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Court allows continuation of class action suit by journalists against president's husband

(CMFR/IFEX) - A motion, the second filed by Jose Miguel "Mike" Arroyo, husband of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, to dismiss the class action suit filed against him by 40 journalists and three media organizations in response to his numerous libel suits, has been denied by a Philippine court.

The journalists filed a P12.5 million (approx. US$276,600) class action suit against Mr. Arroyo on 28 December 2006, accusing him of abuse of their rights when he filed 11 libel suits against 46 journalists, Libel is a criminal offense in the Philippines. The case was filed at the Makati Regional Trial Court.

After surviving heart surgery, Mr. Arroyo announced through the presidential spokesman on press freedom day, 3 May 2007, that he would withdraw all the libel cases he had filed against journalists. But the journalists who filed the class suit chose to continue the suit, so as to resolve the case on its merits and establish clear legal parameters on libel.

Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 143 Judge Zenaida Laguilles, in a decision signed on 19 December 2007 but released only in January 2008, denied Mr. Arroyo's motion to dismiss the case on "ground(s) of liberality."

"This is a victory for our side. Now the case is moving," Harry Roque, lawyer of the journalists in the case, said.

Mr. Arroyo filed the second motion to dismiss the class suit on the ground that the journalists were not cooperating with the case, as they have filed a motion against Mr. Arroyo's motion to make them answer a questionnaire and to bring to court the articles they wrote about Mr. Arroyo. Laguilles, however, dismissed the motion by the journalists, so they will now have to comply.

Mr. Arroyo's first motion to dismiss the case, which was earlier denied by Laguilles, argued that the journalists have no cause of action, since not all of them had been sued by Mr. Arroyo, and that they had paid insufficient docket fees.

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