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Journalist accused of wiretapping

(CMFR/IFEX) - Manila-based journalist Cecilia "Cheche" Lazaro posted bail on 8 May 2009 after a Philippine local court issued an arrest warrant in connection with a wiretapping complaint filed by a government official in November 2008.

Judge Josephine Vitocruz of the Pasay Metropolitan Trial Court Branch 47 issued the warrant of arrest against Lazaro, who was accused by Ella Valencerina, the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) vice president for Public Relations and Communications, of violating Republic Act 4200, also known as the Anti-Wiretapping Law. Lazaro denied that she and her staff, who were also earlier named respondents in the complaint, violated the law.

The Anti-Wiretapping Act prohibits the recording of any private communications or spoken word without the consent of all parties involved. Those found guilty are sentenced to a prison term of not less than six months and not more than six years.

"This is a small price to pay for bringing a perfectly legitimate public interest issue out in the open," Lazaro said in a statement. "'Probe' (Lazaro's program) will not be intimidated into submission."

Lazaro posted bail of P12,500 (approx. US$270) after the arrest warrant was issued on 7 May.

In her complaint affidavit, Valencerina said that Lazaro, "in conspiracy" with Probe Productions, Inc. staff members and Maria Ressa, the head of the public affairs division of broadcast network ABS-CBN, had secretly recorded and aired, without her consent, their 10 November 2008 phone conversation in an episode of the late-night documentary show "Probe".

"Probe", hosted by Lazaro, is produced by Probe Productions, Inc. and aired on ABS-CBN 2 as a block time program. The segment called "Perwisyong Benepisyo" (Troubled Benefit) tackled problems of the GSIS Premium-Based Policy.

On 26 March, Lazaro and the other respondents filed, through their counsel, a memorandum with the city prosecutor to dismiss the case for lack of probable cause. In the memorandum, the respondents said Valencerina was informed that the telephone conversation was being recorded, contrary to what she alleged in her complaint.

The memorandum stated that the respondents had filed their respective counter-affidavits to the complaint along with the complete episode of "Perwisyong Benepisyo" and the full and unedited recording of the phone conversation, which showed that Valencerina was informed of the recording.

It added that Valencerina also dropped the accusation that the phone conversation was secretly recorded in her reply affidavit, but insisted that she never consented to the recording or subsequent broadcasting of the conversation. In the "Probe" episode, only parts of the conversation were aired.

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