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Presidential spouse's withdrawal of libel suits against 46 journalists a triumph for press freedom, proves resistance best defence, says CMFR

(CMFR/IFEX) - The following is a CMFR press release:

CMFR statement on Mike Arroyo's withdrawal of his libel suits against 46 journalists

The decision of presidential spouse Jose Miguel "Mike" Arroyo to withdraw the 11 libel suits he had filed against 46 journalists is a triumph for press freedom. But it also proves that resistance is the journalist's best defense against arbitrary power.

The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), along with other journalists and media organizations, initiated a class suit against Mr. Arroyo's abuse of his right to sue for libel in accordance with that democratic principle. The sheer number of journalists Mr. Arroyo sued - 46 -and the number of suits he filed - 11 - suggested a determination to intimidate and silence the press. CMFR and the other organizations and individuals who filed the class suit affirmed what generations of journalists have learned in other times and places: that it would be a betrayal not only of press freedom but also of democracy itself to do nothing.

Mr. Arroyo may claim that he is withdrawing the suits as a gesture of goodwill, but the fact is that he should not have filed the suits in the first place. It is equally true that he would not have done so had not the determination of the journalists to fight back made it too politically costly for him and his wife's government. The journalists who have now been freed from months of court hearings, inconvenience, and expense owe their liberation from harassment only to themselves.

The public should ask if Mr. Arroyo's decision indicates a change of course in the Arroyo regime's hostile relationship with press critics and in its treatment of press freedom and other civil rights. These are, after all, rights guaranteed to all citizens of this Republic by the Constitution. While the press community has reason to celebrate this victory, no one should forget that the killings of and other attacks against journalists now constitute a major threat against Philippine democracy.

Indeed no democracy can survive without a free press. Its defense is thus not solely the responsibility of journalists, but also that of the entire citizenry. CMFR calls not only on the press community but on all citizens as well to continue to fight for, and to defend, press freedom as the one pillar of liberty without which no democracy can endure.

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