The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) on Saturday, Dec. 4, decried the cyber libel complaints filed by Department of Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi and businessman Dennis Uy against 18 officials and reporters of seven news outlets who published articles about a graft suit filed against the two officials.
On Friday, Dec. 3, Cusi filed charges against 18 officials and reporters of Manila Bulletin, ABS-CBN News, BusinessWorld, Rappler, Philippine Star, GMA News, and Business Mirror.
The Energy Secretary is demanding at least P200 million from news organizations for the “damages” he suffered as a result of the article posted.
In a statement, NUJP said the complaints are “meant to intimidate and chill the press” and the P200 million in damages from each of the seven media outfits “could cripple news organizations if enforced.”
The Union said the stories published by the reporters were based on a press conference, a press release, and a complaint field before the Office of the Ombudsman.
“For Secretary Cusi to say in his complaint that the journalists ‘accused [him] of graft]’ is a total misunderstanding, if not a deliberate way to mislead the public, of the role of journalists. The journalists did not accuse him; the complainants did. The journalists only covered the complaint,” NUJP said.
“Journalists are not businessmen, politicians, brokers, or lobbyists out to find a way to ‘settle misunderstandings and differences.’ We are the public guardians — out to report on matters like this, a difference of opinion between the executive and the legislative, the latter pointing out that there were shortcuts to approve the sale of billion-peso shares of the Malampaya project, a crucial public infrastructure,” it added.
NUJP urged Cusi to drop the complaints and instead “focus his attention on explaining to the public what happened in the Malampaya gas deal.”
The group also reiterated its call to decriminalize libel and to respect the democratic space of keeping a check on government officials.
“May we remind Secretary Cusi of what the Supreme Court said about public officials suing for libel: Without a vigilant press, the government’s mistakes would go unnoticed, their abuses unexposed, and their wrongdoings uncorrected,” NUJP added.