(*In a correction published on 26 February 2007, it was pointed out that the number of journalists sued by First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo for libel now totals 46, as publisher Isagani Yambot, editor-in-chief Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc and the other four editors are already being sued by Arroyo over a series of columns by Ramon Tulfo in the “Daily Inquirer” in 2006.)
Fifty-two* journalists are now facing libel charges from Jose Miguel Arroyo, husband of Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, reports the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, a SEAPA founding member based in Manila.
On 20 February 2007, Arroyo sued seven staff members of the “Philippine Daily Inquirer”, including the publisher and several editors, and demanded P11 million (approx. US$220,000) in damages, adding the seven to 45 others he has sued.
Libel is a criminal offence in the Philippines.
The libel suit stemmed from a 2 March 2006 article written by Fe Zamora, “Mike A didn’t go to Marawi? Tell that to the Marines.” The article reported the livid reaction of Marine soldiers in Campo Ranao, Marawi city, Mindanao, to denials by Arroyo’s lawyer that the presidential spouse was there to buy votes and bribe election officials during the 2004 presidential elections.
Aside from Zamora, the other respondents in the suit are “Inquirer” Publisher Isagani Yambot, Editor-in-Chief Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc, Managing Editor Jose Ma. Nolasco, associate editors Abelardo Ulanday and Rosario Garcellano, and News Editor Artemio Engracia Jr.
“I have suffered serious emotional trauma, mental anguish, serious anxiety, (and) public embarrassment. It caused serious dishonor to my person and family,” Arroyo said in an Inquirer report. Arroyo also said that the respondents acted with actual malice, intended to “malign and cause irreparable damage” to him. They acted, he said, with reckless disregard of whether or not their accusations were true, and should be held liable for P10 million ($200, 000) in damages and P1 million (US$20,000) for legal expenses.
Zamora said she has not received a copy of the complaint and declined to give a comment.
Zamora’s report had cited the September 2005 testimony of retired Brig. Gen. Francisco Gudani on the alleged involvement of military officers in the 2004 balloting, as revealed in the “Hello, Garci” tapes. The “Hello, Garci” tapes were a series of wiretapped conversations believed to be between President Arroyo and former elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano discussing the rigging of the elections.
Gudani alleged in a Senate hearing in September 2005 that Arroyo had flown to Marawi carrying bags containing P500 million ($10 million), which was allegedly used to bribe election officials.
“I vehemently deny that I ever went to Marawi for the purpose of buying votes or to manipulate the (2004) elections in any way. I deny having brought P500 million anywhere for any purpose. I deny having requested anyone, much less any member of the military, to manipulate the election,” Arroyo said.
Arroyo filed the libel case before the Manila City Prosecutor’s Office accompanied by three of his lawyers.
A class action suit was filed by more than half of the then 45 journalists sued by Arroyo together with the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, the “Daily Tribune”, on 28 December 2006. The class action suit, which is asking for P12.5 million (US$250,000) in damages, argues that Arroyo has abused his right to sue and is damaging press freedom by filing a spate of libel cases against journalists.
Arroyo has been tagged by Reporters Without Borders as the “new enemy” of the press in the Philippines for his “raft of defamation suits” against journalists.