Journalists won’t drop class suit vs husband of Philippines president

May. 23, 2007

MANILA — The journalists who filed a class-action suit against First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo said today that they will pursue the case against the president’s husband despite his earlier move to drop the libel cases he had filed against 46 Filipino journalists.

In a statement, the journalists said that Arroyo, who filed the most number of defamation cases by any individual in the country’s history, “is out to erode the watchdog function of the press.” That, they said, “is anathema in a democracy.”

“Today, we face a new battlegroundin the courts,” the journalists said.

Below is their statement in full:

In view of Jose Miguel Arroyos announcement that he intends to withdraw all the libel suits he has brought against journalists (46 in all), the question is raised whether we might respond by withdrawing our own class suit against him.

As it happens, this is not a case of such humanitarian challenge as the question seems to suggest. Mr. Arroyo, no doubt, deserves every sympathy after his heart surgery but, however serious his condition may be, it does not excuse him from misrepresenting his place in the way he has done: his is not to dispense generosity (his own word) to the journalists, but to ask them for it.

Apparently, Mr. Arroyo has had a dubious epiphany. Instead of realizing, as might have been the case in a true chastening, that he has filed whimsical, malicious, wholesale suits, and apologizing, he presents himself as in fact the one wronged and offers yet to forgive.

That is adding insult to injury, and it serves only to strengthen our intention to proceed with our suit for damages in behalf of our profession.

In the history of Philippine media, it is Mr. Arroyo who has filed the most number of libel cases versus journalists.

Let us remember that he is out to erode the watchdog function of the press. That is anathema in a democracy.

Were trying to build the press as an institution that will function vigorously as part of the checks and balances in our system. As it is, we already operate in difficult conditions, where vested interests dominate some media organizations and the culture of impunity casts its dark shadow on us.

Today, we face a new battlegroundin the courts.

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