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Presidential spouse "Mike" Arroyo drops all libel suits against journalists

(CMFR/IFEX) - Presidential spouse Jose Miguel "Mike" Arroyo ordered his lawyers to withdraw all the libel suits he had filed against Filipino journalists as a "gesture of peace" on 3 May 2007. Read by press secretary Ignacio Bunye in a media briefing in Malacañang, Arroyo's announcement coincided with the celebration of World Press Freedom Day.

"Both in sincere gratitude to a nation that deserves a more harmonious leadership, and as a gesture of peace to the many kind hearts who have helped my family weather this crisis, I have instructed my attorneys to withdraw all the libel suits pending before the courts," said Arroyo.

He added that, "Seeking redress for all the grievances that the libel sought to address now pales in comparison to taking on a genuine chance to make peace and to pursue a more positive and constructive relationship with those who will accept my offer of a handshake."

Two days before the announcement, Gloria Arroyo's 60 year-old husband had been discharged from a hospital after undergoing high-risk open heart surgery. His doctors advised him to "manage his stress."

Said Romina Gonzalez, a Malacañang reporter whom policemen had attempted to arrest in connection with one of Arroyo's libel suits, "When he said what happened to him was nothing short of a miracle, I really believed it was a miracle. We were surprised."

However, Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) executive director Roby Alampay commented, "SEAPA welcomes this but we'd rather credit the journalists for pushing back, rather than FGMA [First Gentleman Mike Arroyo] for any change of heart. The very heart of filing 11 cases was the crime. He is not fooling anyone, just as he is not scaring anyone. FGMA remains an enemy of press freedom. So no thanks to FGMA."

Arroyo had filed 11 libel suits against 46 Filipino journalists since 2003. On 28 December 2006, members of the Philippine media filed a class action suit against Arroyo for violating press freedom.

Maritess Vitug, "Newsbreak" editor and one of the libel defendants, said, "We are glad that the First Gentleman has seen the light. But he should never have filed these cases in the first place. We would like this matter to be resolved on its merits. This will provide journalists with parameters on libel and what it is not."

The journalists' lawyer in the class action suit, Attorney Harry Roque, advised, "The suit should proceed. At issue is freedom of the speech as a right. It's not dependent on the acts of Mike Arroyo. Besides, he has already caused damage, both actual and moral."

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