November 4, 2005 · Posted in: Media
IN compliance with the order of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC), the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism has removed from this blog a post, dated August 12, 2005, describing the background and credentials of Jonathan Tiongco, the audio expert presented the same day by Environment Secretary Michael Defensor in order to question the authenticity of the "Hello Garci" recording.
The PCIJ was served the temporary restraining order (TRO) today after the court granted the request of Tiongco’s wife, Rona, who said that the PCIJ blog post was an intrusion into "my private life and happy 12-year marriage with my husband" and a "grave violation of my rights and those of my minor children."
In issuing the TRO, Quezon City RTC Presiding Judge Ralph S. Lee said that it had not yet ruled on the merits of Mrs. Tiongco’s allegations, but that an order removing the blog post was "the safer and more prudent recourse in order to safeguard and balance conflicting rights and interests of the parties/litigants."
The court also banned the PCIJ, for the 20-day duration of the TRO, from "broadcasting, publishing or posting or causing to broadcast, publish, or post articles and statements similar and related to, or connected and in conjunction with," that blog post. It is for this reason that we cannot repeat the facts about Tiongco that we had revealed in our blog post, nor can we say what Mrs. Tiongco found so offensive in it. (That post, however, is cached in Google and can be downloaded from the Google website, which is not covered by this court order.)
This is the first legal action, and the first TRO, issued against a blog in the Philippines.
The PCIJ plans to question the order in the Supreme Court as it violates the constitutional right to free speech. Morever, the Supreme Court itself, in an October 11 ruling, had already denied Jonathan Tiongco’s petition for a TRO gainst the PCIJ. The high tribunal, unlike the Quezon City court, did not argue for prudence but instead asserted that the constitutional right to free expression was paramount. For this reason, the high court threw out Tiongco’s petition demanding that the PCIJ take down the "Hello, Garci" recording from this blog.
"Free expression is guaranteed by the Constitution," the Supreme Court said. " Any deviation from this rule through judicial restraint can only be had after a proper trial of facts."
The Supreme Court also described Tiongco’s petition as "barely comprehensible" and "bereft of merit." It also rather pointedly said that Tiongco should have sought professional legal advice before filing his motion. (Read the PCIJ post on the Supreme Court ruling here.)
The Quezon City court, however, took a different position from that of the high tribunal. Instead, after a hearing on October 26, the RTC decided to grant Mrs. Tiongco’s request for a TRO even before "a proper trial of facts."
Jonathan Tiongco had already filed a libel case against the PCIJ and Teresita Ang-See for what was posted on this blog on August 12. That case is still at the Quezon City Prosecutor’s Office.
The PCIJ, in a memorandum filed by its lawyers before the Quezon City RTC on October 28, had opposed the TRO and the request for a preliminary injunction on the grounds that Tiongco was forum shopping, having already filed a TRO with the Supreme Court and a defamation case in the Quezon City trial court. The PCIJ also asserted that a TRO is only given in cases of "extreme urgency where great or irreparable injury" would result.
The PCIJ lawyers — the Yorac Arroyo Chua Caedo & Coronel Law Firm — argued in a hearing on October 26 that Mrs. Tiongco had failed to establish any actual injury that would result if the PCIJ blog post, which was on this site the past six weeks, were not removed. Moreover, Mrs. Tiongco herself, the lawyers said, presented the police dossier on her husband, which was the basis of the PCIJ article.
The PCIJ lawyers also argued that all the facts and allegations on Tiongco reported in the PCIJ blog were also reported in other websites, by major dailies, and by the broadcast media immediately after the congressional hearing in May 2005 (where Tiongco opposed the confirmation of Angelo Reyes as secretary of interior and local governments) and again in August, after he was presented as an audio expert by Defensor. But, the PCIJ memorandum pointed out, the Tiongcos didn’t file cases or ask for TROs against these media organizations.
Nonetheless, the PCIJ is complying with the court’s order, which was served today, a holiday.