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Filipino columnist arrested on libel charge

This statement was originally published on cmfr-phil.org on 8 April 2015.

A publisher and columnist of a weekly tabloid facing two counts of criminal libel was arrested last 5 April 2015 at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 in Pasay City.

Manila Police District (MPD) officers arrested Hataw publisher and columnist and former National Press Club President Jerry Yap on the strength of a warrant issued by the Manila Regional Trial Court on March 30 in connection with the libel case filed by MPD- District Police Intelligence Operation Unit chief Senior Inspector Rizalino Ibay. Yap is also chairman of an organization called Alab ng mamamahayag (ALAM-literally, Passion of the Journalist).

The libel case is based on Yap's column Bulabugin (Rout) that appeared in the tabloid Hataw with the title, "Salot na tulak sa distrito uno ng Maynila (attn: PDEA) (Heinous drug pusher in Manila District 1 [attn: PDEA])" on 3 October 2014. Yap wrote about an alleged drug pusher who always manages to be released from Manila police custody every time he is arrested. Yap said the man was first caught for illegal drugs and gun possession at a checkpoint but was released later without any charges. The incident allegedly happened during the administration of Ibay and Supt. Julius Anonuevo.

The column also appeared in the tabloid Police Files on 4 October 2014.

Senior Inspector Ibay filed the libel case on 18 November 2014. The complaint also included Hataw managing editor Gloria M. Galuno, Hataw Circulation Manager Edwin R. Alcala and Police Files editor Becky Rodriguez.

In a press statement published in Yap's Facebook account, the former called the arrest "malicious." Yap described the arrest as "a clear attack" on press freedom.

Galuno told the Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility (CMFR) that the MPD's serving the arrest warrant on a Sunday was a violation of an existing agreement between media groups and the PNP which states that no journalist would be arrested on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays especially if the case is libel.

Galuno also said Yap was released on April 6 after posting bail of Php 20,000. Alacala, Galuno and Rodriguez surrendered to the court April 7 and posted bail of Php 5,000 each.

Libel is still a criminal offense in the Philippines despite calls for its decriminalization. In October 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Committee urged the Philippine government to review its old libel law which it described as "excessive." CMFR and journalists' groups have been urging the decriminalization of libel for nearly two decades.

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