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Journalists face criminal libel suit for alleging governor's involvement in attempt on their lives

(CMFR/IFEX) - Two journalists who survived an attempt upon their lives now face a lawsuit filed by the man they suspect to be behind the ambush.

Delfin Mallari Jr, a correspondent for Southern Luzon of the Manila broadsheet "Philippine Daily Inquirer", and Johnny Glorioso, a radio correspondent and publisher of the community newspaper "Ang Diyaryo Natin" ("Our Newspaper"), were named as respondents in a libel complaint filed by Rafael Nantes, the governor-elect of Quezon, a province east of Manila. Libel is a criminal offense in the Philippines.

"This is only in the Philippines. After being ambushed, we get sued for libel," Mallari said.

The complaint, which said that Mallari and Glorioso had maliciously tagged Nantes as an alleged drug lord in Quezon as well as the mastermind behind the attempt to kill them, was filed on 22 June 2007, Manila's GMAnews.tv reported.

In his complaint, Nantes claimed that the two journalists "purposely issued the special edition of the said newspaper 'Ang Diyaryo Natin') solely to malign, defame, discredit, and dishonor my name and reputation and also to maliciously impute a crime, vice, or defect on my person that tarnished my name and that of my family".

GMAnews.tv quoted a portion of Mallari's column in the community newspaper, which said that "Congressman Nantes is my principal suspect as the mastermind behind the plot to kill us . . . Why do I suspect him of such? Drugs not politics."

"This is blatant harassment. This is harassment to us small journalists here in the province," Mallari said.

Mallari and Glorioso were ambushed on 19 April while they were on their way to DWKI, a local radio station, for their 8:00 a.m. (local time) radio program "JS Files". The gunman, who was riding pillion on a motorcycle driven by another man, fired at them through the driver's side of their vehicle, where Mallari was. A bullet hit Mallari's back, only a few inches from his spine. Glorioso was not hit.

"Philippine Daily Inquirer" publisher Isagani Yambot then condemned the incident and called it a "blatant display of harassment and violence against journalists".

From his hospital bed, Mallari said the attack was the handiwork of hit-persons of a Quezon politician who wanted to "silence" him, the "Philippine Daily Inquirer" reported. Mallari recounted that he saw the assailant continuing to pull the trigger after he was hit, but that the gun apparently jammed.

After the attack, Mallari left his post as editor-in-chief of "Ang Diyaryo Natin" and as a radio commentator. Heeding his family's request, he is now focusing on his job as a correspondent of "Philippine Daily Inquirer".

Mallari told CMFR that before the 14 May election, Nantes had met with him and Glorioso, and asked them to stop their critical commentaries and instead help him in the campaign.

During the meeting, Mallari said Nantes told them: "If I lose the elections, and my name will be destroyed, blood will spill. I cannot stop my men."

Mallari said that at one point during the meeting, Nantes asked him to leave while he talked with Glorioso. "Name the price," Nantes allegedly told Glorioso, for them to stop their criticisms. Nantes, however, denied that he had attempted to buy the two journalists and said that he was only expressing his willingness to finance their radio program. Nantes also denied Mallari's accusation that he was the one who ordered the ambush. Mallari told CMFR that he and Glorioso had criticized Nantes on their radio program and community newspaper because of the drug trade. Mallari said he and Glorioso had always invited Nantes to air his side regarding the issues but he had refused, saying he had no business commenting on issues that did not concern him.

Mallari said that the libel suit will not affect his work as a journalist.

"If I let the libel suit affect my work, they I will give those people trying to stop me a reason to rejoice," Mallari said.

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