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Journalists cry foul over Makati RTC dismissal of media class suit

by AJLPP Sunday, Jun. 29, 2008 at 4:14 PM
magsasakapil@homail.com 213-241-0995 337 Glendale Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90026

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) on Saturday said it is ready to contest the decision of the Makati Regional Trial Court dismissing the class suit filed by several media organizations and practitioners in connection with the arrest of journalists in the failed November 29 rebellion in Makati. "We do not agree with the decision and will contest it all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary. We view the court's decision as a minor setback that will not discourage us from seeking justice and ensuring that no such injustice shall ever again be committed by the police and other security personnel," the NUJP said in a statement.

Journalists cry foul over Makati RTC dismissal of media class suit

Manila--The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) on Saturday said it is ready to contest the decision of the Makati Regional Trial Court dismissing the class suit filed by several media organizations and practitioners in connection with the arrest of journalists in the failed November 29 rebellion in Makati.

"We do not agree with the decision and will contest it all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary. We view the court's decision as a minor setback that will not discourage us from seeking justice and ensuring that no such injustice shall ever again be committed by the police and other security personnel," the NUJP said in a statement.

The NUJP maintained that there was "absolutely no justification" for security forces to handcuff and haul members of media to the Metro Manila police headquarters in Camp Bagong Diwa.



"We will continue to defy any and all attempts by this and any other administration to cow or muzzle us into abrogating our duty to provide the people, whom we serve, with the information they need to make informed decisions about their individual lives and our collective future as a nation," the group said.

RTC: Police order to media was lawful

In a five-page decision, the Makati Regional Trial Court (RTC) dismissed the class suit filed by media practitioners and media organizations against police officers who arrested reporters and other media professionals at the scene of the Manila Peninsula siege on November 29, 2007.

The RTC ruling said the media did not heed National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) chief Director Geary Barias' order to leave the hotel while they effect the arrest of Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim and several members of the Magdalo group of junior officers and soldiers who were inside the building.

Trillanes, Lim and the other Magdalo group members holed up inside The Peninsula Manila hotel November 29 after they walked out of a court hearing in Makati City. They called for President Arroyo to step down. Rebellion charges have been filed in a separate court against Trillanes, Lim and the other junior officers for their involvement in the incident.

"NCRPO Director Geary Barias was but lawful and appeared to have disobeyed by all... When they intentionally refused to leave the hotel," the decision, penned by RTC Judge Reynaldo Laigo, stated.

The court also said the journalists are lucky not to face criminal charges for resisting and disobeying persons in authority.

"Appropriate criminal charges under Article 151 of the Revised Penal Code... could have been initiated against them but they were so lucky as none had been initiated against them," the decision stated.

The court also defended Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez' order that media personnel violating lawful orders during emergency situations be arrested and charged.

The decision was released late Friday afternoon, but only the Philippine National Police (PNP) received a copy.

Journalist: Blow to democracy

Some journalists cried foul over the RTC decision as they said the decision would set limits on their ability to cover news events.

"Yong complainants walang kopya... ginagawa ito ng abugado na kasangga ang korte na kukuha ng warrant of arrest at the closing hours of Friday para ang aarestuhin mawalan ng tsansang magreact... managed talaga eh," said Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility’s (CMFR) Vergel Santos.

Columnist Ellen Tordesillas and reporter Ashzel Hachero, both from the newspaper Malaya, were just two of the many journalists arrested immediately after the Peninsula siege.

The two denounced the court's decision.

"Nakakagalit 'yong desisyon na sabi OK pala ang ginawa nina Barias... anong klaseng desisyon ito... malaking dagok sa demokrasya. Hindi ka na basta-bastang makakapag-report ng maayos," said Tordesillas.

"At the back of your mind, iniisip ko na baka arestuhin ulit ako... May basehan na ang pulis.... anong laban mo?" Hachero added.

But Barias insisted he was merely trying to protect the journalists.

Gonzalez: Showed govt actions were legal

Gonzalez, meanwhile, was happy about the court's decision, saying the decision showed that the actions taken by the government at that time were legal.

Gonzalez, meanwhile, did not take the complaint lightly. The justice secretary, who is in Iloilo, said the accusation that the decision was hastily done is an "insult" to the court. He added that the complainants can still file a motion to reconsider the decision.

"Alam naman natin ay armado silang lahat... ang aming iniisip noon ay 'yong safety din ng mga media... para sa kanila rin naman na dapat ay malisan nila ang lugar na 'yon para walang masaktan," Barias said.

But the complainants said the legal battle is not yet over.

"Importante na umapela sa desisyon na ito.. Nagkaroon ng desisyon on the merits na wala pa naman kaming ebidensiyang inihain sa injunction na inihain namin," said lawyer Harry Roque.

The journalists also said they will take their case to the streets to call for public support.

RTC decision robs media of press freedom

Roque earlier said the ruling by the Makati RTC allows police to arrest, handcuff and detain journalists and "robs [the media] of [its] last resort for press freedom.

Roque also questioned the fact that the ruling was kept secret for a week and only released on Friday. He said the timing of the release seems to have been intended to prevent a quicker reaction by the media and other concerned parties.

Roque sent this text message to abs-cbnNEWS.com:

"Trial court ruling on Pen affair, signed 20th but kept secret and released 27th, a Friday, obviously to suppress the right to promptly react, provides effectively: police order for newsmen to leave, subsequent arrests, cuffing, detention of news people legal; in fact, they should have been indicted. Meaning, the police can do all that again This sends biggest chill yet in media population and robs it of last resort for press freedom." With reports from Israel Malasa, ABS-CBN News and John Mark Guda, ABS-CBN Iloilo

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