Philippine reporter faces wiretapping charges

New York, June 25, 2009–The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about pending wiretapping charges against Cecilia “Cheche” Lazaro, a well-known journalist with the broadcaster ABS-CBN. If found guilty of violating the Anti-Wiretapping Act, she faces up to six years in prison. 

The criminal charges were first filed in November 2008 by Ella Valencerina as a private individual. She is a public relations official with the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS). In her complaint, Valencerina alleges that Lazaro, without consent, recorded a conversation they had and then aired segments on the news program “Probe.” The episode, broadcast on November 12, was about public school teachers’ complaints that the GSIS had unfairly reduced their retirement benefits. 

In e-mail correspondence with CPJ, Lazaro denied the allegations. She told CPJ, “I had informed her that the conversation was being recorded.  She did not object and the conversation lasted for close to seven minutes. We have the tape of that conversation.”

Lazaro posted 12,500 pesos bail ($260) in early May after a trial court in Manila issued a warrant for her arrest. She is scheduled to be arraigned in the case on July 22.

“The charges of wiretapping made against Cecilia Lazaro by Ella Valencerina are spurious. Taping phone conversations with the interviewer’s knowledge is a way journalists ensure accuracy in their reporting. Clearly, the law was not written to keep them from doing their jobs,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “But these charges are not about that. They are a continuation of the tactic of legal harassment of journalists, a tactic that represents a danger to press freedom in the Philippines.”

Republic Act 4200 declares it unlawful “for any person, not being authorized by all the parties to any private communication or spoken word” to “record such communication or spoken word,” and “to replay the same for any other person or persons; or to communicate the contents thereof, either verbally or in writing, or to furnish transcriptions thereof, whether complete or partial, to any other person.”

Wiretapping charges have become highly politicized in the Philippines after the exposure of wiretapped telephone conversations between President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and a top election official, Virgilio Garcillano, discussing vote counts during the 2004 elections. The revelations later became known as the “Hello Garci” scandal and have factored into failed Congressional impeachment motions against the president.