Philippines: Authorities arrest, detain journalists on libel charges

New York, October 4, 2006-The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns this week’s arrest of Rudy Apolo, a columnist and publisher of the Asian Star Journal and Asia Star Balita, and three members of his editorial staff on a criminal defamation charges related to reports on alleged government corruption.

The four were arrested Monday morning in the city of Barangay Santa Fe, Cavite province, on a complaint filed by the provincial governor, Erineo Maliksi, according to two Philippines-based press freedom advocacy groups. The complaint stems from a series of unbylined reports detailing corruption allegations surrounding a local government rice purchase, the groups reported.

The editorial staffers arrested along with Apolo included two of his children, Reynaldo Apolo and Michelle Apolo, and Editor Ed Lara Cuvinar.

They did not immediately post bond of 10,000 pesos (about US $200) each. Regional Judge Norberto Quisumbing Jr., who issued arrest warrants for the four, did not set a date for pretrial hearings, according to the National Union of the Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP).

“We call on the governor to drop his criminal complaint and allow the release of these journalists, who have been jailed in violation of basic press freedom standards,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “Criminal defamation charges have a deeply chilling effect on news reporting, and their use by public officials does great damage to the Philippines’ rich tradition of press freedom.”

The Philippines has seen a recent rise in criminal defamation complaints filed by public officials and their associates, according to local sources. NUJP said that Jose Miguel Arroyo, husband of President Gloria Arroyo, has filed at least 42 different criminal defamation suits against reporters, columnists, editors, and publishers since 2001.