Reporters Without Borders condemns the two criminal defamation charges that have been brought against Alberto Loyola, a journalist with radio DxRJ in Iligan City (on the southern island of Mindanao), by local city councillor Chonilo Ruiz.
Arrested on 18 April, Loyola was released yesterday on bail of 10,000 pesos (160 euros) after being held for nearly 48 hours, but a regional court could issue a new arrest order in the next few days. Ruiz brought the charges after Loyola accused him on the air of lying about the city budget. The journalist is facing a possible six-year jail term and a demand for 3 million pesos in damages.
This is not the first run-in that Loyola has had with Ruiz. Loyola accused him of attempted homicide in January 2010, after the councillor stormed into the DxRJ studio and physically attacked him while he was on the air. Loyola’s complaint did not result in any judicial proceedings against Ruiz.
Criminal defamation prosecutions are systematically used by the authorities in the Philippines to intimidate journalists. More than 40 journalists experienced the same fate as Loyola in 2006 after they jointly accused the husband of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of embezzlement.
“I am willing to be imprisoned so that the truth will come out,” Loyola said at the time of his arrest. No Iligan City court has so far ruled on the charges brought by Ruiz but Richel Umel, the local representative of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, described his arrest as a clear case of media harassment.
Loyola’s arrest came just days after a court in Puerto Princesa, on the southwestern island of Palawan, acquitted former police officer Aaron Golifardo of the 2006 murder of local radio journalist Fernando “Dong” Batul. Four witnesses identified Golifardo, who had been implicated in other murders, as the gunman who shot Batul from the pillion of a moving motorcycle. The motorcycle’s driver was never identified.
More than 500 days after the Mindanao massacre in which 37 journalists died, the press freedom situation remains critical in the Philippines, which is ranked 122nd out of 178 countries in the latest Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.