New York, April 4, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists calls for the immediate release of former dxMF Bombo Radio commentator Alex Adonis, who is serving four and a half years in prison on criminal libel charges in Davao del Norte province. Local media and press freedom groups were alerted to his arrest and detention on April 2.
The charges were filed in October 2001 by Davao First District Representative Prospero Nograles over allegations Adonis made on air about the congressman’s personal life. The series of exposes and critical commentaries carried on Bombo Radio were entitled, “Burlesque King.” Nograles has denied the allegations made in the reports.
“We are gravely concerned about the jail sentence handed down to radio commentator Alex Adonis,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Jail terms are never appropriate recourse for libel convictions and could lead to self-censorship across all media outlets.”
Adonis, 43, failed to defend himself in court due to his inability to pay for legal counsel and due to the nearly 360 mile (500 kilometers) commute between his home and the presiding court in Davao, according to news reports. The verdict against him was promulgated in absentia in February and he was arrested and detained at a public market in Davao City on February 19, 2007.
Adonis’ co-defendant Dan Vicente, the station manager of Bombo Radio in General Santos, a province located south of Davao, was acquitted because the prosecution’s main witness died during the hearings, according to information compiled by Campaign for Media Freedom and Responsibility, a local press freedom group.
Philippine politicians have increasingly resorted to criminal libel lawsuits to stifle critical news coverage of their activities, according to CPJ research. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, had filed 43 different criminal defamation cases against journalists during 2006, several related to newspaper reports that he attempted to rig the 2004 presidential elections in his wife’s favor. Arroyo has denied the charges.