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Jun 26th
Home Sections Literature and Fourth Estate Press Freedom Curtailed By Court Ruling on Manila-Peninsula Siege
Press Freedom Curtailed By Court Ruling on Manila-Peninsula Siege PDF Print E-mail
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Sections - Literature and Fourth Estate
Saturday, 28 June 2008 23:29

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Q. Pimentel, Jr. (PDP-Laban) expressed alarm that the freedom of the press could suffer a blow with the decision of a Makati Regional Trial Court dismissing the civil suit filed by newsmen against some Cabinet members and several military and police officials arising from the mistreatment of members of the media who covered the so-called siege of Manila Peninsula Hotel in Makati City on November 29, 2007.

In a decision issued last week, Judge Reynaldo Laigo of the Makati RTC-Branch 56 threw out the charges that the allegations in their complaint did not constitute sufficient cause of action for damages against the defendants to merit further prosecution of the case.


The reporters, photographers and cameramen, who defied the police instruction to leave the hotel, complained that they were treated like suspects in crimes when they were arrested, handcuffed, brought to and detained at Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig City, after the surrender of a group of renegade soldiers who took over the hotel to denounce the civilian government.


Senator Pimentel voiced apprehension that the court decision would only embolden the administration and law-enforcement authorities in imposing restrictions on similar political events or crisis situations that may result in the suppression of truth.


“I view with alarm the Makati Regional Trial Court’s ruling on the Manila Peninsula affair that might lead to suppression of press freedom and the people’s right to information and ultimately the institution of police state,” the opposition stalwart said.


“The ruling,” Mr. Pimentel said, “could have been worded differently so as not to give the impression that the acts of the police were fully justified.”


In his decision, Judge Laigo held that the order of Police Director Geary Barias of the National Capital Region Police Office for the journalists to vacate the Manila Peninsula Hotel was “lawful” given the “dangerous” situation but “appeared to have been violated” by many of them by opting to stay put in the company of the mutinous soldiers.


Senator Pimentel said the journalists, including well-known broadcaster Ces Drilon, were treated as common-crime suspects when the police took them under custody without informing them what offense or crime they had committed and without providing them with counsel.


He noted that the drastic action was taken by the law enforcers on the suspicion – not supported by any iota of evidence – that some of the mediamen had conspired with the personalities who staged the hotel siege, led by Sen. Antonio Trillanes and Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim.


Subsequently, the government decided not to file any charges against the journalists.


The civil suit was filed by 36 reporters, photographers and cameramen and four media organizations – Philippine Center for Investigate Journalism, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and Philippine Press Institute.


Among those charged in the case were Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro, Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Punoand Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez.


The others were Philippine National Police Director General Avelino Razon, then armed-forces chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, Director Barias, Southern Police District Luizo Tieman, Special Action Force Director Chief Supt. Leocadio Santiago and Senior Supt. Dolina of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group. # # #


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Last Updated on Saturday, 28 June 2008 23:52

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