It is, of course, not the first time the Inquirer has felt the wrath of Estrada. When he was president, he pulled out government ads from the paper in retaliation for its reports on his mansions and other issues of governance.

It is unfortunate that Estrada, who time and again has professed to be a victim of injustice, has not learned that the best and only defense in times like this is the truth, unless of course it is not on your side to begin with. Shooting the bearer of bad news has never helped. You may silence the messenger but the bad news will still be there to haunt you.


Transfer of venue of case against alleged masterminds in Esperat murder granted

CMFR/PHILIPPINES—The venue of the case against the alleged masterminds in the killing of Sultan Kudarat-based journalist Marlene Esperat has been transferred to Makati City with the Philippine Supreme Court’s grant of a petition for the change.

The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) received a copy of the Supreme Court order (A.M. No. 09-8-313-RTC) on 14 September 2009 approving the change of venue as requested by the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ). CMFR serves as the FFFJ secretariat.

In its 26 August 2009 resolution, the Supreme Court ordered Branch 20 of the Tacurong City Regional Trial Court (RTC) to transmit the records of the case against alleged masterminds Osmeña Montañer and Estrella Sabay to Makati City .

It also directed and authorized the “judge to whom the case is assigned to hear and decide the subject case with utmost dispatch.”

The FFFJ, a coalition of six media organizations formed to address the continuing killings of and attacks against journalists in the Philippines, filed the petition in February 2009, arguing  that the transfer of the case venue would assure “potential witnesses, court personnel and complainants that their security will not be compromised” as would be the case  “if trial is held in southern Mindanao.”

The FFFJ argued that “even if the conviction of the triggermen was achieved in record time, the existence of a double standard of justice in our country’s judicial system cannot be denied if the (alleged) masterminds remain unpunished.” No mastermind has been successfully convicted in the Philippines since 2001.

Prima Jesusa Quinsayas, private prosecutor representing the Esperat family, welcomed the transfer of the case to the Makati RTC. “The transfer is good news,” said Quinsayas who also serves as FFFJ legal counsel.

Esperat, a columnist for The Midland Review, was shot dead by a gunman in her home in Sultan Kudarat on 24 March 2005. The gunman and his accomplices were allegedly ordered by Montañer and Sabay to kill Esperat for her reports on their supposed participation in illegal acts at the local office of the Department of Agriculture in Region XII where they served as finance officer and regional accountant, respectively.

On 20 October 2008, approximately two years after the conviction of the gunman and his accomplices, the prosecutors re-filed murder charges against Montañer and Sabay before the Tacurong City RTC. The case was earlier filed at the Cebu City RTC but the Court of Appeals in Cebu City granted the alleged masterminds’ petition prohibiting the RTC judge from hearing the case. (See “Murder charges filed against alleged masterminds in killing of journalist”)

The prosecution is still awaiting developments on the petition for certiorari and prohibition filed by the lawyers of Montañer and Sabay before the Court of Appeals in Cagayan de Oro City.

Last 27 August, CMFR received a copy of the resolution of the Cagayan de Oro City Court of Appeals ordering the alleged masterminds to “rectify… its failure to state the place of issue of petitioners’ counsel’s IBP Official Receipt; and 2. failure to indicate in the petition the actual addresses of the petitioners and that of private respondent in violation with (sic) Section 3 (1st par.), Rule 46 of the Revised Rules of Court.”

The appellate court said failure to comply would mean the dismissal of the alleged masterminds’ petition.

Despite the transfer of the trial venue, the arraignment of Montañer and Sabay remains doubtful as the Philippine National Police has yet to find and arrest them.

(http://www.cmfr- 2009/09/16/ transfer- of-venue- of-case-against- alleged-mastermi nds-in-esperat- murder-granted/)

NUJP statement on the manhandling and arrest of 2 Cagayan media workers

The NUJP condemns the manhandling and arrest of Cagayan television reporter Enrico Puno of Clearview Cable Television and his driver Kenneth Tudao by personnel of the Tuguegararo City police force, led by their chief of police, Superintendent Felix Dayag, on August 28.

According to reports from the Alyansan ng mga Alternatibong Mamamahayag ng Cagayan (ALAM), the only apparent fault of the two, who were covering a visit by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, was to drive their motorcycle into the road fronting the Cagayan State College, which authorities had closed.

ALAM, quoting Puno, said the two were about to stop when flagged down at a checkpoint commanded by Dayag when a policeman grabbed Tudao by the neck.

The policeman refused to let go of Tudao’s neck even when Puno presented their identification and the accreditation issued by the Philippine Information Agency for the presidential coverage. This triggered a heated argument during which Dayag ordered the two arrested and hauled off to the precinct.

While the two were being loaded into a patrol car, Puno said he was punched in the back. The two were released after the police filed a report.

ALAM also reports that Dayag has denied Puno’s account, claiming the two Clearview personnel ignored a “Do Not Enter” sign as well as attempts to flag them down, including by the chief of police himself.

Dayag said it was only when one of his men stepped into the path of the motorcycle that Tudao and Puno stopped. The police chief also claimed that he personally cleared the two to enter the campus on condition that they leave their motorcycle outside but that they refused and that Puno started arguing.

He said that he decided to have them brought to the precinct when a crowd began forming, with some also demanding entry into the campus.

Granting Dayag’s version is true, it is apparent that Puno and Tudao ignored the “Do Not Enter” sign not because of any inherent desire to spite authority but because they believed that, since they were going about their legitimate work as journalists, the entry ban did not apply to them, which is invariably the case in presidential visits to other places in the country. In fact, it is almost certain that other journalists had already been allowed into the campus for the coverage before the two were stopped.

It would also be logical to assume that Dayag and his men knew that Puno and Tudao are part of Tuguegarao’s journalism community and would, therefore, have known why they were at the Cagayan State College. And even if they did not, which would then cast doubt on their efficacy, surely the presentation of identification and accreditation should have enlightened them sufficiently.

We therefore see no reason why the two had to be subjected to manhandling, Tudao grabbed by the neck and Puno punched in the back as they were being hauled off. In fact, we see no reason at all why the two had to be arrested, thus preventing them from the legitimate practice of their profession.

The profession is awash with stories of how local journalists often run into difficulties because of overzealous security measures by the Presidential Security Group or because of the mishandling of the accreditation process and other bureaucratic fumbles. While equally condemnable, many such cases can also be attributed to incompetence and the unfamiliarity of personnel from national offices with the local situation.

But for local media to be subjected to such treatment by local law enforcement agencies that should be expected to be intimately familiar with the local situation and personalities is beyond comprehension.

We support the moves of ALAM and Puno to seek an investigation into the actuations of the Tuguegarao police, especially Superintendent Dayag, and file a complaint before the Commission on Human Rights.


Nestor P. Burgos, Jr.