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Friday, December 03, 2021
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Seares: 'Assault' of public officials on community journalists: arrest of an Iloilo blogger, inciting to sedition charge vs 3 Bohol media personalities

Media’s Public

THIS week, here are two incidents of outcry and protest from community media:

[1] Ruby Mejorada, who said she is the partner of blogger Manuel "Boy" Mejorada, reported on Facebook his arrest by the NBI Monday, November 22, for convictions of cyber libel in complaints filed by Senator Franklin Drilon. Ruby wrote that Drilon would now be happy. "Mapatahimik na si Boy. (Boy will be silenced.) He wasn't able to say good-by and he asked me to post this message for him." Earlier, when the Supreme Court ruled against him in the first set of cases, Mejorada said, "If imprisonment be the price for courageously expressing the truth, I have prepared myself and my family to accept my fate."

[2] The Bohol Tri-media Association (BTA), in a statement published Sunday, November 21, denounced the filing by Bohol Governor Arthur Yap last October of a criminal complaint for inciting to sedition against three media practitioners: Bohol Chronicle associate editor and dyRD manager Peter Dejaresco; radio co-host and former Tagbilaran city mayor Dan Lim; and Bohol Sunday News columnist and Facebook user Willy Ramasola. BTA, composed of print and broadcast journalists, called the complaint of Governor Yap "a whacking assault to freedom of expression, a blatant endangerment of constitutionally enshrined right to information, and a monstrous attempt to steamroll the media."

SIMILARITIES. The complaints from community media have two things in common: The accused "oppressors and enemies of a free press" are both public officials: one, Senator Drilon; the other, Governor Yap.

Mejorada, through his partner Ruby, alleged that the senator "silenced" him. The Bohol media group alleged that the governor violated freedom of expression, threatened right to information, and bullied the press.

On the other side, both Drilon and Yap reportedly said the media workers whom they separately sued had serially and unceasingly been attacking the two public officials. Yap, particularly, was believed to have resorted to the lawsuit in the hope of stopping the criticisms of his three "staunch critics."

Politics in each province must have also helped fuel the feud between the media persons and the public officials.

Mejorada is a former Iloilo provincial administrator who has been at odds with Drilon for many years. In Bohol, Dan Lim, the former city mayor, requested twice the ombudsman to investigate Yap while Ramasola allegedly posted malicious materials against Governor Yap since 2018 when the Facebook user supported former Cabinet secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr.'s failed run for governor.

MEJORADA CASE. Unlike the charges against the three Bohol media persons, which still have to be tried, all the complaints for cyber-libel against Iloilo's Mejorada already reached the promulgation stage, the first set even finalized already at the Supreme Court.

On September 2, 2019, the SC affirmed with finality a 2017 Court of Appeals decision that upheld the Pasay Regional Trial Court's conviction of Mejorada for four counts of libel in his social media posts accusing Drilon of involvement in corruption from Iloilo projects. He was sentenced to imprisonment of from two years and five months to four years and five months. Then, last January 25, the Pasay RTC convicted Mejorada for a separate libel case filed by Drilon for Boy's posts accusing the Iloilo senator of corruption. Mejorada can go all the way to the high court to appeal the second conviction.

Meantime, since 2019, he had been a fugitive under two warrants, still appearing and talking on his blog. NBI and the police could not or did not arrest him; his arrest by NBI last Monday was about two years late.

Mejorada was given due process from RTC to the Supreme Court on the first set of cases. He will be similarly accorded full hearing on the second charges. In a post, Boy said, "As a journalist, I always make sure my credibility stays intact no matter what. It's something mainstream media has forgotten." He was convicted not for writing in a newspaper or commenting on radio -- the traditional media -- but for internet writing where nobody but himself could enforce the rules that support credibility. At a Senate hearing, he reportedly admitted he could not show anything to back up his accusation against Drilon.

INCITING TO SEDITION CHARGE. The Bohol media group called Governor Yap's lawsuit of inciting to sedition "a monstrous attempt to steamroll media." Instead of regular libel or cyber-libel, a crime against honor, Yap used the more menacing criminal charge of inciting to sedition, a crime against public order.

The three, Yap alleged, "acted as catalyst to incite anarchy" and "mounted a demolition job," using "baseless accusations and rumors."

Still, the charge of instigating anarchy would be a stretch for community journalists. That must be why the Bohol tri-media group called it an act of bullying or steamrolling, using a hatchet instead of the usual whip.

[Read: Seares: Bohol Guv Yap's charge of inciting to sedition doesn't use the usual libel complaint against media. Media's Public, Oct. 28, 2021]

USE OF FARAWAY VENUE. Aside from the vast propaganda arsenal of most public officials, especially Governor Yap, the accusers use their advantage in the law on venue of the lawsuit. They opt to file at their place of residence or where they hold office, intentionally skipping the place of business or operation of the journalist or his media outlet.

Senator Drilon picked Pasay City, not Iloilo City, and Governor Yap chose Makati City, instead of Tagbilaran City, thus afflicting the respondents/accused with the burden of traveling to and from their media base.

The unfairness of the law has not been corrected despite the efforts of some media groups, such as the Cebu Citizens-Press Council (CCPC), to have it amended, particularly for community journalists.

FREE EXPRESSION VS RIGHT OF REDRESS. Public officials say they merely avail themselves of the right of redress under the law ("You can publish, we can sue") even as journalists decry what they see as oppression and harassment and attempt to silence critics of the said officials. For community journalists, they can be at the losing end of a court battle with the powerful and the affluent, especially when they forget to keep their credibility "intact."

At times, these cases also tell journalists and their public why some government officials become "onion-skinned," which the Supreme Court says they must not be. And that is, when news media abandon journalism virtue of basic fairness and verification and allow themselves to become tools for someone else's personal attack or retaliation.


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