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Arroyo lawyer files motion to dismiss class action suit, subpoenas journalists

(CMFR/IFEX) - A lawyer for the journalists who filed a class suit against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's husband Jose Miguel Arroyo has asked Makati City Judge Zenaida Laguilles to quash the defense subpoenas on eight of the journalist-plaintiffs.

The subpoenas were received by the Roque and Butuyan law office, which handles the case of the journalists, on 18 June 2007. They require journalists Ricky Carandang, Mia Gonzalez, Mon Tulfo, Erwin Tulfo, Maritess Vitug, Conrado de Quiros, and William Esposo to testify in a 22 June hearing on Arroyo's defense in connection with his motion to dismiss the suit against him. Arroyo's lawyer Ruy Rondain subpoenaed the eight journalists to appear as "hostile witnesses."

The subpoena also ordered the journalists to bring "all the articles they have published or caused to be published, concerning Jose Miguel Arroyo from January 2001 until the present."

In his motion to quash the subpoenas, the lawyer of the journalists argued that they were not in compliance with "relevant rules [regarding] the service of subpoenas" as they were only served on the office of the journalists' lawyers and not on the journalists themselves.

Laguilles gave Arroyo's side five days to file a formal response to the motion.

Lawyer Roger Rayel argued during the hearing that the testimonies of the eight subpoenaed journalists were irrelevant because Arroyo's motion to dismiss could be decided solely on the basis of the complaint filed by the journalists. The motion argues that Laguilles does not have jurisdiction over the case because of insufficient docket fees and because the complaint filed by the plaintiffs failed to state a cause of action.

The motion to quash submitted by the plaintiffs' lawyer cited the Supreme Court ruling in the Peltan Development Inc. vs. Court of Appeals (270 SCRA 82, 91) case which stated that: "In the resolution of a motion to dismiss based on failure to state a cause of action, only the facts alleged in the complaint must be considered."

Rondain said the eight journalists, none of whom appeared at the hearing, should be cited for contempt and arrested for not abiding by the subpoena.

The plaintiffs' lead lawyer, Harry Roque, said that "their [Arroyo and his lawyers'] threat to cite journalists for contempt is nothing new. If they cannot threaten media through filing of libel suits, [they] will do this through contempt charges. This just proves that they are truly an enemy of the press."

The class action suit against Arroyo was filed on 28 December 2006 by 36 journalists together with the media organizations Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and "The Daily Tribune", arguing that the 11 libel suits that Arroyo had lodged against 46 journalists were an abuse of his right to litigate and an attack on press freedom.

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