The PCIJ Innovation in Storytelling Project

 KIAN Delos Santos's dream was to become a policeman. (Illustration by Aldy C. Aguirre)

KIAN Delos Santos’s dream was to become a policeman. (Illustration by Aldy C. Aguirre)

THE FIRST PROJECT funded by The PCIJ Project for Innovation in Storytelling is a children’s book that is not just for children. Inspired by the story of 17-year-old Kian Loyd Delos Santos, who was killed last month by members of the Philippine National Police, this book is being released today onFacebook and a series ofInstagram posts.

The PCIJ Story Project was launched on August 15 this year to support collaborations between artists and journalists and encourage experiments in novel forms of telling stories in the news.

Si Kian, a story told in English and Tagalog, for both young and adult readers, was written by prize-winning children’s book author Weng Cahiles and illustrated by Aldy C. Aguirre, an artist known for the whimsical watercolors that accompany a number of well-loved children’s books.

Cahiles and Aguirre worked with Kimberly Dela Cruz, a journalist who did most of the research and reporting on which the book was based. Dela Cruz interviewed about 30 people and obtained documents from the police and the Public Attorney’s Office. She reported in Caloocan City soon after Kian was killed and also covered his wake and funeral.

Children’s books rarely deal with current events or with topics as dark as the killing of minors in the war on drugs. This project presented an opportunity to tell (or retell) Kian’s story in a new way, to audiences that may have been overwhelmed by—or inured to—the news. It is also an effort to reach out to younger readers.

This story and the accompanying artwork attempt to bring Kian to life as a 17-year-old, with hopes and dreams like so many others.

Check out Facebook to see the text and illustrations.

The PCIJ Story Project’s Instagram account will also start posting the illustrations starting today.

Those interested in print copies of the book should email

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THE PHILIPPINE CENTER FOR INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM (PCIJ) announced today the launch of The PCIJ Story Project, a new initiative that will provide grants of P15,000 up to P75,000 to journalists and artists who work together to produce innovative stories in the public interest.

The PCIJ Story Project will support projects that document and expose abuse and wrongdoing in the following subject areas: human rights, the misuse of public funds, threats to free expression and press freedom, poverty and inequality, and religious, ethnic and sexual minorities.

The project will encourage journalists and artists to team up to tell stories in nontraditional formats. It will support stories intended for legacy news media as well as social media platforms, digital-only websites, and non-digital platforms that have traditionally not been used for journalistic production, such as film, the visual arts, theater, and music. Multiplatform storytelling is encouraged, but proposals for stories told in traditional print or broadcast formats will also be accepted. The project will provide funding to seed projects – for example to do a story treatment, rough cut, or a trailer for a documentary project in order to seek further funding.

PCIJ will continue to do data and investigative reporting in multimedia formats. The PCIJ Story Project is a special initiative intended to encourage new forms of storytelling.

The PCIJ Story Project will accept proposals for journalist-artist collaborative projects, including for short nonfiction films, photo essays, graphic novels, even spoken word as long as they are based on facts and are backed up by documentary or testimonial evidence. There is no requirement to publish or air on traditional media. Stories intended for YouTube, Instagram, Facebook or other social media platforms will be supported as long as they are accompanied by an ambitious and viable marketing, dissemination, and audience engagement strategy. In addition, they must be stories of significant public interest. They must also be based on documented facts and evidence.

Interested parties are required to submit a story proposal.

The deadline for the submission of proposals for the first round of funding is September 15, 2017.

For more information on The PCIJ Story Project please visit or email us at

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The PCIJ Project for Innovation in Storytelling (The PCIJ Story Project for short) will provide grants, initially from P15,000 up to P75,000, for projects that document or expose abuse, negligence, or wrongdoing in the following subject areas:

• courts and criminal justice
• the use of public funds
• human rights
• media, free expression, press freedom, media ethics
• religious, ethnic, and sexual minorities
• poverty and inequality

The Story Project will encourage journalists and artists to team up to tell stories on these subject areas. It will provide support for journalistic projects, including video animation, documentary photography, and stories that combine text with image and sound. The PCIJ Story Project fund can also be used to seed projects – for example to do a story treatment, rough cut, or a trailer for a documentary project in order to seek further funding. It will support stories intended for legacy news media as well as social media platforms, digital-only websites, and non-digital platforms that have traditionally not been used for journalistic production, such as film, the visual arts, theater, and music. Multiplatform storytelling is encouraged, but proposals for stories told in traditional print or broadcast formats will also be accepted.

There are no set formats for final outputs. We will accept proposals for journalist-artist collaborative projects, including for short nonfiction films, photo essays, graphic novels, even spoken word as long as they are based on facts and are backed up by documentary or testimonial evidence. There is no requirement to publish or air on traditional media. We encourage projects that break out of traditional forms of storytelling. Stories intended for YouTube, Instagram, Facebook or other social media platforms will be supported as long as they are accompanied by an ambitious and viable marketing, dissemination, and audience engagement strategy. In addition, they must be stories of significant public interest.

Applying to The PCIJ Project for Innovation in Storytelling

The PCIJ will accept proposals from journalists as well as photographers, filmmakers, and artists who work in collaboration with journalists. To apply, those interested should complete a proposal that follows this format:


Current employment, if any:
Links to (or copies of) previous work:
Title of Project:

Project thesis: In at most 300 words, explain the gist of your story – what is the abuse, negligence or wrongdoing you want to expose or document – and why it is in the public interest
Research/reporting methodology: Explain how you will document or prove abuse, negligence or wrongdoing on your chosen topic.
Previous work done by you or others on this topic: Explain who else has done work on this topic (including links to, or copies of, the work) and what new information, angle, or context you hope to add to what has already been out to the public.
Publication plan: Explain how you will present the findings of your research and reporting. Will your report be for a news organization? If so, which one? If not, how will you disseminate your story?
Social engagement plan: Explain how you will ensure maximum distribution and discussion of your project
Team members: If you are working in a team, name the team members, describe each one, and their respective roles
Budget: How will you use the funds?
Workplan: Present a week-by-week plan of work and what you hope to accomplish within a set timetable (say three months or six months). Set deliverables for the mid-point of the project and the end of the project.

Editorial Committee

Proposals to The PCIJ Project for Innovation in Storytelling will be evaluated by a committee of editors led by Sheila Coronel and Howie Severino. Those whose proposals are approved will be assigned to a mentor who will provide guidance to the project. Every project will be verified and fact-checked. They will also be subject to legal and editorial review by the PCIJ.

The criteria for evaluating proposals will include:
• Newness or freshness of story
• Depth and rigor of research and reporting required
• Potential for impact
• Potential for engaging audiences
• Innovativeness of storytelling
• Track record of individual or team making the proposal

Disbursement of Funds

30% upon approval of the project
50% at the midpoint of the project, and upon completion of agreed-upon deliverables
20% upon completion

Copyright and other Issues

The creators of the work will own the copyright, but PCIJ will have the right to link or include the work on a Facebook page or Web platform for The PCIJ Project for Innovation in Storytelling. No work funded by this Project can be released to the public without approval from the PCIJ. All outputs must credit The PCIJ Project for Innovation in Storytelling or #pcij #storyproject.

Deadlines, Inquiries, and Submission

Deadline for first round of proposals is September 15, 2017. Inquiries and proposals can be sent to

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Text by Ed Lingao

Alex Tizon Photo

Photo from Ed Lingao’s Facebook account

He introduced himself as Alex, but in our naturally irreverent way, we’d already branded him “Lolo PX” or Imported Grandfather by the end of his first day at the PCIJ. It was a label he would only find out about much later, by which time it was a label hopelessly irreversible.

To break the ice, we asked him if he liked having a bottle or two after work. And yes, even during. And he cracked that grin that usually begins from the left side of his mouth until it takes over his face. Yes he did, and the world was fine.

So for the next few months in 2009, Alex Tizon would be a mentor and older brother of sorts for many of us at the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. He was on a one-year fellowship with the PCIJ from the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), and while he liked to say that he was here in the land of his birth in order to learn, in the end he gave away much more than he took.

Alex was a five year old child when his family migrated to the United States, yet he always looked back to this country for his roots. He lived his life fully as an American, even if many times, in his quest for his identity, he felt like he lived a life in exile. He would later write a book about it, Big Little Man: In search of My Asian Self, and Jaemark Tordecilla and I would later joke about how only Alex could write a book about Asian men and penis envy and turn it into a best-seller.

When he was here, Alex would speak wistfully of his mother’s hometown of Tarlac, or his desire to one day travel to faraway Cotabato where a grandparent originated. I remember during his first week in-country, and he had to go to the Immigration Bureau to fix some paperwork. I asked him if he wanted to apply for dual citizenship as well, and his eyes lit up like wildfire. The day ended with me taking a cellphone video of Alex swearing allegiance to the Philippines underneath a grimy staircase of the Bureau of Immigration. In looking for his roots, he also found his flag again.

He brought with him a quiet intensity that helped him work with PCIJ’s then Research Director, Rowena Carranza Paraan. Alex was officially seconded to Weng to work on a data project to map poverty in the Philippines. He traveled with Weng to some parts of the country tagged as the poorest provinces. This was where Alex was in his element, traveling with a backpack and talking to people. Even though he struggled a bit with the language, people could see how much he wanted to learn about them, how much he wanted to understand. This was what made Alex such a rarity – he was the philosopher-journalist who could write about the extraordinariness of ordinary people.

Midway through his fellowship here, the Maguindanao Massacre happened. Fifty-eight people, including 32 newsmen, were murdered and hurriedly buried in huge pits in Maguindanao province in the worst case of election-related violence in the country. We hurriedly put together a quick-response team to fly to the site, and Alex was chaffing at the bit, wanting to fly in too. But there was a problem. His sponsors, the ICFJ, had banned him from traveling to Mindanao because of the security situation there. The ban puzzled Alex. He was on a journalism fellowship, and this was the perfect time for him to be a journalist in the Philippines. He got on the phone with his sponsors in the US, and you could hear the voices rising and tempers flaring. In the end, Alex came back deflated and angry. The sponsors had just pulled the plug to make sure that Alex does not set foot near Maguindanao. He was being recalled home, his journalism fellowship cut short by his desire to do journalism.

This was all in 2009. He flew back to the US, where he finished his book, and started teaching journalism at his old alma mater at the University of Oregon. We kept in touch via Facebook, mostly with his and hellos and how are the kids. Then, last year, Alex wrote that he was coming back for some unfinished business.

He was flying back to the Philippines to meet his relatives from his mother’s side in Tarlac, and to bring home the ashes of a grandparent (If you don’t ask how he brought home the ashes, I won’t tell. Suffice it to say that he did it the way a lot of Pinoys probably would). And, finally, he was doing a story on the Maguindanao Massacre and its aftermath. So in July 2016, Alex finally flew to Maguindanao, to trace his roots, to write his story, and perhaps, also, to find some closure. In the end, the man we at first branded Lolo PX turned out to be more Filipino than many we know.

When you think about it, he didn’t have to do these things anymore. After 58 years of a life well-lived, with a loving wife and two children, and a Pulitzer Prize, he was fully an American. But he was also finally and fully a Filipino once again.

Over the weekend, we heard news that Alex had died in his sleep in Oregon. He was 58.

I found a quote from an old interview with him that best describes that fiery intensity, that thoughtful way he would hang his head, and that manner by which he cracks that grin:

“Read, read, read. Think, think, think. Write, write, write. Go into the dark places and write about them.”

Go into the dark places and write about them. If we journalists only remember that, then Alex would never ever write 30. – PCIJ, March 2017

(Note: Ed Lingao is a news anchor of TV5. He previously served as head of PCIJ’s multimedia desk.)


THE ISSUANCE on July 23, 2016 of Executive Order No. 2 on Freedom of Information drew support from the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition as a signal of the commitment of the Duterte Administration to respect and promote the people’s right to access information in the Executive Branch.

The Coalition was hopeful that EO No. 2 (“Operationalizing In The Executive Branch The People’s Constitutional Right To Information And The State Policies To Full Public Disclosure And Transparency In The Public Service And Providing Guidelines Therefor”) will send a strong message for the Senate and the House of Representatives to finally ensure the swift passage of the FOI Law that could cover all the branches and agencies of the government.

Close to the deadline for all Executive offices to roll out their “People’s FOI Manuals”, in November 2016 the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) launched yet another ambitious undertaking — an eFOI Portal that would host access-to-information requests from citizens, and the corresponding action taken by state agencies on the same.

EO No. 2, the People’s FOI Manuals, and the eFOI Portal are transparency tools that the Duterte Administration have offered citizens to ease the process of accessing information vested with public interest.

But nine months after EO No. 2’s momentous birth, and four months after its full rollout, the Right to Know Coalition’s informed judgment is that the Duterte Adminisration’s work on the FOI front is far from done.

In truth, based on six parallel “FOI Practice” projects undertaken by our CSO members, an omnibus request for and analysis of the FOI Manuals of 22 Executive departments and offices, and a study of the curated requests posted on the eFOI Portal, the Right to Know. Right Now! Coalition finds that a mix of forward, backward, and side steps have defined the compliance by Executive offices with EO No. 2.

Given these findings, the Right to Know. Right Now! Coalition affirms that there is greater urgency for Congress to enact, without any further delay, the passage of the FOI Law.

The core value of any FOI initiative is how much it could effectively and efficiently assist and affirm the citizen’s right to access information, but also how far it could oblige and require state agencies and officials to disclose information. In both cases, or for both citizens and public officials, the process should be quick and easy, and the desired result, sunshine or full transparency.

Indeed, access and disclosure are two equal parts of the FOI equation. It is thus premature to claim victory for FOI, on acocunt of EO No. 2 alone, because the one, true treshhold that the state must hurdle is how far and how much it has nurtured a culture of openness and transparency in all its parts.

The Right to Know. Right Now! Coalition has taken steps to actually test compliance with EO No. 2 against this threshold, through multiple, parallel initiatives by our members.

Six “FOI Practice” projects of our CSO members during the first three months from its full rollout in November 2016 have yielded mixed results of slow to quick action by various agencies on requests for information.

The Coalition filed an omnibus request for copies of the People’s FOI Manuals of 22 Executive departments and offices but less than half responded positively, and the others said they did not have Manuals as yet. The “exceptions” enrolled in some of these Manuals have raised concern among us that some agencies would want to remain opaque than open.

Our analysis of data in the eFOI Portal that for now hosts 64 agencies, out of 503 requests posted online as of March 14, 2017, up to 183 requests had been denied, 166 granted, and 154 more “pending or for processing”.

On one hand, some offices failed to comply with the clear directive and deadline to provide an FOI Manual and identify the responsible officers in the FOI chain. Some others did not even acknowledge requests sent via email or fax, nor even answer phone calls. Too, there were agency FOI Manuals that enrolled additional grounds for denial that have no basis in the Constitution, the statutes or jurisprudence. It took some agencies weeks and months on end to respond to requests, or well beyond the 15 working days deadline that the laws and EO No. 2 had imposed.

On the other hand, there were also offices that took to heart compliance with the letter and spirit of EO No. 2. While they constitute only a minority of the agencies that had been approached by members of the Coalition, these offices deserve our highest commendation. They promptly and professionally acknowledged letter requests, answered queries, and responded to requests sans the need for multiple follow-ups.

One take-away from our FOI Practice projects stands out: If public officials and agencies mean to do it, appreciate and understand just how important it is to them as much as to citizens, FOI is a good, easy goal to achieve.

In gist, the Right to Know. Right Now! Coalition deems it too early for the Duterte Administration to claim its FOI project as a feather in its cap. It would be more propitious to say though that it has taken the first, major steps to lay the foundation for a regime of transparency through EO No. 2, the People’s FOI Manuals of executive offices, and its eFOI Portal.

Much work lies ahead for both the citizens and the government on the FOI front. A central common task that must be achieved promptly is the passage of the FOI Law. In this, the Senate and the House of Representatives must not falter and fail anymore than their predecessors in five prior Congresses did.

The Right to Know. Right Now! Coalition has waged a 15-year campaign to have the FOI Law passed and with his EO No. 2 as his signal move, President Rodrigo R. Duterte must now, in words as in deeds, push with vigor the passage of the FOI Law by his “super majority” in both legislative chambers.

As best we could and by the standards of transparency, accountability, and good governance, the Right to Know. Right Now! Coalition commits to assist the Executive branch improve its FOI mechanisms. This commitment rests, however, on our hope that the Duterte Administration will relentlessly pursue its FOI project across all Executive offices.

Just as important, the Right to Know. Right Now! Coaltion enjoins the citizens, CSOs, academe, the private sector, and all sectors to engage in FOI practice and join the campaign for the passage of an authentic FOI Law.

While full congratulations are not yet in order in the fight for FOI, we offer a partner’s pat on the back to public officials and civil servants in the Executive and Legislative branches who continue to labor tirelessly to ensure that we achieve big and small victories steadily and constantly in our shared journey to an authentic FOI regime.

17 March 2017

Atty. Eirene Jhone E. Aguila, Co-Convenor
0919 999 4578

Ms. Malou Mangahas, Co-Convenor

Ms. Jenina Joy Chavez, Co-Convenor
0918 902 6716

Human Rights

The European Union today has expressed ‘significant concerns’ over the human rights situation in the Philippines during the 34th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The EU has called on the Philippine government over the ‘very high number’ of deaths related to the drug war of President Rodrigo Duterte and urged the country not to revive capital punishment. It also voiced opposition to a bill that seeks to lower the age of criminal liability from 15 years to nine years old.

Here’s an excerpt of EU’s speech on the Philippines:

The EU is seriously concerned about the human rights situation in the Philippines. The EU enjoys traditionally close bonds with the Philippines based on shared values and interests and acknowledges a number of positive initiatives taken by the government, namely the renewed impetus on the peace processes. The EU also acknowledges that the fight against drug crime is a priority issue of serious concern to the government. However, the EU expresses significant concerns regarding the very high number of killings in this fight. The EU reiterates the importance of implementing the fight against drug crime in accordance with the rule of law and in respect of human rights. This must include the right to due process and safeguarding the right to life as well as the respect of the proportionality principle. The EU also calls for the protection of Human Rights Defenders and underlines the importance of freedom of expression and opinion. The EU calls on the Philippines to respect its obligations under international law and not to adopt bills reintroducing the death penalty or on lowering the age of criminal responsibility to 9 years currently under discussion in the Philippines.

The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system made up of 47 States responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe.

March 15, 2017 · Posted in: General

In Memory of Joaquin Briones

A Fate Worse Than Death: Jailed For Serial Libel Suits

by Rowena C. Paraan

MA. THERESA Briones thinks it’s bad enough that her father had to spend five years in jail – including two years with hardened criminals – because something he wrote offended someone. But now five libel cases are again hovering over her father’s head, and 22-year-old Theresa can’t help but cry.

Joaquin Briones Jr. is a journalist in Masbate. He was convicted on six counts of libel in 2000, for which he was sentenced to 12 years and six months in jail. After serving almost half of his 12-year, six-month sentence, he applied for and was granted parole in 2005, enabling him to be reunited with his family, which includes Theresa and her four siblings.

Last April 22, however, Masbate Vice Governor Vince Revil filed two libel complaints against Ronnie Valladores, managing editor and columnist of the local paper Masbate Tribune, and Briones as its publisher. More recently, the Masbate Electric Cooperative (Maselco) filed three more libel cases against Briones.

On August 3, Revil also sent a formal complaint regarding Briones. Addressing the Board of Pardons and Parole (BPP), the Masbate official asked that Briones be arrested and recommitted due to the new cases allegedly involving him.

Informed and ready

IF FACED with a libel charge, especially if intended to harass and silence critical reports, it would be wise for journalists to take note of the following:

1. Familiarize yourself with the Philippine libel law, including previous court rulings on libel. Also knowing how the legal system works would help you know what to expect and how to deal with the labyrinth called the Philippine judicial system.

2. Know in advance the lawyers who can help you, particularly those who have handled libel cases before. You may also want to get somebody with extensive experience on human rights or media law.

3. If a libel complaint against you has been filed with the prosecutor, file a counter-affidavit stating your good intentions and justifiable motives for writing the article concerned. And the complainant files a reply, then be ready with your own rejoinder.

4. If the prosecutor resolves the complaint in favor of the complainant, you may want to file a Petition for Review with the justice department.

5. The bail for libel case is P10,000 for every count. Have the amount ready if you feel that the prosecutor will decide against you. Once you learn that a warrant has been issued, you can go and post bail, together with your lawyer, without waiting for the warrant to be served. It may also be practical to get a copy of the form for posting bail in advance. Find out in advance as well where you need to post the bail, especially if the warrant is served after the end of the business hours. The point is not to spend a minute in jail and having the form ready and knowing where to go would save time.

6. While the legal steps are important, sometimes extra-legal actions go a long way in pressuring the complainant to withdraw or create a condition that would lead to a favorable decision.

7. Mobilize media organizations for support – local ones like the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and Center for Media Freedom and responsibility, international ones like SEAPA, Article XIX, Committee to Protect Journalists, and Reporters Sans Frontieres.

8. If convicted by a trial court, don’t forget that you only have 15 days to file an appeal with the higher courts.

“His wanton disrespect of the law by malicious publications is a clear and imminent threat to the welfare of the community,” wrote Revil. “The cases filed were of the same nature as that wherein he was convicted – libel cases. Clearly, the parolee has not shown that he has reformed.” Singled out

The newly established Masbate chapter of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), however, sees the situation another way. In a statement dated August 18, the NUJP-Masbate chapter said the vice governor had “singled out Briones for retaliation, exploiting the vulnerability of the local publisher’s parole to exact vengeance” for the apparently hard-hitting articles directed at Revil in the Masbate media.

It added that the Briones case is a “perfect example of how the high and mighty in Masbate regard the media” and a “telling commentary on the true nature of many of our local politicians, who see public office not as a public trust but a private endowment.”

As it is, the NUJP-Masbate chapter noted, the killings of two journalists in the island province: broadcaster Nelson Nadura on December 2, 2003 and print reporter Antonio Castillo on June 12, 2009 – remain unsolved.

Reports are still coming in regarding the articles that had upset Maselco and moved it to file libel cases against Briones. The pieces that prompted Revil’s recent action, meanwhile, were published in the February 1-7, 2009 and February 8-14, 2009 issues of the Masbate Tribune. They commented on the supposed failure of the vice governor, who presides over the provincial board meeting, to submit to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) the board’s resolution opposing the operation of any form of thermal or coal-fired power plant in Masbate.

According to the column, the reason given by Revil’s office for its failure to furnish DENR a copy of the resolution was lack of printer ink and faulty printer. This failure reportedly led to the issuance by DENR of an Environmental Clearance Certification (ECC) to the project.Tragic prospect

Briones, however, says that he was no longer publisher of Masbate Tribune at the time the columns about Revil came out. As proof, he presents a deed of quitclaim and waiver of rights dated January 30, 2009, which turned over the control of the paper to local businessman Bonifacio Pepito, who had bought the Tribune for P50,000.

PCIJ tried but failed to contact Revil for further comment for this story. Interestingly, NUJP-Masbate says that Revil’s lawyer is his uncle and counsel of Maselco.

Briones, meanwhile, is also moved to tears over the possibility that he could again be thrown back behind bars. But he says he is confident he would be acquitted of the new charges, and even adds that he wants the cases be allowed to run their course – which is quite surprising given his past entanglements with the country’s libel laws.

Briones began his media career in 1996 as a reporter. Then he joined a radio station and later became a commentator in a program he called “Dos por Dos.” By 1998, he had his own newspaper, which he named after his radio program. But he, too, soon received a thrashing of his own – in the form of 13 libel cases.

Then already based in Manila, Briones had to go back to Masbate to attend the twice-weekly hearings on the cases, for which he also hired a private lawyer. But Briones says that he began to notice that whenever he showed up for the hearings, the complainants would allegedly have these postponed. And when he was unable to come, he says, the hearings pushed through — and an arrest warrant would automatically be issued against him because he was absent.

When he was no longer able to afford a private lawyer, Briones turned to the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) for help. One of the complainants however, filed a motion that disqualified him from availing of PAO services.

Frustrated, Briones says he decided to boycott the subsequent hearings. He later found out that he had already been convicted in five cases and that the period for appeal for these had already lapsed.

Instead of running away, Briones went back to Masbate to serve his sentence. While there, Briones was able to attend the hearings for the rest of the cases, among which one resulted in yet another conviction. The remaining seven were dismissed. Powerless vs poderosoBriones says that at the time, no local journalist dared to write a report favorable to him for fear of reprisal from the complainants, who he described as “poderoso (powerful)” and included provincial directors and board members. He says his media colleagues were even wary of visiting him openly.

For sure, Briones is not the first journalist to languish behind bars because of a libel conviction. Among the more prominent cases is that of Davao broadcaster Alex Adonis, who spent almost two years in prison after being convicted of libel charges filed by the current Speaker of the House Prospero Nograles.

Adonis was granted parole in December 2007 for the Nograles case and posted bail in May 2008 for a second libel case based on the same report, but this time filed by the woman said to be friendly with Nograles. Adonis, however, continued to be kept in the Davao Penal Colony.

In October 2008, Adonis issued a public apology to Nograles, who had reportedly demanded such in return for the journalist’s freedom. It was not until two months later, however, that Adonis was able to finally walk out of prison.

According to human rights lawyer Jose Manuel Diokno, criminal defamation laws impugn both individual and collective rights.

“They unduly restrict not just the individual’s right to liberty and expression but also other basic rights as well,” Diokno writes in a piece included in the book Libel as Politics published by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility. “The mere prospect of a criminal libel suit, even without actual prosecution and punishment, is itself abhorrent to individual human rights because of its inevitable chilling effect.” A chilling effect

Similarly, criminal defamation has a chilling effect on collective human rights, he says.

Diokno points out as well that the free flow of information on matters of public concern is crucial to maintaining an informed electorate. “Our laws on criminal libel are so broad and sweeping that they make everyone involved in the delivery of information of public concern a potential criminal,” he says.

Still, there has been a bit of good news of late. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court came out with Administrative Circular No. 8, which stressed the high tribunal’s preference for fines rather than imprisonment for those found guilty of libel.

Under Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code, libel is punishable with minimum to medium term imprisonment or a fine ranging from P200 to P6,000, or both, in addition to civil action which may be brought by the offended party.

According to Supreme Court Spokesman Jose Midas Marquez, the High Court decided to issue the circular – addressed to judges — after noting that most libel cases filed were committed with “honest intentions.”

Says the court circular: “The judges concerned may, in the exercise of sound discretion, and taking into consideration the peculiar circumstances of each case, determine whether the imposition of a fine alone would best serve the interests of justice or whether forbearing to impose imprisonment would depreciate the seriousness of the offense, work violence on the social order, or otherwise be contrary to the imperative of justice.”

Meantime, Ma. Theresa Briones says she understands the risks involved in her father’s work. She even says that journalism is a good profession and that she wants to become one herself one day.

Her father, however, strongly objects to her ever practicing journalism in Masbate. He says he would rather die than have any of his children work as a journalist there.

“In such a small place,” he says, “you’re just too vulnerable to harassment.” – PCIJ, September 2009

(Note: Briones, a columnist of the tabloid Remate, was gunned down by motorcycle-riding killers in Milagros town, Masbate Monday (13 March 2017). He was the third Masbate journalist murdered since 2003 when Nelson Nedura was killed December 2 that year and Antonio Castillo was murdered on June 12, 2009. Jun Briones is the second journalist killed under the Duterte administration both of whom are from the Bicol Region. – National Union of Journalists of the Philippines)