Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Senators urge media to defy gov’t control


Senators urge media to defy gov’t control
First posted 03:10am (Mla time) Feb 28, 2006
By Philip C. Tubeza, TJ Burgonio, Luige A. del Puerto, Leila B. Salaverria

PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo came under fire in the Senate yesterday for allegedly attempting to muzzle the media as a prelude to an assault on basic civil liberties.

Senator Joker Arroyo urged the media to oppose administration efforts to control the press. “Defy the government … continue publishing,” he told reporters.

“If you want to control the civil liberties of the people, you start with media. That’s what government is trying to do. They are now trying to curtail media as a start,” Arroyo said.

Following the President’s declaration of a state of emergency on Friday, the Philippine National Police raided the office of the Daily Tribune.

PNP Director General Arturo Lomibao has also warned that police will take over media facilities if they do not comply with government standards.

Senate President Franklin Drilon, Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan and Senators Manuel “Mar” Roxas II, Rodolfo Biazon and Pia Cayetano yesterday filed a resolution seeking an inquiry into government acts in connection with Proclamation No. 1017.

Other senators have signified their intention to sponsor the measure.

Senators denounce raid

In the resolution, they condemned the police raid on the Tribune’s editorial office and the arrest of private citizens, as well as lawmakers critical of the Arroyo administration.

The senators also maintained that a state of emergency neither suspended the Constitution nor limited civil liberties, basic human rights, freedom of the press and other basic rights enshrined in the fundamental law.

“How can we expect our people to adhere to the rule of law if the highest office in the land can so easily twist and circumvent the fundamental law to meet its desired ends?” Pangilinan said.

Earlier in the day, Liberal Party members in the Senate and the House of Representatives held a caucus and agreed to question on the floor the legality of government acts carried out in connection with the proclamation.

“This is an intimidating act. They first targeted Tribune. Who’s next?” Biazon said.

News stories toned down?

“Do you know what I notice now? The stories have been toned down,” he said, holding a daily. “Even the commentaries have been toned down. Which means the objective of the proclamation is now slowly being achieved.”

Arroyo said any law, executive order or government action that ran counter to the constitutionally protected rights of the press, expression and speech “is unenforceable.”

“Even if the people exercise free speech and expression, or assemble to redress their grievances, nothing will come out of it unless media reports it freely,” he said.

“Thus, the President cannot, under the guise of national emergency or public interest, arbitrarily order the takeover or direct the news content of television or radio stations and thereby deprive the public of free and balanced information.”

“Such an assertion of the government cannot prevail over the superior right of freedom of the press, expression and speech,” he added.

NTC can’t close radio, TV

Arroyo said the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) or any government body was not empowered to draw up guidelines on what electronic media could or could not air “because that amounts to prior restraint which is constitutionally impermissible.”

“They can only regulate the airwaves but they cannot say that they will close (down radio or TV stations),” he said.

“I’m chair of the committee on public services and legislative franchises so I know it by heart. They do not have any power to oversee media,” he added.

The maverick administration senator slammed Lomibao’s threat to take over recalcitrant media.

“How can a policeman understand freedom of the press? He’s a policeman,” Arroyo said.

Total press ban not allowed

Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago said that even during a national emergency, “government may not impose a total ban on mass media” because free speech “occupies the highest priority in the hierarchy of constitutional values.”

She said the constitutional provision that authorized the government to “temporarily direct the operation of any privately owned public utility or business affected with public interest” was not found under the constitutional article on the executive department, but “under the article on national economy and patrimony.”

“This provision is applicable, not to a national emergency affecting political stability, but to a national emergency affecting the economy,” said Santiago, also an administration senator.

“Since 1017 applies mainly to political emergency, the invocation of this economic provision has marginal relevance,” she said.

“It cannot be used as a basis for restricting mass media, unless the media report is directly related to the promotion of a coup d’état or rebellion,” she added.

President urged to cease, desist

Saying that “those who wield the gun and not those who wield the pen” were its enemies, Senator Ralph Recto advised Malacañang to “cease and desist” from taking actions which “abridge the freedom of the press.”

He warned the Palace that it will lose “the battle for public opinion if it alienates through underhanded tactics the very sector that shapes it.”

“Malacañang should not pick up a fight with those who buy ink by the barrel,” Recto said.

“If democracy is under attack, then you tap the most potent weapon in its arsenal, which is a free press. You don’t launch a counterattack on the media, but you use it in winning people over to your side,” he said.

Recto said “democracy can never be invoked” in curtailing the freedom of the press.

Recklessly conceived

He described as “recklessly conceived” the assertion that some members of the media had “recklessly magnified” the “claims” of alleged conspirators.

“As far as I know, there were no screaming headlines calling on people to rise against the government,” Recto said.

“On the contrary, it was media’s untrammeled coverage of the demonstrations which probably saved the day for the government. If there was a news blackout, people would have believed the propaganda that a million people are massing up on EDSA (Epifanio delos Santos Avenue),” he said.

“But because the rallies were covered live by TV, they knew the real score.”

Recto said the people “know how to process information; they know chaff from the grain, substance from spin.”

During the swearing-in of a new set of officers of the PNP Press Corps in his office, Lomibao insisted that freedom of the press was “not absolute.”

“These are not normal times, we are in a state of national emergency,” he said.

Media attacks on government were “not good for the economy,” the police chief said.

In a statement signed by 124 students, faculty members and administrative staff, the University of the Philippines’ College of Mass Communication demanded that the President rescind her emergency proclamation, saying “it clearly undermines the role of the free press in the country.”

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