1Sambayan backs media over Cusi’s libel case

Marc Jayson Cayabyab - The Philippine Star
1Sambayan backs media over Cusiâs libel case
This file photo shows Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi.
Ernie Peñaredondo, file

MANILA, Philippines — Coalition 1Sambayan yesterday threw its support for news organizations sued for libel by Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi regarding coverage of the Malampaya gas field deal.

In a statement, the coalition that endorsed the presidential bid of Vice President Leni Robredo said it “stands behind ABS-CBN, Business Mirror, BusinessWorld, GMA News Online, Manila Bulletin, Philstar Global and Rappler and the constitutionally guaranteed mandate of the media to provide information to the general public, as well as with the protection of our civil liberties foremost of which is the freedom of speech and of the press.”

1Sambayan said it “opposes any action to suppress the freedom of the press,” as it called out Cusi for his “baseless and unnecessary libel cases” on media for their reportage on the “heavily criticized Malampaya gas field buyout.”

“Cusi’s action is meant to stifle the free flow of information to the public, by employing legal harassment tactics against the media organizations. His suit aims to cow the media into silence and keep our citizens in the dark,” the coalition added.

1Sambayan urged Cusi not to “shoot the messenger” as it called the deal a “citizens’ concern.”

“We encourage you to air your side of the issue instead. This is how democracy works,” the coalition said.

Cusi filed the libel suit as he criticized news outlets for reporting on the acquisition by Dennis Uy’s Udenna of Chevron and Shell’s stake in Malampaya.

Cusi accused media of malice, although reports merely quoted the complaint filed before the Office of the Ombudsman about the acquisition and included Cusi’s previous statements and Udenna’s side on the issue.

Business journalists slam suits

The country’s business journalists slammed the recent libel suits filed by Cusi and Uy over the controversial Malampaya gas field buyout.

In a statement yesterday, the Economic Journalists’ Association of the Philippines (EJAP) stood with the seven news organizations facing libel raps filed by Cusi and Uy last week.

The EJAP is composed of business journalists and editors across print, online and TV media.

Two of the EJAP’s members are among the journalists facing the libel suits.

The EJAP maintained that the libel complaints filed against the journalists are an assault to press freedom and are meant to intimidate the media.

“It sends a chilling effect as this clearly signals that the media would incur the ire of government officials and businessmen even if they do their best to ensure that their stories are factual, accurate and objective,” the EJAP said.

It argued that the media is simply doing its job and that is to report based on the facts at hand.

“Secretary Cusi is a public official and is therefore subject to scrutiny,” the group said.

The EJAP emphasized that the issue is not one of simple transaction but a great public concern.

The asset involved is also crucial to the country’s energy security, thus deserving scrutiny from media without undue interference or threats.

The EJAP said Cusi’s camp has claimed that the news reports accused them of graft, when the reporters and editors simply based their news stories on a press conference, press release and documents coming from those who filed graft complaints against them.

“This latest attack on journalists shows the urgency of decriminalizing libel to uphold public interest by keeping those accountable in check,” the EJAP added.

In late 2006, then first gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, husband of then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, filed criminal libel suits totaling more than P70 million against more than 40 journalists from print, broadcast and online media, many of which were related to allegations in the media that Arroyo helped rig the closely contested 2004 national elections, which the Arroyo camp strongly denied.

A month later, 36 journalists filed a counter lawsuit against Arroyo, accusing him of harassing the country’s media, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Arroyo withdrew the charges in mid-2007. – Louise Maureen Simeon

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