SC rejects journalists’ class suit

Troops move in to quell a rebellion at the Manila Peninsula Hotel in 2007. (Elcapitan Miguel image)

The P10 million class suit filed by 37 journalists arrested without a warrant by authorities along with Magdalo rebel soldiers led by now Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV during the Manila Peninsula siege in 2007 was junked by
The Supreme Court has upheld the dismissal of a P10 million class suit filed by 37 journalists against the government for their alleged warrantless arrest by the police and military while covering the Manila Peninsula siege in 2007.

The dismissal of the suit is contained in a 15-page decision penned by the now retired Associate Justice Noel Tijam of the SC’s First Division that affirmed the ruling of Court of Appeals on 31 May 2013 and the Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 56 junking the civil complaint filed against leadership of the Philippine National Police (PNP), Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and members of the Arroyo administration.

“We sustain thus the RTC’s and the CA’s finding that there is no prior restraint nor an impermissible regulation on the petitioners’ freedom of speech and of the press considering that respondents’ questioned acts were merely brought about by the exigencies of the situation and ultimately, were valid exercise of their authority so as not to compromise the safety of the civilians at the scene of the incident,” read the ruling.

“The list of cases in our jurisprudence could go on but the bottom line is that; there is prior restraint when the government totally prohibits and/or in some way, restricts the expression of one’s view or the manner of expressing oneself. There is none in this case,” the SC added.

In their complaint, the journalists argued that their warrantless and oppressive arrests while peacefully exercising their right to practice their profession clearly violates press freedom protected under the Constitution.

They also claimed that their arrest constitutes prior restraint that prevents journalists from carrying out the duties of their profession to report on a matters of public interest.

The SC said they find no reason to deviate from the RTC’s and CA’s ruling, dismissing the case for lack of cause of action as the petitioners failed to prove that their rights were violated.

“The realities of life in a complex society preclude an absolute exercise of the freedoms of speech and of the press. They are not immune to regulation by the State in the exercise of its police power,” the SC added.

On 29 November 2007, Magdalo rebel soldiers led by now Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV walked out of the Makati RTC during the hearing of their coup d’etat case, known as the “Oakwood Mutiny” staged in July 2003.

The Magdalo soldiers proceeded to the nearby Manila Peninsula and took over the hotel where they held a press conference calling for the ouster of then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

When a 3 p.m. deadline for the group to vacate the hotel lapsed, the police fired tear gas canisters inside the hotel lobby and broke into the premises to arrest Trillanes and his group.

Policemen also brought members of the media who were inside the function room of the hotel to Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City for processing.

They were cleared after several hours and released before midnight of the same day.

Following the event, the PNP, AFP, the Department of Interior and Local Government as well as the Department of National Defense came up with a position that journalists who ignore police orders to leave a crime scene will be arrested and charged with obstruction of justice and willful disobedience of authority.

The incident prompted the journalists to file a complaint for damages and injunction against the respondents.

Veteran journalists Jessica Soho, Ed Lingao, Roby Alampay, and Ellen Tordesillas were among the petitioners in the case. They were joined by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility as petitioners.

The SC pointed out that even the petitioners conceded, based on their petition, that press freedom “is not absolute and unfettered at all times.”

The advisory issued by the authorities, according to the SC, clearly shows that no media network or personnel is prohibited nor restricted from reporting or writing newsworthy events.

p: wjg