The news organizations that have been sued for libel by Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi regarding their coverage of the Malampaya gas field deal have found support from the 1Sambayan coalition.
In a statement, 1Sambayan said it “stands behind ABS-CBN, Business Mirror, BusinessWorld, GMA News Online, Manila Bulletin, Philstar Global and Rappler and the constitutionally guaranteed mandate of the media to provide information to the general public, as well as with the protection of our civil liberties foremost of which is the freedom of speech and of the press.”
The coalition said it “opposes any action to suppress the freedom of the press,” as it called out Cusi for his “baseless and unnecessary libel cases” on media for their reportage on the “heavily criticized Malampaya gas field buyout.”
“Cusi’s action is meant to stifle the free flow of information to the public, by employing legal harassment tactics against the media organizations. His suit aims to cow the media into silence and keep our citizens in the dark,” the coalition added.
Cusi filed the libel suit as he criticized news outlets for reporting on the acquisition by Dennis Uy’s Udenna of Chevron and Shell’s stake in Malampaya. He accused the media of malice even though the reports merely quoted the complaint filed before the Office of the Ombudsman about the controversial acquisition and included Cusi’s previous statements and Udenna’s side on the issue.
The Economic Journalists’ Association of the Philippines have also slammed the libel suits filed by Cusi and Uy over the controversial deal, emphasizing that the issue is not of simple transaction but a great public concern as the asset involved is crucial to the country’s energy security, thus deserving scrutiny from media without undue interference or threats.
1Sambayan urged Cusi, a public official, not to “shoot the messenger” as it called the deal a “citizens’ concern” and encouraged him to air his side of the issue instead as that is how democracy works.
While public officials have the right to file libel cases against news organizations for simply reporting on the developments surrounding a highly controversial deal involving the government and one of the more influential businessman in the country, such actions can have a chilling effect on journalists whose job is to report on such issues, especially when country’s critical energy resources are concerned. When that happens, the public’s right to be constantly informed on issues of national importance is also trampled upon. Whose interests are public officials protecting when they resort to such actions?*