FIRST Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo has ordered his lawyers to withdraw all the libel suits he has filed against Filipino journalists as a gesture of peace.

“Both in sincere gratitude to a nation that deserves a more harmonious leadership, and as a gesture of peace to the many kind hearts who have helped my family weather this crisis, I have instructed my attorneys to withdraw all the libel suits pending before the courts,” said Arroyo.

The statement, read by Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye in a briefing at Malacañang this morning to coincide with the celebration of World Press Freedom Day, was both welcomed and criticized by his detractors, which included many of the journalists against whom he had filed libel cases.

Forty-six journalists had been named respondents in over 50 libel cases filed by the First Gentleman since 2003.

Doctors advised Arroyo to avoid stressful activities, as he will continue to undergo cardiac therapy. He was discharged last Tuesday from the St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City after recuperating from aneurysmectomy and triple heart bypass surgery.

“Apparently, Mike Arroyo’s near-death experience made him see the light. I hope the libel suits were not the only ones he saw,” said Malaya columnist and senior reporter Ellen Tordesillas. Tordesillas had been dropped from the original list of respondents in a libel case filed by Arroyo, but she was later reinstated.

Another libel respondent, Newsbreak editor in chief Maritess Vitug, said that they were glad that Arroyo has seen the light. “But he should never have filed these cases in the first place. We would like this matter to be resolved on its merits. This will provide journalists with parameters on libel and what it is not.”

Malaya publisher and Philippine Press Institute president Amado “Jake” Macasaet said that he wished that Arroyo had not opted to drop libel charges for commentaries that he believed were fair and involved issues of public interest.

“Dropping the charges may ease the conscience of Mr. Arroyo as he intended it to be. But freedom of the press should not be held hostage by any individual’s whims or perceived affront to his person, character or dignity,” Macasaet said.

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) welcomed Arroyo’s statement, but said that it would rather credit journalists for pushing back, instead of the First Gentleman for any change of heart.

“The very act of filing 40-plus cases was the crime,” said Roby Alampay, SEAPA executive director. “He is not fooling anyone, just as he is not scaring anyone.”

Philippine Daily Inquirer publisher Isagani Yambot also welcomed Arroyo’s announcement, but added that the Inquirer was ready to fight the case in court.

Lawyer Harry Roque advised journalists who had filed a class suit against Arroyo to proceed with their suit. “At issue is freedom of speech as a right. It’s not dependent on the acts of Mike Arroyo. Besides, he has already caused damage both actual and moral.”

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) challenged President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to declare urgent the passage of a law decriminalizing libel “to prevent a recurrence of a similarly brazen and ham-fisted and, ultimately, futile attempt to harass the media.”

2 Responses to Journalists welcome, criticize Mike Arroyo’s dropping of libel cases

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True colors, glum faces « Lunasandwich

September 18th, 2007 at 6:02 pm

[…] weeks later with a large chance of fully recovering, Mike Arroyo instructs his lawyers to withdraw the libel suits filed against more than 40 journalists. In his statement, Mike Arroyo said, “I am determined to […]

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Riddle Me This: Questions The Jester-in-Exile Wants Professional Journalists to Answer | Filipino Voices

September 4th, 2008 at 9:25 am

[…] another post on PCIJ: The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) challenged President Gloria […]

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