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Journalist receives death threat after being sued for libel

(CMFR/IFEX) - After a Supreme Court justice filed 13 counts of libel against her in connection with an article she wrote in 2009, journalist Marites Dañguilan Vitug received death threats she believes to be connected with her book on the judiciary.

Vitug, editor of the media organization Newsbreak and editor of the online news magazine abs-cbnNEWS.com, believes the threats were connected to her recently released book "Shadow of Doubt: Probing the Supreme Court".

The book is about the controversies surrounding the Supreme Court and its justices. It was launched on 16 March 2010. (To find out more about the publication, please visit http://www.shadowofdoubt.info/ )

Vitug received threatening text messages in the early afternoon of 22 March. The messages were sent through mobile number (+63) 909-134-8825. CMFR dialed the number but could not make a connection.

The first message, Vitug said, was about "the pen being mightier than the sword. But the sword kills faster than the word."

The second message was more direct but its seriousness only dawned on her after reading it for the third time, she said.

"Now I know why many journalists are killed. It's because they were like you. Ampatuan did have a reason to kill those journalists. You should have been with them. Who knows, you might be next," the second message read.

"Ampatuan" refers to Datu Andal "Unsay" Ampatuan, the primary accused in the killing of at least 57 persons including 32 journalists and media practitioners on 23 November 2009 at Ampatuan town, Maguindanao. The 32 journalists and media practitioners joined the convoy of the Mangudadatus to cover the filing of the Certificate of Candidacy of Esmael "Toto" Mangudadatu for governorship of Maguindanao, which is said to be the bailiwick of the Ampatuans. Ampatuan allegedly masterminded the Ampatuan massacre. His father Andal Sr., brothers and other followers are also facing murder charges in connection with the massacre.

Vitug told CMFR she has reported the threat to the National Capital Region Chief Police Director, Roberto Rosales. Rosales has yet to get back to her regarding the details of the sender.

She also said she "want(s) to make (the threat) public because this is the best protection."

Meanwhile, Vitug will meet with her lawyers to discuss her reply to the libel complaint filed against her by Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco. She said she has yet to receive an official copy of the complaint because she only got a copy from other journalists. The libel complaint is based on an article she wrote in 2009 on the alleged involvement of Justice Velasco in his son's campaign in Marinduque province ("SC justice in partisan politics?" from 3 December 2009). Marinduque is a province approximately 171 kilometers from Manila.

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