National Press Club says ‘politicizing’ libel puts media in graver risk

February 15, 2019

HERE’S thanking our guests and our colleagues in the media community for ensuring the success of the inaugural edition of the National Press Club’s media forum, ‘Election Pulse 2019’ held yesterday at the NPC office.

In particular, many thanks to DILG assistant secretary and spokesman, Atty. Jonathan Malaya, Comelec director and spokesman, James Jimenez, S/Supt. Romeo Banac, Chief, PIO-PNP; and, C/Supt. Romeo Panal, ROD deputy, NCRPO.

In the course of yesterday’s forum, the NPC also handed over to Assec. Jonathan the copies of the 1990 and 2001 MOA (Memorandum of Agreement) between the NPC and the DILG as regards the serving of the arrest warrant against members of the press for libel. Rest assured, dear colleagues that the NPC would work hard to have the MOAs updated to reflect the present condition.

And this early, here’s thanking Assec. Jonathan for stating that the DILG is “open” to have a dialogue with the NPC over this important matter. Abangan!

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And to put the arrest of Rappler’s Maria Ressa in proper perspective, below is the statement of the NPC, for everybody’s information:

The National Press Club of the Philippines (NPC), the country’s oldest and biggest organization of active members of the press, reminded that a libel case is a legal remedy available to everyone and should not be politicized.

At the same time, the NPC also expresses its dismay over the manner by which the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) served the warrant of arrest against Ms. Maria Ressa of Rappler for libel last February 13, 2019.

While the NPC recognized that the NBI served the warrant as part of our judicial process, the manner by which it was done smacks of bad taste -- at the close of office hour. The NBI could have served the warrant much earlier, if it wanted to.

In the NPC’s continuing effort to address the problem of journalists being arrested for libel, the NPC shall be calling again on the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and other concerned departments of the Executive Branch for a joint review and reiteration of the 2001 NPC-DILG Memorandum of Agreement.

This agreement, among others, calls for close coordination between the police and the NPC in the serving of warrant of arrest against members of the press for libel.

Despite the manner by which Ms. Ressa was arrested however, the NPC takes exemption to the position by some quarters that the incident is another act of political harassment by the government against its critics.

For many in the press, particularly, the members and officers of the NPC, to be sued for libel is among the risks that we daily faced in the performance of our duty.

And Ms. Ressa’s experience has been the experience of many in the media profession. It can be a great ‘inconvenience’ but, not something that should relegate someone to the altar of press freedom for ‘martyrdom.’

The NPC maintains that to inject something that is not there and thus politicize a strictly judicial process involving a legal dispute between two private parties -- the private complainant on the one hand and, Rappler, a private media outfit, on the other -- does not, and will not, serve the end of justice, which was the aim of the complaint to begin with.

To politicize a legal recourse available to everyone who feels aggrieved by the media with the objective of soliciting sympathy from a public largely ignorant of the details of the dispute that gave rise to the complaint is not only to twist the facts of the case.

More to the point, transforming this incident into a political circus in pursuit of vested political and ideological interests is to encourage everyone’s disrespect for the law and with it, to increase the risk of greater violence against the media.

Philippine members of the press are already confronted with the graver problem of media killing -- instead of lawyers, some would-be complainants prefer to settle their gripe against the media by hiring gunmen.

And this risk of violent attacks against the media can only increase when would-be complainants begin to entertain the thought that the filing of a libel case has become an exercise in futility because its result can be swayed by the noise of mob rule.

Violent thoughts against the press can arise from such discontent.