MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine Bar Association (PBA) offered on Tuesday legal assistance to “targeted” journalists and media organizations as it viewed with “grave concern the series of suits” filed against media outlets.
In a statement, the PBA said it was aware that criminal cases could be “stressful and financially-draining.”
“They are time-consuming and for those without ready access to competent legal counsel, can become debilitating experiences. The sheer scope and breadth of the targeted journalists, not to mention the amount being asked from each (P200,000,000.00) leave little doubt that this slew of suits will introduce a ‘chilling effect,’” the association said.
“As lawyers who believe in the importance of the Freedom of the Press, we cannot stand idle and let this happen. The PBA will not allow the law on libel to be weaponized against the vanguards of our democracy,” it added.
So the PBA is offering journalists assistance by its members — who are among the “most distinguished” lawyers and law firms in the country.
They may contact the PBA main office by phone at 8815-2485 or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We extend this service in recognition of our brave journalists who have fearlessly performed their constitutional duty for years. We rely on our Press to always search for the truth,” the association said.
“We ask our journalists to keep on writing facts. But their availability to do so remains only insofar that they themselves are free — free from fear, fear from harassment. If we want them to remain ‘free,’ then we must do our part to keep them that way,” the PBA added.
The lawyers’ group likewise noted that a free press “kept the light of freedom lit even during the darkest days of martial law.”
“They have fought for the public’s right to know on countless occasions. The Rule of Law upon which every lawyer pays fealty to is kept strong by the light that a Free Press illumines. When the Fourth Estate is under siege, those of us who believe in these freedoms must offer what we can to aid them.
“We call on our other colleagues in the legal profession to also take this opportunity to assist our beleaguered journalists. And to those in the Press who have felt the cold tinges of fear, the PBA assures you, we are with you. You are not alone,” the PBA said.
Before the PBA issued the statement, Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi and Davao businessman Dennis Uy filed separate complaints of libel and cyberlibel against several media outfits for reporting “libelous and false statements” on the controversial Malampaya deal.
Cusi asked that the respondents pay P200 million in damages for damaging his “reputation and good standing in government.”