Joker assails ‘1017’

- Christina Mendez () - April 9, 2006 - 12:00am
The Senate committee that looked into President Arroyo’s declaration of a state of national emergency through Proclamation No. 1017 last February found the edict was an attempt to curtail freedom of the press.

While there are no franchise licenses for publications in the country, Sen. Joker Arroyo, chairman of the committee on justice and human rights, noted that the raid on the Daily Tribune office and any other attempt by the administration to muzzle the media is considered "anathema to the freedom of the press."

In the 31-page committee report, Senator Arroyo, a human rights lawyer during martial law, concluded that the government cannot close down or take over an entire newspaper just because an offending article is published for "the personal, isolated, and unlawful acts of one, two or more reporters or editors."

He also did he discount the possibility that Mrs. Arroyo could again proclaim a state of national emergency and use this against the media anew.

"Nothing can prevent them from doing it again, but I guess we will continue protesting it," the veteran lawmaker said, noting that there are pertinent laws covering libel, inciting to sedition, rebellion or subversion if the government wants to go after members of the media who may breach the limits of news reporting.

"You see, for as long as EO 464 is enforced, the executive has somehow defanged the Senate," he said, referring to the executive order issued by Mrs. Arroyo last year that prevents government officials from attending congressional inquiries without permission of the President.

Arroyo lamented that the President "succeeded in short-circuiting everything that the Senate" wants to do, and that even if the Senate came out with the report, the Senate cannot do anything.

Arroyo said the committee also found that there was an attempt to censor television stations during the height of the state of emergency declaration, citing the Marine standoff at Fort Bonifacio during which Malacañang executives reportedly requested TV networks to avoid showing live footage of the incident.

He cited the need to review Section 5 of the Television and Franchise Bill, which provides for the right of the government "to authorize the temporary use and operation thereof by any agency of government."

According to Arroyo, the President used this provision to control the media during the state of national emergency.

Before Congress went on its Lenten recess last week, 12 senators adopted Committee Report 69 of the justice and human rights committee that condemned the conduct of media raids and warrantless arrests after the President issued Proclamation 1017 and declared the week-long state of emergency last Feb. 24 amid a reported coup threat.

Those who signed were Senators Arroyo, Pia Cayetano, Panfilo Lacson, Ralph Recto, Sergio Osmena III, Senate majority leader Francis Pangilinan and Senate minority leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr, Senate President Pro-Tempore Juan Flavier, Richard Gordon, Alfredo Lim Jamby Madrigal and Manuel Roxas II.

Those who pledged to sign the committee report were Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Edgardo Angara, Bong Revilla Jr. and Manuel Villar.

"What else can we do? Our function is to investigate whether the attempt to muzzle media was a constitutional move on the part of the executive department and our findings deplored the way it handled these three occasions," Arroyo stressed.

The lawmaker expressed disappointment at National Telecommunications Commission Ronald Olivar Solis and Philippine National Police chief Director General Arturo Lomibao for their failure to appear before the inquiry by invoking EO 464.

Lomibao and Solis could have explained the rationale for their actuation, Arroyo said, "but in a demonstration of presidential arrogance, they were forbidden from doing so, as if to explicitly demonstrate that the President does not owe the Senate or the people an explanation for her actions."

In the Senate committee report, Arroyo said the primary objective of Proclamation 1017 was to control media because then the public would be allowed access to only news favorable to the government.

Arroyo cited again the office raid at The Daily Tribune, the supposed attempt to muzzle the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, and the threat of the NTC to close down television and radio stations at the height of the emergency rule.

Quoting Lomibao’s statements during media interviews, Arroyo said the Tribune raid "was thus planned not only to take over newspapers and periodicals but that the government wanted to engage in censorship."

He appealed to the media to remain vigilant against government actions that curtail press freedom. He said the country cannot be paralyzed by presidential proclamations that "practically handcuff" everyone, including the Senate.

"The fate and future of the country depends now on the Supreme Court," he said, emphasizing that without an SC ruling on the constitutional questions confronting the nation today, the situation will remain at a standstill.

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