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Broadcaster jailed in libel case

(CMFR/IFEX) - A provincial radio commentator has been in jail for over a week after being arrested on 22 January 2008 for failing to attend court hearings. The broadcaster was denied bail.

Julito "Lito" Ucab, a freelance radio commentator in Cagayan de Oro, is now behind bars in the Butuan City Jail for failure to attend court hearings on a libel case, which a former employee of the Butuan City Architect's Office filed against him in 2004 for his commentaries on the alleged involvement of a government employee in a rape incident. Butuan City is approximately 790 km south of Manila.

Ucab had been unable to attend court hearings since 2006, when he was granted provisional liberty by the court after posting P20,000 (approx. US$490) bail.

Ucab was formerly based in Butuan City, where the libel case was filed. He was arrested in Cagayan de Oro City, where he moved in 2006.

Ucab, according to Cagayan de Oro Press Club president Jerry Orcullo, allowed a maid to air accusations of rape against the official in his programme on dxBC, a Butuan City-based radio station affiliated with the Radio Mindanao Network. Ucab was also dxBC's programme manager.

Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) operatives in Misamis Oriental served the "alias warrant of arrest," which courts issue when an accused fails to attend court hearings, in Cagayan de Oro. Ucab worked as a "blocktimer" at dxCO Radyo Banat in Cagayan de Oro prior to his arrest. "Blocktimers" buy radio air time to run their own programmes.

Libel is a criminal offence in the Philippines. Since the early 1990s, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility has been campaigning for the decriminalisation of libel. Crippling fines and the threat of imprisonment for criminal libel have been repeatedly used by powerful individuals to harass and intimidate the press.

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