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Electoral commission threatens legal action against media personalities; boxer files libel suit against journalists

(CMFR/IFEX) - CMFR is concerned over two separate libel threats recently directed against journalists.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec), the government body responsible for running elections in the Philippines, has announced that it is "seriously considering" filing charges of libel and electoral sabotage against "two known media personalities."

Comelec commissioner Nicodemo Ferrer said that the government body was planning to file charges of libel and electoral sabotage against two media personalities "who are high up in their air-conditioned rooms" because they had "manufactured many things" against the government agency and destroyed its credibility, the "Daily Tribune" newspaper reported on 9 August 2007.

Libel is a criminal offense, punishable by two to four years in prison and/or a fine ranging from P200 (approx. US$4) to P6,000 (approx. US$120), while electoral sabotage can bring a life sentence without bail.

"They [media personalities] are spreading false news, false comments that diminish the credibility of the Comelec. Our reputation has been seriously soiled," said Ferrer. He added that the legal action would attempt to "cleanse the (media profession)."

Jose Torres, chair of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, condemned the charges. "It is a threat to press freedom when government agencies start to threaten practicing journalists for being critical of policies. The threat alone is not limited to the concerned journalists, but involves press freedom," Torres told "The Inquirer".

In a separate case, a Filipino boxer filed a P30 million (approx. US$661,000) libel suit on 30 July 2007 against four journalists with the national daily "The Manila Bulletin", after they published an article attacking his "virtue and reputation," http://www.inquirer.net reported.

The case, which was filed by Manuel Pacquiao's lawyer at the city prosecutor's office in General Santos city, named as respondents "The Manila Bulletin"'s sports writer Nick Giongco, publisher Hermogenes P. Pobre, editor-in-chief Crispulo J. Icban Jr., and sports editor Ding Marcelo.

General Santos is a city in the province of South Cotabato, located in Mindanao, the second largest and southernmost island in the Philippines. World Boxing Council International Super Featherweight champion Pacquiao ran for a congressional seat in South Cotabato's first district in elections in May 2007, but lost.

Pacquiao filed the complaint after Giongco's 25 July 2007 article "Trouble in Paradise-Again?" alleged that the boxer had spent millions in his unsuccessful bid to win the congressional seat, referring to him as "a compulsive gambler (who) is known to bet hundreds of thousands in casinos, cockfighting, and billiards."

Pacquiao argued in his legal statement that the article was published with the purpose of "attacking his virtue and reputation [. . .] thereby exposing him to public hatred, contempt, shame and ridicule." The article, Pacquiao said, had no factual basis and had caused him "serious anxieties." His statement also cited his status as a "boxing icon" and his need to protect his name and reputation.

Meanwhile, http://www.sunstar.com.ph , an online news publication, reported that the libel suit Pacquiao filed was prompted by an endorsement deal with athletic gear manufacturer Nike, which required the boxer to maintain a "good image."

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