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Judge denies petition by journalists seeking to prevent media arrests during crisis situations

(CMFR/IFEX) - On 8 February 2008, a Makati Regional Trial Court (RTC) judge denied a petition by journalists to extend a previously granted 72-hour temporary restraining order (TRO) to prevent the police, the military and other government agencies from threatening or arresting journalists and media practitioners during crisis situations.

"(P)laintiffs have failed to show the existence of a right which stands to be violated should the court not yield to their application for a temporary restraining order," the six-page order by Judge Reynaldo Laigo stated.

Some three dozen journalists and several media organizations filed a civil case against government officials and agencies in response to the arrest of over 30 media practitioners during the 29 November 2007 Manila Peninsula incident.

Hours after the filing, Makati RTC Executive Judge Winlove Dumayas approved the petition seeking a 72-hour TRO barring government from threatening journalists and arresting them when covering events similar to the Manila Pen standoff.

Laigo said that "before an injunctive writ can be issued, it is essential to show the existence of a right to be protected, and the act against which the injunction is directed is a violation of such right."

He also ruled that the advisory issued by Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales on 11 January 2008 does not "constitute a threat that would operate as prior restraint."

The Gonzalez advisory warned media executives that their "networks or organizations may incur criminal liabilities under the law, if anyone of (their) field reporters, news gatherers, photographers, cameramen and other media practitioners will disobey lawful orders from duly authorized government officers and personnel during emergencies which may lead to collateral damage to properties and civilian casualties in case of authorized police or military operations."

According to Laigo, the advisory was simply a reiteration of Article 151 of the Revised Penal Code which imposes the penalties of arrest and fine on those who disobey "persons in authority or the agents of such persons."

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