Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima denounced the libel and cyberlibel charges filed by Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi against several media outlets over their coverage of the controversial Malampaya gas field buyout.
De Lima, a social justice and human rights champion, likened the suits filed by Cusi against media outfits to strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs), which are intended to intimidate, silence, and prevent criticisms and opposition.
“The intent of SLAPP suits is not to win the case but to harass people enough to discourage them from speaking out further by forcing them to undergo the expense and rigors of intense litigation,” she said in her Dispatch from Crame No. 1184.
“We already saw that happen to Nobel laureate Maria Ressa, who has been inundated with multiple lawsuits just to make an example out of her and Rappler and intimidate them to silence and complicity,” she added.
In this case, De Lima explained that the SLAPP suit is directed against members of the press who were just reporting on a case filed against Cusi, a practice which she said
Last Dec. 3, Cusi reportedly confirmed that he filed charges against 18 officials and reporters of Manila Bulletin, ABS-CBN News, BusinessWorld, Rappler, Philippine Star, GMA News, and Business Mirror.
These media outlets were among those who reported on a graft complaint filed against Cusi and Udenna Corp. chairman Dennis Uy over alleged anomalies in the sale of shares in the Malampaya project.
The Ombudsman complaint, filed by individuals including US-based Filipino lawyers Rodel Rodis and Loida Nicolas Lewis, reportedly accused Cusi of committing graft over the Department of Energy or (DOE’s) approval of an Uy subsidiary to buy 45% of Malampaya shares from previous consortium member Chevron.
Even without an Anti-SLAPP law, De Lima said the cases Cusi filed against the Philippine media should be dismissed for being “frivolous, baseless, and ultimately violative of our Constitution.”
“Wala naman pong kasinungalingan sa naging report ng ABS-CBN, Manila Bulletin, Business World, Rappler, Philippine Star, GMA News at Business Mirror. Malinaw po ang kanilang naging ulat base sa impormasyon mula sa mga complainants mismo. Naging responsable sila sa ginawa nilang pag-uulat,” she said.
“Malinaw na ang intensyon lamang ng kaso ay pigilan ang mga media companies natin na mag-ulat ng anumang negatibo tungkol sa kaniya. Gaya ng amo niya, puro pananakot lang ang kayang gawin imbes na magtrabaho na lamang ng tama.”
“Bakit binubusalan ang media? Anong itinatago ni Cusi sa relasyon nya kay Uy?” she added.
As a democratic country, De Lima maintained that the courts should protect the media against clear harassment suits.
“The press should be allowed to report the truth regardless of its inconvenience to those in power. We, as a nation, should uphold our democratic values, lest we fall again into tyranny. Protect the press. Protect our freedoms. Protect our democracy,” she stressed. (30)