De Lima: Cusi’s libel raps vs media ‘frivolous, baseless’

Published December 9, 2021, 10:10 AM

by Hannah Torregoza 

Opposition Senator Leila de Lima said the libel and cyberlibel charges that Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi had filed against some members of the press over their coverage of the controversial Malampaya gas field buyout were frivolous and baseless.

De Lima likened the suits filed by Cusi against the media 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,” De Lima said in her latest statement.

“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 pointed out.

The senator said SLAPP suit is already outlawed in other countries mainly due to its chilling effect on the exercise of freedom of speech and of the press “especially on matters of public concern.”

But 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 (There was nothing wrong with the report released by) ABS-CBN, Manila Bulletin, Business World, Rappler, Philippine Star, GMA News at (and) Business Mirror,” De Lima said.

“Malinaw po ang kanilang naging ulat base sa impormasyon mula sa mga complainants mismo. Naging responsable sila sa ginawa nilang pag-uulat (It was clear that they wrote the report based on information and the complaint itself. They were responsible with their reporting),” she stressed.

“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 (The intention is clear and that is to suppress our media companies from reporting anything negative about him. Like his boss, he only knows how to harass instead of just doing his job right),” said De Lima, a known vocal critic of the Duterte administration.

“Bakit binubusalan ang media? Anong itinatago ni Cusi sa relasyon nya kay (Dennis) Uy (Why harass the media? What is Cusi hiding about his relationship with Uy)?” she asked, citing the businessman who was a known campaign supporter of President Duterte in the May 2016 elections.

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 that were among those who reported on a graft complaint filed against the Energy secretary and Udenna Corp.’s chairman Dennis Uy over alleged anomalies in the sale of shares in the Malampaya project.

The Ombudsman case stemmed from a complaint filed by individuals, including US-based Filipino lawyers Rodel Rodis and Loida Nicolas Lewis, who reportedly accused Cusi of committing graft over the Department of Energy or (DOE’s) approval of an Uy subsidiary to buy 45 percent of Malampaya shares from previous consortium member Chevron.

As a democratic country, the detained senator reiterated the courts should uphold and 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 emphasized.