Members of the various media organizations took turns in criticizing House Speaker Prospero C. Nograles for instituting repressive measures against journalists perceived to be critical of his administration in the lower chamber by filing libel charges against them.
The latest media reaction came as an offshoot of the libel case filed by Nograles versus Roger Balanza, editor of the Davao weekly Durian Post and his publisher Edgar Velez, on charges of maligning Nograles and his office.
Balanza was charged by Nograles for the article titled “Does he deserve your vote? Nogie shaming city before world, nation” at the Durian Post dated February 15-21, 2010.
Mario Maximo Solis, who heads the Standards Authority (SA) of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkasters sa Pilipinas in Region 11 (KBP-11) lambasted Nograles for getting back at media personalities who apparently drew the latter’s ire in the publications and news stories that get published as well as the commentaries that get aired.
“This libel case proves to all and sundry that indeed we are not yet truly free, that at the slightest provocation, those hit by our tirades in the exercise of our solemn duty especially those who wield great powers and authority tend to get back at us – in the guise of defending his or her private rights,” Solis said.
Solis said it must clearly be understood that Balanza wielded his pen in the name of serving the public’s constitutionally-guaranteed right to information and in pursuit of the people’s right to free speech and dissent.
The KBP-SA officer added that pursuant to the wide call for greater transparency in the light of the election season where the public ought to be given all the chances to scrutinize functionaries and all those who are running for elective posts, Nograles must be the last to muzzle this right.
Earlier, another local daily took the cudgel for Balanza. In its editorial titled “Another blow to freedom of speech,” the Mindanao Daily Mirror warned that this merely provides a sneak preview of what may transpire in the event Nograles gets into office.
“Government officials, by virtue of their very public lives, are expected to be a little less sensitive to opinions expressed by the media because they are legitimate objects of bad press; that is why the media are called watchdogs. Democracy recognizes that public officials ought to be placed under closer scrutiny and louder criticism so as to keep them from running away with the powers they hold. Nograles, however, has shown himself unable to take such negative appraisals and has filed a number of libel cases against journalists he feels have maligned his reputation,” the editorial contends.
It could be recalled that radio anchorman Lex Adonis served time at the Davao Penal Colony (Dapecol) after being convicted of libel earlier filed by Nograles in what is now known as the ‘Burlesk King’ issue.
Warning against falling under the propaganda maze common during election time,Davao journalist Carmelito Francisco said “dapat dili sila (politicians) onion-skinned…kun dili tinood, di tubagon nila kun unsay tama, kaysa anang mag-file ug libel.”
“Kun dili tinood, then tell the public…otherwise ang akong comment ana basig tinuod kay gisakitan man,” Francisco said.
Journalist Edith Caduaya meanwhile said she respects Nograles’ right to protect his name but appeared worried of the Speaker’s decision to resort to the recourse of libel.
“Ang akoa lang na hopefully, I hope dili niya gamiton ang gavel as a Speaker of the House to run after those who are criticizing him…or those who do not sing his tune in politics,” Caduaya said.
Caduaya warned that the prospect of muzzling of the press looms large.”Harassment jud na siya….mura bag ‘cge, do it to me then ill do it the Adonis way…now I’m doing the Balanza way..who’s next?” she said.
Earlier, City Councilor Angela Librado-Trinidad noted that in this latest libel case in Davao, it is best to remember even the High Court’s exhortation enshrined in our land’s jurisprudence for those in government not to be onion-skinned.
Other reporters and media personnel queried noted that in totality, the filing of libel by those in power who can hire a battery of the best lawyers against fledgling journalists will only serve to send a chilling effect upon those whose profession is to uphold the truth at all times.
In his complaint, Nograles argued that the story carried reference on a Davao congressman “adopting dirty tactics to realize his dream” and “while dumping his cans of black paint on the city’s image, he goes around town wooing the votes of the Dabawenyos whom he maligns in public.”
Nograles also cited in the article published in the February 22 to 28 issues with the title, “Nogie’s exposé backfires”, which tackled how Nograles’s exposé of the P2.9-billion unaccounted City Government properties and equipment “has backfired and instead exposed his own wrongdoings.”
In the article, it said that the allegation only “exposed the bias of Speaker against rights and welfare of women and children.”
On the same issue, Balanza wrote “Nogie needs P500M to beat Inday Sara”, which Nograles claimed identified him as a candidate for mayoralty race who engages in vote-buying to win the upcoming election.
The same issue further stated that Nograles has an unaccounted cash advance of P15 million in Congress as shown in the COA report and he, together with Benjamin de Guzman, “doctored the COA report to show otherwise.”
Nograles said there were other articles in the issues of Durian Post written mostly by Balanza which discredit, defame, dishonor, and destroy his reputation adding that contrary to established practices of journalism, there was no effort on the part of respondents to get his side on all of the derogatory articles.
Currently, there are several measures pending before Congress to decriminalize libel and have even been consolidated under House Bill 5760.
Records show that while Congress under Nograles’ wake failed to take action upon this measure by legislating to decriminalize libel, the Supreme Court has called upon the courts to keep journalists safe from the threat of suffering the full penalties.
In January last year, Chief Justice Reynato Puno issued a circular urging the judges to impose fines instead of sanctioning prison terms as a penalty for libel.