The lawyer handling the class action suit of Philippine journalists against Jose Miguel Arroyo, the husband of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, was threatened on the phone on 3 January 2007, according to the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), a SEAPA founding member.
Harry Roque received a phone call at about 10.00 a.m. (local time) from someone calling himself “Jun Santos”, who warned Roque to stop “lawyering for destabilizers.” The caller professed to be a supporter of the President Arroyo and a member of KAMPI, the political party she founded.
Roque later received three text messages threatening to kill him and his family. One offered a P5 million (approx. US$102,600) bounty on the lawyer’s head.
The first text message, which came at about 1.00 p.m., said, “Atty. Roque, RIP (Rest in Peace), we from the Hukbong Bayan (Army of the Country) are continually watching you and your moves of betrayal to the nation. We are again warning you to shut your fishy mouth.”
A second message followed, which again threatened Roque and his family. “Dura lex, sed lex. Our law may be harsh but it is still our law. Not all the time you are lucky. Your end is near and your family.”
The third and last message said, “To all interested persons: we are giving away P5 million/$105,000 as a reward for the capture of Harry Roque, dead or alive. Atty. Roque is a lawyer of terrorist communist group in the Phils. A destabilizer, insurgent, an anti-American. Caution: he is armed & dangerous. Any info on his whereabouts, pls call or text 09152546579.”
The number turned out to be that of a mobile phone owned by the Public Affairs department of the Philippine Army, who denied involvement with or knowledge of the death threats against Roque.
“My strong suspicion is that it is Malacañang (the Presidential office) behind these death threats,” Roque said in an interview with the “Daily Tribune” newspaper.
Roque is also part of the legal team for a rape survivor identified only as “Nicole”, who was raped by US Marine Daniel Smith on 1 November 2005. Sentenced to 40 years’ imprisonment by a Philippine court, Smith has been transferred to the custody of the US Embassy in Manila by the Arroyo government. “Nicole” is protesting the transfer.
The journalists filing the class action suit against the president’s husband are among the 45 reporters, columnists, editors and publishers he is suing for libel. Joining the class action suit, which is filed on behalf of the press, are other journalists and media organisations Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and “The Daily Tribune”. The class suit is asking for P15 million (approx. US$305,630) in damages for the inconveniences Arroyo’s libel suits have allegedly caused as well as their chilling effect on press freedom.