IN an interview with ANC this afternoon, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez said that that the government is monitoring the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ). “It is very clear,” he said, “they have been posting in their website many things I consider as inciting to sedition. We are studying them.”
“For example,” he added, “ the fact that it kept on posting the matters in the Garci tape is violative of [Republic Act] 4200 (the anti-wiretapping law).”
This charge is ridiculous. In June 2005, the PCIJ posted the three-hour audio recording of the alleged phone conversations of former elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano. Our intent was to inform the public of the contents of those conversations so that they can make an independent judgment on the allegations of election fraud. The recording was clearly a matter of public interest, and it was this interest that we were upholding.
How can we be accused of inciting to sedition and of violating the anti-wiretapping law by posting the audio files of a tape that has been played in Congress? Radio and television stations have played portions of the tape as well. Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye even played and presented to the media a different version of the supposedly wiretapped recording. Moreover, that recording is posted in about a dozen other websites and blogs.
Yet the Justice Secretary has prejudged our case and made a conclusion without giving the PCIJ the benefit of due process. How can a Justice Secretary do that?
As far as we know, the Bill of Rights and the Rules of Court are still in place. We are presumed innocent until proven guilty. We cannot be pronounced guilty on his mere say so.
I would like to ask the Justice Secretary: When the PCIJ published its exposés on the unexplained wealth and mansions of former President Joseph Estrada in 2001, were we also inciting to sedition? Our reports were used in the impeachment charge against Estrada. Were we inciting to sedition then? If some people went to Edsa after reading our reports, was that inciting to sedition?
If it is, then any legitimate piece of investigative journalism is seditious. Then anything that comes out in the media today can be construed to be seditious.
Secretary Gonzalez intends to intimidate the PCIJ. That is not his job. The job of the justice system is to provide an enabling environment that allows free and responsible journalism to be practiced. It is to protect journalists like ourselves from harassment suits and ridiculous charges. Instead he has become the purveyor of these charges. We are so very disappointed.
Sheila S. Coronel
15 March 2006