The lawsuit filed by Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi against seven media organizations, including the Manila Bulletin, for publishing a story on him and Davao City-based businessman Dennis Uy facing a graft complaint over irregularities in the Malampaya gas field buyout was meant to stifle freedom of the press, opposition coalition 1Sambayan said on Sunday, Dec. 5.
The coalition, led by retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, former Foreign Affairs chief Albert del Rosario, and retired Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, called out the secretary for filing libel complaints that were meant to “suppress the freedom of the press.”
“1SAMBAYAN opposes any action to suppress the freedom of the press, and calls out DOE Secretary Alfonso Cusi for filing baseless and unnecessary libel cases against the seven media organizations just because they reported – as they should – on the graft suit the secretary is facing before the Ombudsman in connection with the heavily-criticized Malampaya gas field buyout to known Duterte ally Dennis Uy,” the group’s statement read.
“The Malampaya gas field buyout is our citizen’s concern. Do not shoot the messenger, Secretary Cusi. We encourage you to air your side of the issue instead. This is how democracy works,” it added.
Cusi filed complaints against reporters, editors, and executives of Rappler, ABS-CBN, Business World, Philstar, Manila Bulletin, GMA News Online, and Business Mirror.
The complaints were filed on November 29 before the Taguig City Prosecutor’s Office.
Cusi asked for P200 million each from the media company for “damaging my good reputation and good standing in government, which I developed through years of hard work and effort.”
But 1Sambayan maintained that the seven media organizations have “constitutionally guaranteed mandate” to provide information to the general public.
It also said it stands with “the protection of our civil liberties foremost of which is the freedom of speech and of the press.”
“Cusi’s action is meant to stifle the free flow of information to the public, by employing legal harassment tactics against the media organizations. His suit aims to cow the media into silence and keep our citizens in the dark,” the statement read.
The coalition also said that protection of the country’s resources and its enjoyment by the Filipino people “cannot be threatened or trumped upon by measly cases of libel.”
Cusi’s libel suit stemmed from the reports on the graft case filed against him and Uy before the Office of the Ombudsman on Oct. 18.
The complaint, filed by individuals including US-based Filipino lawyers Rodel Rodis and Loida Nicolas Lewis, said that Cusi committed graft over the Department of Energy’s (DOE) approval of a 45 percent buyout of the Malampaya shares by a subsidiary company owned by Uy.
The supposed shortcuts in the buyout are being investigated in the Senate as led by Senator Sherwin Gatchalian.
As it stands, Uy will have 90 percent control over the Malampaya gas field, from where most of Luzon region’s power is sourced, because of an ongoing buyout of Shell’s 45 percent shares.
Legal experts and business groups raised concerns over the risk of handing over the operation of the gas field, which is connected to the Reed Bank in the disputed West Philippine Sea, to a company that has no track record in oil exploration.