Philippine publisher arrested in 9-year-old libel case

New York, September 4, 2008—Police arrested veteran columnist and newspaper publisher Amado “Jake” Macasaet, an outspoken critic of the Arroyo administration, today in connection with a long-pending libel case, according to local news reports.

Police served an arrest warrant for Macasaet, 72, who publishes local newspapers including the English-language daily Malaya, in Pasay City, in the metropolitan region of the capital, Manila, according to local news reports. 

The reports, citing Macasaet and his lawyer, linked the arrest to a libel complaint filed against him more than nine years ago by Casimiro Ynares, a former governor of Rizal, the province immediately east of the capital. Macasaet had written about the governor in a series of stories about cockfighting rivalries, the reports said.

Macasaet was freed on bail and will be arraigned on October 6, according to news reports. The ABS-CBN television network said that the publisher will have to post separate bail for a second complainant in the same case, according to the network’s Web site. Other news stories identified the second complainant as former official Narciso Santiago.

“Prosecuting libel charges that are almost 10 years old is absurd, and we call on the Manila courts to drop the charges against Amado Macasaet,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia program coordinator. “Criminal libel should be erased from the books for good in the Philippines.”

Macasaet’s lawyer, Martin Pison, told ABS-CBN News he did not know why the Department of Justice had resurrected the old charge. Macasaet said he was surprised because he understood that the libel case, first brought against him and two other Malayaeditors in 1999, had been dropped for lack of evidence, according to a report posted on the GMA News Web site. It was not immediately clear whether the two editors, Enrique P. Romualdez and Joy P. De Los Reyes, still face charges, according to GMA News.

In August, the Supreme Court fined Macasaet 20,000 pesos (US$430) for indirect contempt of court after he wrote about bribery allegations implicating Supreme Court Justice Consuelo Ynares-Santiago in Malayacolumns published in September 2007, according to a report posted on the Supreme Court’s Web site. Ynares-Santiago is the sister of former governor Ynares, according to GMA News.

Macasaet was also arrested, along with seven Malayacolleagues, in October 2006 in relation to a libel complaint filed by Jose Miguel Arroyo, husband of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The complaint stemmed from a May 19, 2004, report alleging that Arroyo was involved in attempted vote-rigging during the 2004 presidential election. The president’s husband, who denied the vote-rigging allegation, later withdrew the complaint.

One Philippine journalist is imprisoned on libel charges. In February 2007, radio commentator Alex Adonis was sentenced to four and a half years in prison in a libel case stemming from commentaries involving a congressman in Davao del Norte province.