Arrest of three newsmen in Quezon a flagrant attack to press freedom

THREE veteran newsmen were arrested for libel yesterday for allegedly giving a false, reckless, and defamatory aspersions against the most powerful political dynasty in the Quezon province.

Last 2017, multiple counts of libel were filed against Senior News Correspondent of Journal Group of Publications Gemi Formaran, Ang Diaryo Natin publisher Johnny Glorioso and dzEL Radyo Agila anchor Rico Catampungan.

Quezon Gov. David Suarez, and his parents, House Minority Floor Leader and Quezon 3rd dist. Cong. Danilo Suarez and ex-Congw. Aleta Suarez filed complaint-affidavits for libel. After the Suarezes filed libel cases, provincial government administrator Rommel Edano, the governor’s chief of staff Webster Letargo and executive assistant Juanito Diaz followed suit with their own libel complaints against the trio.

The six complaints zeroed in on the trio’s radio and television program “U-sapang Lalaki” and called them “sham commentators” and “mercenary practitioners” who are “effective political assassins adept at using humor, insinuations, sarcasm, ironical, metaphorical or veiled language to malign and defame.”

But the three merely asked where the P70-million Priority Development Assistance Fund of Cong. Danilo Suarez went. The episodes were focused particularly on discussing local issues especially on the planned redistricting of the province, the P2-billion loan with the Land Bank of the Philippines, the P25-million budget for the governor’s mansion rehabilitation, the P30-million proposed construction of a museum in Unisan, the leadership of the Suarezes, and other issues concerning the province.

With the intensifying attacks against the Philippine press, the arrest of the trio adds up to the fascist move of the ruling class and the government to silence their staunch critics.

There is no doubt that Formaran, Glorioso, and Catampungan have only taken a subject of public interest and significance and are simply seeking accountability from a political dynasty who have supposedly sworn to promote the welfare of the Filipino people.

The arrest is nothing but a move to silence and suppress the trio who have been vocal about the Suarez political dynasty who have been entrenched to power for over two decades already.

Journalists have aggressively been critical especially now that Duterte has incessantly attacked the Filipino people in the wars he waged against them: war on drugs, all-out war and Oplan Kapayapaan, and martial law in Mindanao.

While trying to close down media organizations like Rappler and at least 30 radio stations in the Davao region, political persecutions to individual journalists have also risen to alarming proportions.

Sherwin de Vera, an environmental journalist who writes a column for Northern Dispatch Weekly, was illegally arrested on his way home. He was detained until January 2018 in Abra Provincial Jail for trumped-up charges of rebellion. Meanwhile, Kathyrine Cortez of media outfit Radyo ni Juan was consistently harassed and tagged as a supporter of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

If not tagged as supporters of the CPP, or charged with libel and rebellion, journalists are killed. Last October 2017, a radio broadcaster was shot dead in Bislig, Surigao del Sur.

Operations manager and anchor of dxBF Prime Broadcasting Network Christopher Lozada was killed on the spot while driving home with his partner Honey Indog. Prior to his death, Lozada have received multiple death threats which he believed were from Bislig Mayor Librado Navarro. Lozada was part of a team who filed a complaint against Navarro regarding an anomalous P14.7-million purchase of a hydraulic excavator in 2012.

There is also a worsening culture of impunity in the country. Former Palawan Governor Joel Reyes, mastermind behind the killing of broadcast journalist and environmentalist Dr. Gerry Ortega, was released from prison last January 5. Ortega exposed corruption in Palawan and accused Reyes of misusing the Malampaya fund, sourced from operations of the Malampaya gas and oil fields off the coast of the province.

With blatant moves to completely silence the Philippine press, Duterte is only emboldening his political minions to act like a second-rate tyrannical leader.

Criminal libel remains one of the most frequently used ways to silence the free press. But more than pushing for the decriminalization of libel in the country, journalists should collectively organize themselves and mobilize in huge numbers to fight back against the pervading tyrannical and fascist dictatorship of United States lapdog Duterte.

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