“Libel has always been a tool of government officials and influential individuals to stifle freedom of expression and silence critical media organizations.”
By ALYSSA MAE CLARIN
MANILA – A correspondent of an alternative media outfit in North Luzon is fearing for his safety as he faces continuous legal harassment with the refiling of cases already dismissed by the lower courts.
Northern Dispatch, in a statement, condemned the cyber-libel case filed against volunteer reporter Khim Abalos, which they claimed is the same case filed against its editor-in-chief Kimberlie Quitasol, Abalos and human rights group Karapatan last June 29 before the Regional Trial Court of Baguio City.
The case was dismissed a month after it was filed for lack of jurisdiction. This prompted the Provincial Prosecutor to refile the case before the La Trinidad Municipal Trial Court on August 18, 2020. It was also dismissed for the same reason. Not satisfied with the unfavorable decision of the courts, they refiled the case, amending it by removing Quitasol and Karapatan from the complaint, and elevating it to cyber libel.
“Instead of refuting the dismissal to higher court authorities, the prosecutor revised and elevated the charges to cyber libel,” NorDis said in a statement.
The charges are based on a complaint by Cordillera Police Regional Director Brigadier General R’win Pagkalinawan on an article written by Abalos, which he claims was written with malicious intent as it only included part of his statement.
Published in NorDis’ website on April 5, 2020, the article included a statement from Pagkalinawan that says ‘he would order snipers to shoot commuunist organizers who unnecessarily organize masses at this time.’
However, NorDis believes that this complaint is part of a series of harassment against media workers and organizations who dare speak the truth.
“The legal battle we are about to face is a fight against the blatant harassment of our colleague. It also serves as a warning to the local media community that critical reportage will earn the ire of those in power,” said NorDis in their statement.
“Libel has always been a tool of government officials and influential individuals to stifle freedom of expression and silence critical media organizations,” it said. “As a criminal case, libel is also used to discredit media institutions and personalities who put out exposé against the powers that be.”
In the past few months, NorDis has experienced a number of harassment. Just April of this year, its website was attacked, disrupting access for almost two days. Its correspondents and staff are subjected to constant red-tagging, endangering their lives and discrediting their reputation. Last year, NorDis Ifugao correspondent Brandon Lee was shot in front of his home. He is recovering abroad.
“We must fight back with reports that expose attacks on life and livelihood of the people, fact-checking of information, and incisive pieces on state policies and actions,” NorDis said.