Mike seeks arrest of 8 no-show journalists
It was only three days ago when Mike Arroyo told the Manila Trial Court that he has “forgiven” the journalists whom he sued for libel. Now he wants 8 of them arrested.
by Ashzel Hachero
A lawyer of First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo asked a court hearing the P12.5 million class suit filed by Filipino journalists to issue an arrest order against eight media personalities for their failure to comply with a court-issued subpoena for yesterday’s hearing of the case.
The eight print and broadcast journalists that Arroyo’s counsel, Ruy Alberto Rondain, want arrested and fined are Marites Vitug, Ricky Carandang, Mia Gonzalez, William Esposo, Lito Banayo, Conrado de Quiros and Ramon and Erwin Tulfo.
“The subpoenaed witnesses should be arrested and fined since under the Rules of Court there is a clear disobedience. They should be cited for indirect contempt,” Rondain told Makati Judge Zenaida Laguilles.
He said the journalists were in contempt after they were issued the subpoenas through the Roque and Butuyan Law Office which served as their counsel.
Rondain said the journalists should each pay the cost of his appearance at P4,000 an hour.
The plaintiffs’ counsel, Roger Rayel, objected to Rondain’s motion and accused the Arroyo camp of delaying the proceedings to prevent the First Gentleman from taking the witness stand.
“It is improper at this stage when the trial proper of the case has not even started to use ‘hostile witnesses.’ They are just delaying the proceeding and the presentation of the First Gentleman on the witness stand,” said Rayel.
The plaintiffs’ lead counsel, Harry Roque, earlier said Arroyo risked losing his chance to present his defense if he did not appear in court.
Last May 23, the court gave Arroyo until June 22 to present proof about the lack of basis for the multi-million class suit at the risk of waiving his right to present evidence.
Arroyo has failed to appear twice, citing health reasons such as his heart operation last April at the St. Luke’s Medical Center.
He has also asked the Court of Appeals to block the Makati RTC from proceeding with the trial.
Rondain said that the First Gentleman’s physical condition prohibits him from appearing in court for the next six months as he argued for the appearance of the journalists, saying they had no other witnesses at this point.
“The First Gentleman is not physically fit to appear before this Court at this time,” he said.
In calling for the dismissal of the subpoena order, Rayel said the intended testimonies of the plaintiffs is irrelevant to the case and only Arroyo can verify his allegation in his affirmative defense that the court has not acquired jurisdiction over the case and should therefore dismiss it due to the payment of inadequate filing fees by the complainant.
“The affirmative defenses were incorporated in defendant’s answer and Arroyo verified the truthfulness of the allegation. Those were his allegations, and if there is anyone who can testify and give flesh to those allegations, it is Arroyo; otherwise there can be no other conclusion than that he falsified or made untruthful statements or statement with no factual basis,” Rayel said.
Laguilles ordered the parties to file written comments in five days.
Laguilles also directed Rayel to furnish the court the addresses of his clients and for Rondain to produce other witnesses, if the journalists were not able to make it in the next hearing on July 26.
Last month, the complainants – 36 individuals and three media organizations, The Daily Tribune, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility – indicated their intention to pursue the charges despite Arroyo’s pronouncement that he would drop all the libel cases he had lodged against the media.
Arroyo decided not to press the libel suits after coming out of a high-risk surgery last April.
The class suit said Arroyo had abused his right to file libel complaints and was suppressing press freedom.
In his libel complaint, Arroyo has maintained that he should be treated like a private citizen as he does not hold any public office.
Report by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility on last Friday’s hearing of the class suit:
CMFR Philippines Alert: Journalists seek to quash subpoenas filed by president’s husband in class suit hearing
CMFR/Philippines—One of the lawyers of the journalists who filed a P12.5 class suit against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s husband Jose Miguel Arroyo has asked Makati City Branch 134 Judge Zenaida Laguilles to quash the defense subpoenas on eight of the journalist-plaintiffs.
The subpoenas were received by the Roque and Butuyan law office, which handles the case of the journalists, on 18 June 2007. It required journalists Ricky Carandang, Mia Gonzalez, Mon Tulfo, Erwin Tulfo, Maritess Vitug, Conrado de Quiros, and William Esposo to testify in a June 22 hearing on Arroyo’s affirmative defense in connection with his motion to dismiss the suit against him. Arroyo’s lawyer Ruy Rondain subpoenaed the eight journalists to appear as “hostile witnesses.”
The subpoena also ordered the journalists to bring “all the articles they have published or caused to be published, concerning Atty. Jose Miguel Arroyo from January 2001 until the present.”
“By presenting the journalists, papalabasin ko na walang chilling effect (I will show that there is no chilling effect),” Rondain said to reporters after the hearing.
In his motion to quash the subpoenas, the lawyer of the journalists argued that the subpoenas were not in compliance “with the relevant rules on the service of the subpoenas” as they were only served on the office of the journalists’s lawyers and not on the journalists themselves.
Laguilles gave Arroyo’s camp five days to file a formal comment on the motion.
Lawyer Roger Rayel argued during the hearing that the testimonies of the eight subpoenaed journalists are irrelevant because Arroyo’s motion to dismiss could be decided solely on the basis of the complaint filed by the journalists. Arroyo’s motion to dismiss argues that Laguilles does not have jurisdiction over the case because of insufficient docket fees and the complaint filed by the plaintiffs had failed to state a cause of action.
The motion to quash submitted by the plaintiffs’ lawyer cited the Supreme Court ruling in the Peltan Development Inc. vs. Court of Appeals (270 SCRA 82, 91) case which stated that “In the resolution of a motion to dismiss based on failure to state a cause of action, only the facts alleged in the complaint must be considered.”
Rondain said the eight journalists, none of whom appeared for the hearing, should be cited for contempt and arrested for not abiding by the subpoena.
The plaintiffs’ lead lawyer, Harry Roque, said that “Their (Arroyo and his lawyers’) threat to cite for contempt journalists is nothing new. If they cannot threaten media through filing of libel suits, he will do this through contempt charges. This just proves that they are truly an enemy of the press.”
The class action suit was filed on 28 December 2006 by 36 journalists and media organization Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and The Daily Tribune against Arroyo, arguing that the 11 libel suits Arroyo had lodged against 46 journalists is an abuse of his right to litigate and an attack on press freedom.