At Thursday’s meeting, lawyer Jobert Pahilga, meanwhile, presented in brief the case of peasant leader Randall Echanis. Echanis, deputy secretary-general of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), was arrested Jan. 28 last year for murder charges. He has been languishing at the Manila City Jail.
Pahilga said that the charges are in connection with the alleged mass grave of the NPA, which were purportedly uncovered. He said that Echanis was in jail when the killings allegedly took place in 1984 and 1985.
Jueteng whistleblower Sandra Cam also said that there are seven libel cases filed against her — two in Bacolod filed by Ignacio Tuason “Iggy” Arroyo, brother of First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, and five in Pampanga filed by presidential son Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo and Lilia Pineda.
Carol Araullo, chairperson of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan-New Patriotic Alliance), also cited the kidnapping case against Rez Cortez. Cortez is a known Arroyo critic and staunch supporter of Fernando Poe Jr., Arroyo’s rival in the 2004 elections.
“These concocted charges are pure harassment,” Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan Oscar Cruz, who himself was slapped with libel charges by employees of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp (PAGCOR), told Bulatlat.
“These cases could not necessarily frighten the victims but would compel them to become more pro-active,” Cruz added. “Eventually, these will boomerang against the architects of these concocted cases.”
Meanwhile, Lozada rued the government’s harassment. “Ito ay hindi usaping ligal, ito ay usaping pang-aabusong politikal. Kung haharapin ligal, pasok tayo sa range of fire nila, talo tayo. Dalhin natin sila sa larangang di sila sanay,” he said. (“This is not a legal issue, it is a case of political abuse. If we confine our response to facing their charges in court, we put ourselves within their range of fire and we lose. Let us bring the battle to an arena where they are not effective.”)
“Abuse only happens within the confines of fear and silence. The moment you cling to that fear or silence, the more you become vulnerable,” Lozada said.
He encouraged everyone to make noise whenever trumped-up charges are filed against Arroyo’s critics.
Protection vs Trumped-Up Charges
Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casiño Jr. presented two bills filed by his party-list group aiming to protect the rights of whistleblowers and citizens — the House Bill 5840 (An Act Defining Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP), Prohibiting the Filing Thereof, Providing Measures for its Dismissal and for Other Purposes and House Bill 1715) or the Whistleblowers Protection Act.
Casiño said that SLAPP refers to cases where the complainant uses “the legal system against the right to free speech, free press, right to assemble and other rights.” He said SLAPP cases aim to prevent public participation on matters of public interest.
The lawmaker said that in the Philippines, SLAPP cases take the form of libel, slander, grave coercion, arson and even murder.
Lawyer Julius Matibag, also of Bayan Muna, explained that the objective of the bill is to promote and protect the Bill of Rights. The main objective of SLAPP is to harass the respondents, he said.
Matibag said that the case of Lazaro is a good example of a SLAPP case. “It stemmed from the journalist’s exercise of her right to free press,” he said.
The bill also contains provisions for “SLAPP back actions,” in which the victim may demand for damages and those who filed the SLAPP charges may be penalized.
Casiño said Senator Francis Pangilinan promised to file a counterpart bill in the Senate.
Matibag said the Supreme Court may also promulgate rules on SLAPP.
The Whistleblowers Protection Act, said Casiño, will provide protection and reward to informants on cases of graft and corruption.
Members of Pagbabago! agreed to support the said bills.
Araullo said there is a need to launch counter-offensives.
“We cannot separate these [cases] from the political situation. All of these are being used to preempt or coopt [us],” said Araullo.
She said that the machinery of the government, particularly the Justice Department, is orchestrating these harassment suits.
The group vowed to hold public forums to highlight the cases and urge people to take action. (Bulatlat.com)