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Reporter pressured by Senate to reveal sources

(CMFR/IFEX) - A committee of the Philippine Senate has summoned a national daily reporter in connection with her investigation into a leak in the proceedings of an executive session held on 26 September 2007.

The Senate ethics committee wants Juliet Labog Javellana of the Manila broadsheet "Philippine Daily Inquirer" to reveal her sources for a story she wrote on what transpired during the executive session.

In her 30 September article, Javellana cited four unnamed sources who she said told her that Senator Joker Arroyo prevented former socio-economic planning secretary Romulo Neri from revealing all that the latter knew about the controversial national broadband network (NBN) deal between the Philippine government and China's ZTE Telecommunications.

Neri was allegedly about to disclose the details of his conversations on the project with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo when Sen. Arroyo said that Neri should avail himself of the services of legal counsel, after which a member of the Arroyo Cabinet joined the meeting as Neri's lawyer. In a Senate hearing earlier that day, Neri had repeatedly invoked executive privilege when he refused to answer questions about the President's part in the contentious US$329.4 million contract.

Sen. Arroyo claimed that Javellana's report was false, and dared the "Inquirer" to waive its right not to disclose its sources under Republic Act (R.A.) 53, otherwise known as the Shield Law and the Press Freedom Law.

"'The Inquirer' cannot maintain the moral high ground if it will not allow Ms. Javellana to reveal her sources and hide behind the cloak that reporters cannot be compelled to reveal their sources," Arroyo said.

Four other senators supported Sen. Arroyo's resolution for a probe. Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile said that unless Javellana revealed her sources, the Senate could cite her for contempt. Enrile also sought Sen. Arroyo's support in amending or repealing R.A. 53.

R.A. 53 protects the publisher, editor, or reporter of any publication from being compelled to reveal the source(s) of published news or information acquired in confidence, unless the security of the State requires it.

The Inquirer said on 2 October that it is standing by Javellana's story and will not reveal its sources.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philipipnes (NUJP) described Sen. Arroyo's action as "intimidation" and a "violation of the principles of press freedom." In a statement, NUJP chair Jose Torres said: "The protection of confidential sources of information is also an obligation for journalists and the key to getting informants to come forward. This is particularly important in uncovering, among others, corruption in government. If the Press Freedom Law is repealed or weakened, sources would be deterred from coming forward and the public would remain uninformed about vital matters."

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