Saturday, November 5, 2005

Will Bloggers Get Clobbered in the Philippines?

ABSCBN News this morning says "Tiongco Files Libel Charges Against PCIJ, Ang See"
The self-anointed sound engineer Jonathan Tiongco has filed libel charges before the Quezon City Prosecutor’s Office against two staffers of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) and the head of the Citizens Action Against Crime (CAAC).Charged with 13 counts of violation of Article 353 of the Revised Penal Code were PCIJ editor Sheila Coronel, head researcher Vinia Datinguinoo and Teresita Ang See of CAAC.

The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism had this to say on the blog site (which is claimed by Alecks Pabicko):
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."

That is a question of great importance to the issue of the "missing terrorist", Dawud Santos, since ABSCBN Anchorman Julius Babao accused said Jonathan Tiongco of bailing out said Dawud Santos from jail after he was arrested by authorities last March in connection with a plan to bomb tourist hotspots in Manila.

Somewhere in a Google Cache Server I found the following bit of text which of course anyone else can, but I don't even know if this is the document in question, though Big Kuya Google identifies it as material sucked up in a CRAWL of the PCIJ site on October 30, 2005

WHEN Sec. Mike Defensor introduced his audio expert, Jonathan Tiongco, to the media this morning, he took pains emphasizing that it was Tiongco who had vehemently opposed the appointment of Angelo Reyes to the Department of the Interior and Local Government.

By pointing this out, Defensor wanted it known that no one could accuse Tiongco of being a mercenary; the guy had, in fact, objected to a key Cabinet appointment made by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and he is credible. He is a sound engineer schooled in Japan with some 12 years of experience in digital audio engineering.

But a dossier from the Philippine National Police (PNP) shows Tiongco has a checkered past as it lists a string of criminal cases against him, ranging from grave threats to murder.

And for anti-crime advocate Tessie Ang-See, Tiongco’s credibility is suspect. Ang-See told PCIJ that in March 2004, Tiongco approached her to ask for her support in the cases against Reyes, who was then anti-kidnapping czar. Reyes was the subject of criminal and administrative cases filed in the Ombudsman for, among others, illegal detention, multiple murder, kidnapping, and grave coercion. These charges stemmed from the kidnappings in late 2003 of two Chinese-Filipinos: two-year-old Gian Jethro Chua and corporate executive Betty Chua Sy.

To convince her, Ang-See said, Tiongco showed a photograph of Gian Jethro’s kidnapper who he claimed was a close-in bodyguard of Reyes. He also gave her a video of the crime scene where a bank robber was killed, alleging that it was a rubout and that Reyes had a hand in it. The purpose, Ang See said, was to show Reyes’s alleged involvement in kidnapping and robbery cases.

But when Ang-See had these independently examined, she was told that these were altered. Ang-See said no to Tiongco’s request for her to support the cases against Reyes.

After she refused, Ang-See said, Tiongco began sending her threats through SMS. This was also the time, according to Ang-See, when she was included as one of the respondents in the supplemental case filed against Reyes regarding the case of kidnap victim Sy. (That case has since been dismissed.)

Early this year, when the Commission on Appointments was deliberating on Reyes’s DILG appointment, some members of the body also expressed doubts about Tiongco’s credibility. Sen. Dick Gordon said the CA had gathered documents showing Tiongco’s string of criminal cases and his opposition to Reyes’s appointment should simply be thrown out.

According to the PNP dossier, Jonathan Mallorca Tiongco, 35, had 11 criminal cases either pending in or resolved by various courts in Iloilo, Pampanga, and different cities in Metro Manila as of 2003. The cases include murder and frustrated murder, homicide, illegal possession of firearm, carnapping, grave threat, and estafa.

Six of the cases were dismissed by the courts either for lack of interest on the part of the complainants or after Tiongco secured a settlement. He was acquitted in one case; one case was archived after police failed to locate Tiongco. As of 2003, three cases were still being heard.

Tiongco was born in Jaro, Iloilo and has known addresses in Fairview, Quezon City and San Fernando, Pampanga. He has four children, two each with his two spouses. The police know him to have several aliases: Jaytee, JT, Jeff, Jonathan Monarca Tiongco, and John Thomas Mendoza Tiongco.

The following is the PNP’s summary of Tiongco’s criminal cases:

1. Homicide, Pasay City, 1997. Tiongco was accused of shooting a barangay tanod who had responded to an altercation between the suspect and another man.
Status: Ongoing trial.

2. Multiple attempted murder, Iloilo City, 1996. Tiongco was charged with shooting three men. Police say one of the three men was a barangay captain who had interceded on behalf of a family with whom Tiongco’s own family were involved in a land dispute.
Status: Ongoing trial.

3. Murder, three counts, and frustrated murder, Iloilo City, 1994. Tiongco and his co-accused were charged with shooting four individuals, killing three of them. He was finally arrested in 2002.
Status: Tiongco was acquitted.

4. Violation of R.A. 6539 (Anti-carnapping Law), Angeles City, Pampanga, 2001. Tiongco and two companions were apprehended by city police while in possession of a car not registered in any of their names. A month earlier the theft was reported to the police.
Status: Dismissed.

5. Violation of the gun ban provisions of the Omnibus Election Code, San Fernando, Pampanga, 2001. Tiongco was arrested after brandishing a handgun in an altercation with the complainant while the gun ban was in force during the election period.
Status: Ongoing trial.

6. Violation of PD 1866 (Illegal possession of firearm and ammunition), San Fernando, Pampanga, 2001. This charge stemmed from the same incident described in #5, for which he was sued for violating the election gun ban.
Status: Dismissed.

7. Grave threat, San Fernando, Pampanga, 2001. This charge involved the same incident in #5.
Status: Settled, then dismissed.

8. Violation of PD 1866 (Illegal possession of firearm and ammunition), Iloilo City. The dossier does not have details of this case.
Status: Dismissed.

9. Grave threat, Pasay City, 1997. This involved the same incident in #1.
Status: Dimissed.

10. Violation of BP 22 (Bouncing checks law), San Juan, Metro Manila, 1992.
Status: Archived after Tiongco was not found by the police.

11. Swindling/Estafa, Makati City, 1993. Tiongco was accused of failing to remit some P54,800 in company funds.
Status: Settled, then dismissed.

Civil Libertarians watch with a jaundiced eye to see how far the government is willing to go in a game of Chicken with all the good folks who buy up ink by the barrel. But these trial balloons are getting serious when they start messing around with the Blogosphere. Throughout Gloriagate, PCIJ has been the epicenter for hard, solid information on the Garci Tapes, and every twist and turn the crisis has followed. Let me salute the men and women over at the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism for their bravery under fire and utmost professionalism at their craft. This is Mosquito Press of the early 21st Century.

For the Filipino Blogosphere, this is a major event. As PCIJ itself notes, this is the first action of its kind in Philippine legal history that a blog is subject to such legal restraint. But we've seen it before :: everywhere that Liberty is threatened. And the result will be the same. The future belongs to those who believe in Freedom.

As for the quantum of information contained in the TRO'd post, it is this: Environment Sec. and GMA cheerleader Mike Defensor keeps some GOD-AWFUL company whom he can control with... (here comes that word again Abe)...BLACKMAIL.

So will PCIJ get shutdown? Will Bloggers get clobbered in the Philippines?


Libel suits against working journalists have almost never prospered in the Philippines. Maybe only one in a million such suits succeed, the notable recent case being a libel suit against Mon Tulfo. Besides, I think the lawyers of PCIJ will just make mincemeat out of the libel case. But it would be interesting to drag Mr. Jonathan Tiongco out into the light where we can have a good look at him and his handler.

What about bloggers? Are they gonna get clobbered? Only if Mike Defensor and Mike Arroyo buy out Google and Yahoo and blogger and friendster and ... don't they get it? The Web was designed to withstand even a nuclear attack!


Rizalist said...

UPDATES TO THIS POST: Other bloggers posting on this topic:

Prof. Ed Lacierda of La Salle/FEU has the legal skinny on this case.

Jove Francisco: "Sinampolan"

Edwin Lacierda said...


Some people are saying that this latest decision may be the handiwork of this government. I am not prepared to go that far but do you think there is that possibility?

Rizalist said...

I HOPE SO! Coz they're cruisin for a bruisin on this one! Don't forget the Web was built to withstand a nuclear attack. Also, libel is the most futile case to mount against the working Press in the Philippines.

But one thing I'd like everyone to do is carefully read again the CACHED page of PCIJ's August 12 Post. I find it strange that the Google header says the material displayed was a snapshot of a crawl done on October 30, 2005. Might be nothing but I'm sure Yuga or the guys at Tech Blog could figure it out...

R. O. said...

Isn't prior restraint supposed to be unconstitutional? I'm afraid the issue is as simple as that. Journalist Ross Tipon has a similar case when he published a book demonizing the Manalos of the Iglesia ni Kristo.

J. Angelo Racoma said...

The fact that they brought the issue to the courts only generated more buzz in the blogosphere, and will make even more people aware. I, for one, only got wind of the whole Tiongco thing now in the light of these developments.

Thank Google for having a cache handy!

The Internet was, indeed, created primarily as a secure system of communication reliable and durable enough to withstand the worst of attacks such as nuclear Armageddon and the like.


ricelander said...

The hand of government is palpable. Notice how the pro-Gloria forces are applauding.