by Joel Roja/Asianjournal.com
MANILA – Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno on Tuesday admitted that democracy in the country is presently “under siege” due to increasing number of journalists being killed under the Arroyo administration.
In a conference on Impunity and Press Freedom organized by the Southeast Asian Press Alliance, Puno told delegates mostly from Latin-American countries that two threats have been hounding mediamen — censorship by killing and the abuse of restrictive defamation and libel laws.
Puno noted that the Philippines has the 5th highest number of incidents where journalists have been murdered. Since the start of President Arroyo’s term in 2001, the chief magistrate said a total of 70 have already been killed in the line of duty.
Of the cases filed involving these killings, only one has been resolved, with six still undergoing trial and 18 other cases still under investigation. He added that four cases have been dismissed and four are still pending prosecution.
Puno added that threats to freedom of the press all over the world will not end, thus, press freedom and human rights advocates should not stop looking for measures to protect journalists.
He also noted that despite threats to press freedom, history would show that no amount of harassment and murders would prevent journalists from searching for truth.
“History teaches us that the misuse and abuse of libel laws against media practitioners through the ages did not stamp out the flame of freedom of the press, and it never will,” the Chief Justice said.
He further told the delegates that among the remedies instituted by the Court to enhance human rights and protect freedom of the press is the promulgation of the writ of amparo and the writ of habeas data.
The writs, according to Puno, are intended to give protection to the victims of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.
Since the writ of amparo took effect on October 24, 2007, a total of 14 writs have already been issued out of 18 petitions filed. Out of the 14 cases, five have already been decided by the Court of Appeals from October to present.
On the other hand, the Rule on the Writ of Habeas Data took effect last February 2, 2008, Puno said the Rule is an independent remedy to enforce right to informational privacy and the complementary “right to truth.”
On the other hand, the Rule in the Writ of Habeas Data took effect last February 2, 2008, Puno said the Rule is an independent remedy to enforce right to informational privacy and the complementary “right to truth.” of penalties in libel cases.
In the said circular, the High Court directed judges to determine whether the imposition of a fine alone in libel cases would best serve the interest of justice.
Puno also urged Congress to look into the possibility of putting a cap on civil liability for libel of media people.
“It is not the threat of imprisonment that handcuffs media. The punches of poverty coming from threats of unlimited civil liability can also convert some of their backbones into mere wishbones,” he said.
Among the groups and individuals participating in the three-day conference are the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, Tony Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism of the Columbia University’s Graduate school of Journalism, Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law (IFICL), International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Committee to Protect Journalist.
Other delegates are Supreme Court Associate Justice Adolf Azcuna, UP Professor Raul Pangalangan, Court of Appeals Justice Lucas Bersamin, Gonzalo Marroquin (IAPA), Ricardo Trotti (IAPA), lawyer Jose Diokno (FLAG), Jan Michael Simon (IFICL), Argentina CA Justice Eduardo Rodolfo Freiler, Judge Fernando Andreu Merelles of Spain, Judge Santiago Pedraz Gomez of Spain, Christine Chung of the Schell Center for International Human Rights, Ruben Carranza (ICTJ) ,Melinda Quintos de Jesus (CMFR), 2000 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Journalism Atmakusumah Astraatmadja and several others.
In an interview, Trotti, director of IAPA-Press Freedom Program and Press Institute, said journalists in the Philippines are encountering the same problems like journalists in Latin-American countries.
He said this was the main reason why IAPA decided to work hand-in-hand with SEAPA and other press freedom advocates to address the problem on unabated media killings.
Trotti added that the writs of amparo and habeas data which were recently instituted by the remedies recently are not enough to protect journalists from harassments and killings.
“I believe those (writs) are mainly for freedom of expression itself, but for freedom of the press I believe you need all the resources to have in one country. For instance, Freedom of Information Act (FIA), that’s something that is a requirement in every good and strong democracy, the right of the people to access to information by the state and some others…,” Trotti said.
“We need to find some goals and strategy to cope with the issues, especially making people aware of the problems that journalists have, I believe educating the people about the right of speech, the right of expression, is the main key for democracies,” Trotti said.