Re-examining freedom of expression


I have been the foremost advocate for freedom of expression, at least in the legal profession. I have always said that this freedom is ever important for it enables us to know the truth. It also enables us to form opinions, which taken collectively, have been proven in fiscalizing governments. For instance, we now know that the PDAF and DAP were never intended to benefit our people. They have been intended and used to further enrich our corrupt officials. If anything, the investigative work of journalists on PDAF and DAP has shown how crucial a vibrant press is in informing our people and in keeping our government in line.

But I have had to re-examine my advocacy for freedom of expression recently. This is because have had to reckon with the ugly side of the terrain: irresponsible journalism.

Note that days after my fellow private prosecutor in the Maguindanao massacre case, Nena Santos, claimed that Department of Justice officials were purportedly accepting bribes from the accused, the witness, Lakmudin Saliao, who, even if purportedly under the government’s Witness Protection Program, is actually under the custody of Governor Toto Mangudadatu; spoke to media, This was obviously arranged by Nena Santos herself. Purportedly the “smoking gun” to prove her allegations of bribery, Saliao then related that when he was still under the employ of the Ampatuans, he gave Atty Sigfrid Fortun the amount of P50 million, 20 million of which was to be paid to Undersecretary Francisco Baraan, and the balance of P30 million to be paid to the rest of the public prosecutors.

In the mind of Santos, this disclosure proved that Baraan was indeed on the take. The only problem was that Saliao, as one of the government’s star witnesses in the Ampatuan trial itself, was testifying on matters which occurred in 2009 and 2010 prior to the PNoy administration. Baraan only joined government as part of the PNoy administration. Hence, contrary to what Saliao is saying, Baraan could not have received P20 million since he was not yet in government at the time of the alleged payoff.

So when Ces Orena-Drilon came to my temporary office in the UP College of Law to show me a PDF file of an alleged diary listing personalities which she concluded were lists of individuals having received money form the Ampatuans, my remark to her was: “Ces, you’re the only one who still believes Nena Santos.” It was at that juncture that Ces then said that her informant was different from Nena Santos although she admitted that she met this informant through Nena Santos. Nena would later lie on national televisions and say that she does not know the informant.

I even explained to her that Nena was obviously on the warpath after she was found lying. But Ces was persistent. She then showed me an entry of a phone number, which corresponded to mine -next to the word “speedy”. Another entry had the notation “Speedy 10 M and a car”.

Asked for my reaction, I first explained that the since the diary was provided by an informant who did not prepare the diary, the same was not authenticated. I then said that while the number corresponds to my cell phone, my number is a very public number since it appears in all my press releases, my blog and FB entries, I do not know any “speedy” and do not know why it appears next to my number.

But lo and behold, in the newscast for that evening, it was reported that I received P10 million and a car since I was using the alias “Speedy”.

I am sure that those who know me will not believe this allegation. How do you explain the fact that unlike Nena Santos who has not presented a single witness in the Ampatuan prosecution, we have not only been active in presenting our witnesses (about 35) in the massacre case itself but have field 23 other actions against the Ampatuans? This included the plunder case against the Ampatuans, actions to freeze their assets with the Anti-Money Laundering Council, a separate civil case against former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for her complicity in the murder, separate criminal charges against the military officials in the area and international remedies for the victims. And unlike Nena Santos and Prima Quinsayas who are paid for their services, we have been doing our work against the Ampatuans on a pro-bono basis. It is strange that I – who have been working for free in these cases for five long years -was the one maligned as having received money from the same individuals who have in turn, sued me at least 14 times either in the form of contempt petitions or libel in their turf of Cotabato City.

Today, I am in the process of re-examining my advocacy for freedom of expression. I represent today the most number of journalists accused of libel and other families of journalists who have been killed and have not been accorded domestic remedies for their murders. We also continue our advocacy to decriminalize libel. But when a very senior journalist, a graduate of the same state university where I am a full professor, resorts to abuse of the right to a free press, one cannot wonder now if my lifelong passion in defending this freedom is indeed a noble pursuit.

I continue to dwell on it.

This post first appeared in http://manilastandardtoday.com/2014/08/14/re-examining-freedom-of-expression/

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