Groups slam Cusi, Uy libel raps over Malampaya deal reports
MANILA, Philippines — Media organizations and the party list group Bayan Muna on Saturday assailed the libel and cyber libel complaints filed by Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi and Davao City businessman Dennis Uy against almost two dozen reporters, editors and executives of various news outlets over their reports on the controversial Malampaya deal.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) called the complaints, filed on the same day against seven news organizations, “clear harassment suits meant to intimidate and chill the press,” and asked Cusi and Uy to drop the charges.
The Economic Journalists Association of the Philippines (Ejap) joined the NUJP in denouncing the filings, saying they were “an assault to press freedom.”
In separate statements, NUJP and Ejap, expressed their solidarity with the journalists and media outfits being accused in the complaints filed by Cusi in Taguig City and by Uy in Davao City.
Just doing its job
“The media is simply doing its job — to report based on facts presented to them. Secretary Cusi is a public official and is therefore subject to scrutiny. The issue at hand is not a simple transaction as this involves a state-owned asset crucial to the country’s energy security,” Ejap said.
“This latest attack on journalists shows the urgency of decriminalizing libel to uphold public interest by keeping those accountable in check,” it added.
“We urge Secretary Cusi to drop the complaints and, instead, focus his attention on explaining to the public what happened in the Malampaya gas deal,” the NUJP said.
The libel suits, which were filed on Nov. 29 but became public only on Friday, were over stories published by the news outlets about the graft complaint filed on Nov. 19 in the Office of the Ombudsman by three private citizens—Rodel Rodis, Loida Nicolas-Lewis and Balgamel de Belen—against Cusi, Uy and several others in relation to the sale of the Malampaya gas-to-power project.
Seven media outfits and 17 reporters, editors, and executives were named as respondents in Cusi’s complaint.
They include Carlo Katigbak and Lynda Jumilla of ABS-CBN; Maria Ressa, Aika Rey, Glenda Gloria and Chay Hofileña of Rappler; Jaemark Tordecilla and Ted Cordero of GMA New Media; Samuel Medenilla, Lenie Lectura and Lourdes Fernandez of Philippine Business Daily Mirror; Camille Diola, Rhodina Villanueva and Ian Nicolas Cigaral of Philstar Global; Herminio Coloma Jr., Loreto Cabañes and Jel Santos of Manila Bulletin; and Business World.
Uy filed libel and cyberlibel cases against three media outfits, four reporters, and a private individual — namely Wilfredo Reyes and Bianca Angelica Añago of Business World; Benjamin Ramos of Business Mirror; Anjo Bagaoisan of ABS-CBN News; and Rodis (one of the graft complainants).
The Department of Energy has maintained that the Malampaya sale to the Uy-controlled firm was “above board” and dismissed the graft complaint as “speculative, without basis and malicious.”
In his libel complaint, Cusi demanded that each individual respondent and company pay damages worth P200 million.
For NUJP, coughing up that amount “could cripple news organizations if enforced.”
“Even if it isn’t [enforced], the lawyers’ fees that these news organizations would have to pay to answer the complaints and the time it would take to address them—time that could be spent on reporting — are enough to send a chill,” it added. “It is meant to say: be careful what you report next. It is the textbook definition of a chilling effect.”
On Cusi’s claim that he was “accused of graft” by the reporters, NUJP said “the journalists did not accuse him; the (graft) complainants did. The journalists only covered the complaint.”
As to Cusi’s statement that there is a “fair and humane way to settle misunderstandings and differences without resorting to malicious news reporting,” NUJP said journalists were not businessmen, politicians, brokers nor lobbyists who would engage in settlements.
‘Stop playing victim’
Bayan Muna chair Neri Colmenares said Cusi should “stop playing victim” and explain how the Udenna Corp. owned by Uy, a major contributor to President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign in the 2016 elections, managed to take control over the country’s sole offshore gas project.
“He should show if indeed the (Udenna takeover) followed processes imposed by law,” he said.
Bayan Muna Rep. Ferdinand Gaite said that as a civil servant subject to public scrutiny, Cusi should not be onion-skinned.
—REPORTS FROM DEMPSEY REYES AND MELVIN GASCON
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