Bunye leaves it to AFP to file case vs Inquirer
First posted 05:02am (Mla time) Mar 14, 2006
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IT’S UP TO the military if it wants to push ahead and file a case against the Inquirer for publishing a series of articles on the events leading up to the aborted military coup on Feb. 24, according to Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye.
“We leave it to the parties involved,” Bunye said when asked if the Palace was assuming a “hands-off” policy on the matter.
The military might “have their reasons” for considering taking legal action against the Inquirer, he said.
“[But] as far as we are concerned, what needs to be done is a strict implementation of whatever laws we have,” he told reporters, citing the fact that the country had laws against libel and inciting to sedition.
Asked if he thought the Inquirer was out of line when it ran the stories, Bunye said: “I wouldn’t want to be the judge of that.”
“I think that should be settled at a different forum, not here,” President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s spokesperson added.
Put up or shut up
At the House of Representatives, however, Surigao del Sur Representative Prospero Pichay Jr. said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) should “put up or shut up.”
The administration lawmaker said in a phone interview that it was “conduct unbecoming” of the AFP top brass to “threaten civilians.”
“It’s without basis. Let me remind them that we’re not yet under military rule and that they should stop threatening the media,” said Pichay, vice chair of the House defense committee and a close ally of Ms Arroyo.
AFP spokesperson Colonel Tristan Kison earlier warned that the Inquirer could be charged with libel or sedition for publishing on March 11 and 12 “baseless articles” allegedly peddled by “unseen hands and puppet masters” to divide the military.
“[But] even the President announced the existence of a coup which, however, was nipped in the bud. She even declared a state of emergency because of the threat of a coup,” Pichay pointed out.
The lawmaker said Kison’s denial that military adventurists had planned to replace Ms Arroyo with a caretaker government was contrary to the position taken by the Commander in Chief.
He noted that Ms Arroyo even admitted that she was still battling “residual” threats against her government.
Pichay then called on AFP Chief of Staff General Generoso Senga to stop muddling the issue and instead train his guns on “enemy forces within the military who are out to oust” the Arroyo administration.
“Threatening the media won’t stop residual forces who are out to carry out another adventurist scheme,” he added.
Provide legal backbone
For its part, the House committee on justice urged the military to fast-track its probe on the aborted coup plot so that it could file the necessary charges against all those considered to still be posing “residual threats against the duly constituted government.”
Representatives Marcelino Libanan of Eastern Samar and Salacnib Baterina of Ilocos Sur, both lawyers and committee vice chairs, said that instead of trying to clip the freedom of the press enshrined in the Constitution, the AFP should simply do its job.
They reminded Senga and Kison that only the legal process could provide the solution to stopping the coup plotters and their financiers from launching another destabilization attempt against the government.
If the AFP fails to provide a legal backbone to Malacañang’s claims -- such as the absence of a formal case against coup plotters -- rebel soldiers would continue to use their uniform and even their institution to blackmail government, said Libanan.
“It’s time we bring them to justice. The AFP must complete its probe and gather all evidence to back up the case that will be filed against the coup plotters. Otherwise, these rebel soldiers will be acting like spoiled brats who would throw tantrums if they don’t get what they want. They violated laws and they must be punished accordingly,” said Libanan.
Failing to give the military rebels the “sanctions they deserve, if evidence warrants this, will pose a bigger threat than the so-called residual threat,” according to Baterina.
Laban ng Masa chair Francisco Nemenzo also expressed support for the Inquirer’s exposés on the real stories behind the failed military mutiny last month, saying this was part of freedom of the press.
In a statement sent to the Inquirer yesterday, Nemenzo, former president of the University of the Philippines, said the media and the Inquirer “must not be cowed by libel or inciting to sedition threats from the Arroyo regime.”
“Your readers deserve the truth and all angles in the story even if this angers the Arroyo government and the remaining corrupt officers in the AFP. The PDI (Philippine Daily Inquirer) should continue its responsibility of keeping the public informed and not buckle down to pressure from the Arroyo regime,” he said.
Nemenzo also called on media to continue to assert press freedom.
“We call on PDI and the media in general to continue asserting press freedom. You are not alone in your quest for the truth and defense of the people’s right to be informed. You have the majority of freedom-loving Filipinos behind you,” he said.
Even so, broadcast regulators yesterday reiterated their belief that they could take over or close down radio and television stations that air “seditious” news stories, a few days after media groups went before the courts to question this power.
At the same time, however, National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) chief Ronald O. Solis welcomed the move of various media groups to elevate the matter to the courts, saying this would once and for all resolve the question of the NTC’s powers.
“We maintain that we have the power to take over or close stations,” he said in an interview with reporters yesterday.
Apart from various media groups, Solis’ position has also been criticized by several lawmakers like Senate President Franklin Drilon and Senator Joker Arroyo who said that regulating the content of the airwaves was beyond the NTC’s ambit.
Solis said the agency’s power to regulate broadcast content was contained in the Public Service Act, which was enacted in 1936. “It is an antiquated law, but it is still in force,” he said.
Solis pointed out that the broadcast regulator had not released any new guidelines apart from those issued in 1985 and 1989.
(Editor’s Note: The Philippine Daily Inquirer is a parent company of INQ7.net)