Defend press freedom or quit job, CMFR chair tells journos

enablePagination: false
maxItemsPerPage: 10
totalITemsFound:
maxPaginationLinks: 10
maxPossiblePages:
startIndex:
endIndex:

Veteran journalist Vergel Santos, chairman of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines Staff, February 17) — A veteran journalist and leader of a media watchdog has a simple message for other journalists: defend press freedom or quit your job.

"'Pag hindi ipinaglaban [ang kalayaan sa pamamahayag] ay tumigil na kayong mamahayag. Ibig sabihin, you do not deserve to be in this business if the simple matter of defending the basic freedom of our profession ay hindi natin magawa," Veteran journalist Vergel Santos, chairman of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, told CNN Philippines on Sunday.

Santos urged journalists to not be intimidated by people who are trying to undermine press freedom.

"Kung tuwing tatakutin tayo ay uurong tayo, eh walang mangyayari sa demokrasyang ipinaglalaban, especially ng mga mamamahayag, kasi tayo ang nasa frontline ng kalayaan. 'Pag hindi natin ipinaglaban iyan, matutuluyan tayo," he said.

"Talagang medyo nai-intimidate tayo, 'di ba? Eh, 'yun naman talaga ang gustong gawin, eh i-intimidate tayo," he added.

Santos made the remarks in response to ‪Philstar.com‬'s move to take down an article about businessman Wilfredo Keng after he "raised the possibility of legal action." Keng is the complainant who filed the cyber libel case against Rappler CEO and chief executive editor Maria Ressa that led to the arrest of the latter last week. The charge was based an article published by Rappler in 2012 about then Chief Justice Renato Corona supposedly using a car under Keng's name.

READ: Rappler CEO out on bail

Santos said these developments may lead to the derogation of press freedom, especially with President Rodrigo Duterte and his administration wanting to "institute despotic regime."

"Kung kaya lang kayong takutin, tinatakot pa lang kayo, hindi pa kayo kinakasuhan, wala pang ginagawa sa inyo, uurong na kayo, eh papaano ang mangyayari niyan? Ang lumalabas niyan, dereliction iyan ng democratic duty ng mamamahayag," he said.

"Ang lugar natin sa democratic scheme ay napaka-importante kaya nga ang ginagawa ng rehimen natin ay tayo ang unang sinusupil precisely dahil ang ating lugar ay importante para sa preservation ng ating demokrasya," he added.

The administration had repeatedly refuted allegations that it is taking a hand on press freedom in the country. Duterte had also earlier denied that he is behind Ressa's arrest.

READ: Gov't: Rule of law observed in Rappler CEO's arrest

Libel used vs journalists

Cyber libel falls under Republic Act No. 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 enacted in September 2012. It is similar to ordinary libel offenses punishable under the revised penal code, except that the cyber counterpart is done on the internet instead of print.

Santos lamented that cyber libel is used by some to threaten journalists and is applied just to feed personal interests.

"Ang batas ay hindi mo pwedeng i-apply retroactively. Maliwanag 'yun. Ang ginagawa lang nila, naghahanap sila ng butas," he said.

"Ang gagawin ng mga iyan ay kakasuhan kahit paano. 'Yung mga prescription [period] na yan, balewala yan eh... gagawin at gagawin nila yan kahit na hindi tama ay gagawin nila," he added.

He said the issue of cyber libel transposes to the "quality [of] judicial decision making" in the country.

"Malaking labanan ito. Malaki ang ipinaglalaban natin. Hindi lang 'yung cybercrime law, kung di 'yung quality ng paghusga ng mga korte sa mga kaso, especially 'yung kaso na ang involved ay kalayaan," he said.

CNN Philippines' Social Media Producer Briane Dela Peña contributed to this report.