PH Bar Association offers legal aid to journalists sued by Cusi

(1st UPDATE) ‘If we want [journalists] to stay ‘free’ then we have to do our part to keep them that way, ”says oldest national voluntary lawyer organization in the Philippines

The Philippine Bar Association has provided legal assistance to journalists facing libel cases filed by Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, President Rodrigo Duterte’s trusted ally.

“We extend this service in recognition of our courageous journalists who fearlessly discharged their constitutional duty for years,” Philippine Bar Association president Rico Domingo said in a statement on Tuesday (December 7th).

The group said the libel complaints – filed against seven news outlets, including Rappler – were “stressful and financially exhausting challenges” that would introduce a “chilling effect.”

“We rely on our press to always seek the truth. We ask our journalists to keep writing facts. But their ability to do so only remains to the extent that they themselves are free – without fear, without harassment. If we want them to remain ‘free’ then we have to do our part to keep them that way, ”added the Philippine Bar Association, the oldest national voluntary lawyer organization in the Philippines.

Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III said on Wednesday he was offering legal advice to media groups and personalities being sued by Cusi. Pimentel, by the way, belongs to Cusi’s rival faction in the PDP-Laban.

“Since I cannot appear in court or in quasi-judicial offices in matters not involving me, I also offer my legal advice to all these media figures sued by Sec. Cusi. We must collectively resist all attempts to restrict or even silence the news media. By prosecuting them all for reporting a newsworthy event, it is clear that the desired effect is to cool, if not freeze, the news media covering the subject of Malampaya, ”he said.

The senator added, “My offer of legal advice extends to all Filipinos who feel oppressed by the abuse of the law or the militarization of the law.

Cusi is seeking 200 million pesos in damages from each news organization and its journalists for reporting on a corruption complaint filed against him and Duterte campaign donor Dennis Uy. Cusi claimed that the journalists, in their reports – which were based on a press conference led by the lawyer for the corruption plaintiffs – “publicly accused [him] transplant. The corruption case against Cusi was filed by US-based Filipino lawyers Rodel Rodis and Loida Nicolas Lewis who, at the time of publication, are not the subject of any complaints from Cusi.

Rodis and Lewis accused Cusi of bribing over his department’s approval of a Uy subsidiary to buy a 45% operating stake in the Malampaya gas field, with another 45% buyout. ongoing Shell actions. Business and legal groups have sounded the alarm over the buyout, citing the risks of handing over a major source of electricity in Luzon to companies with no track record in oil exploration. The gas field is also linked to the Reed Bank in the disputed West Philippine Sea. The alleged impropriety of the takeover is also the subject of a Senate investigation.

The case against Rappler has been filed against the company, its CEO Maria Ressa, journalist Aika Rey, editor-in-chief Glenda Gloria and editor-in-chief Chay Hofileña.

Cusi als filed defamation complaints for the same report against journalists, editors and executives of ABS-CBN, Business world, Philstar, Manila Bulletin, GMA News Online and BusinessMirror.

Cusi is the chairman of a PDP-Laban faction, of which Duterte himself is the chairman.

The #HoldTheLine coalition, made up of press freedom and civil society organizations, journalists, filmmakers and other like-minded people from around the world, has condemned the case against Ressa and others journalists.

“This latest attack, led by a senior Philippine government official, highlights the urgent need to decriminalize defamation in the Philippines. It has become a political tool used for the legal harassment of journalists and media outlets by the Duterte administration. It cools freedom of expression, suppresses independent journalism and undermines the public’s right to know. It also directly contravenes international law, ”the coalition said in a statement.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines has made the same call: to decriminalize defamation in the Philippines. – With a report by Mara Cepeda / Rappler.com

Andrew B. Reiter