The Senate justice and human rights committee ruled the president’s use of Proclamation 1017 last February to shut down media outlets which criticized the government was both unconstitutional and illegal. The 15 senators on the subcommittee signed a report on April 4 criticizing President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s proclamation which closed down the Daily Tribune, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and the broadcasting networks during the week-long state of emergency earlier this year. But the report stopped short of recommending sanctions on government officials and police involved in the operation.
Senator Joker Arroyo, the subcommittee’s chairman, said Proclamation 1017 was an attempt by the government to censor the media to ensure only favorable news would emerge during the crisis. At a press conference to present the subcommittee’s findings, Mr Arroyo said the police raid on the Tribune’s offices in the early hours of Feb. 25 amounted to a government attempt to censor the paper.
“In this case, it was really to close the Tribune but then they (Tribune) also had stood their ground,” Mr Arroyo said, describing the incident as “deplorable”. “Our function is to investigate whether the attempt to muzzle media was a constitutional move on the part of the Executive Department and in our fact-findings is that we deplore the way the Executive has handled this, the Tribune affair.”
The senators further rebuked two government officials who failed to appear before the subcommittee for questioning: Ronald Olivar Solis of the National Telecommunications Commission and Arturo Lomibao, the Philippine National Police chief.
“But in a demonstration of presidential arrogance, they were forbidden from doing so, as if to explicitly demonstrate that the president does not owe the Senate or the people an explanation for her actions,” Mr Arroyo said. The pair invoked Executive Order 464 to avoid testifying before the subcommittee.
“Yet these two officials attended press conferences … where they unabashedly proclaimed their actuations … were allowed by the President to use unofficial forums to air the President’s position but disallowed them from performing their official duties in an official forum like the Senate subcommittee hearing,” the 31-page report stated. The subcommittee report further described how the police confiscated equipment during their raid of the Tribune’s offices.
“Ten policemen swooped down on the Daily Tribune office which had one solitary security guard. The raiders knew what to hit first, the printing press. Reporters and editors can write tons of articles but that would amount to nothing if there is no printing press to print them.
“The police collected assorted press-related items from the offices and issued no receipt of what they got. Yet the law is clear that a receipt must be issued for articles taken even with a valid search warrant. The police bugged the landline phones as if they haven’t heard that there is law that forbids bugging phones without a court order. The police asked for the keys of the offices and the routes that the drivers would take in distributing the Daily Tribune ,” the report said.
He asked the country’s media to remain vigilant against any attempt to restrict their freedom and added that without the Supreme Court questioning the decision, the situation would still be at an impasse. Mr Arroyo moreover said authorities wanted the telecommunications commission to issue guidelines for broadcasters in the event of an emergency.
“You know when you issue guidelines, that amounts to censorship, it is anathema to free media. In fact they also wanted to control media during the Fort Bonifacio standoff … fortunately broadcast media did not heed the call,” he said. “Had media not stood their ground and also the public then we would have a muzzled press. We would no longer have a free press, we would have a controlled and managed-press.” The senator also said he received confirmation from Mr Solis that the government might invoke Section 5 which allows it to take over or shut down a network.
“The President is not the State when it is mentioned in the Constitution. But Malacanang, in the manner of Louis XIV equates the State as the President. Hence, the unbridled disregard of constitutional limitations on the presidency,” the report said.
“There is really no emergency because after a few days, Proclamation 1017 was even lifted. So it was only a way or a pretext … to control media … because if the government controls media, then only news that is favorable to the government will be known to the public and therefore they will have an upperhand, especially in the light of this cha-cha (charter change).
“We are fortunate that the government did not succeed and we still have a free press, a balanced press which reports the ill-effects of Cha-cha.”
The subcommittee also denounced the arrest of Crispin Beltran, an Anakpawis party-list representative, on “antiquated and invalid” charges. Francis Pangilinan, the Senate majority leader, condemned the action and said the arrest of other left-wing representatives such as Bayan Muna’s Satur Ocampo, Teodoro Casino and Joel Virador; Gabriela’s Liza Maza; and Anakpawis’s Rafael Mariano, was “a tyrannical means not only to repress their constitutionally guaranteed right to liberty, but also to illegally prevent them from performing their sworn duties as public officials.”
Mr Pangilinan also said the police officers who dispersed the rallies that day violated a law which requires that law-enforcement officials be in uniform complete with nameplates.
Before going on a week-long recess, 12 senators passed Committee Report 69 of the justice and human rights committee that condemned the raids and arrests. The signatories included senators Arroyo, Pia Cayetano, Panfilo Lacson, Ralph Recto, Sergio Osmena III, Senate majority leader Pangilinan and Senate minority leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr, Senate President Pro-Tempore Juan Flavier, Richard Gordon, Alfredo Lim, Jamby Madrigal and Manuel Roxas II. Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Edgardo Angara, Bong Revilla Jr and Manuel Villar also pledged to sign the report.