Monday, October 8, 2007

Spying on Senate Executive Session on Presidential Executive Privilege Was A Violation of National Security

It is most certainly NOT a privilege that the law gives journalists in any way, shape or form, even if one of the biggest newspapers in this country want people to believe it. It is entirely inconceivable to me that the Congress passed a law which intended for such an exercise of freedom of the Press to use "unnamed sources" in order to protect such sources from punishment for what is clearly a breach of the Senate's right to secure and confidential executive sessions. It is pure espionage and political intrigue what Juliet Javellana Labog and her employers at the Philippine Daily Inquirer did last week in publishing a story alleging that they had four sources of credible information about what transpired in the Sept. 26 Executive Session with Romulo Neri on his conversations with President Arroyo--and then went on to accuse Joker Arroyo of somehow being able to overrule at least 20 other senators there present.

In this regard, I accept the correction of John Nery of PDI (Newsstand Blog) that the statute that now applies is the amendment to Republic Act No. 53 (the Sotto Law) in Republic Act No. 1477 which states:
"Sec. 1. Without prejudice to his liability under the civil and criminal laws, the publisher, editor columnist or duly accredited reporter of any newspaper, magazine or periodical of general circulation cannot be compelled to reveal the source of any news-report or information appearing in said publication which was related in confidence to such publisher, editor or reporter unless the Court or a House or committee of Congress finds that such revelation is demanded by the security of the State."
The two laws are identical except for the first clause in red above, which was added, and the word "security" which replaced "interest" in R.A. No. 53. It's an excellent clarification and makes the offense possibly more serious because what the first clause means is that the reporter/editor/publisher could still go to jail even if he or she cannot be compelled to reveal the sources.

Now take a look at the recently adopted Rules of Prceedure Governing Hearings in Aid of Legislation:
(1) If the Committee believes that the interrogation of a witness in a public hearing might endanger national security, it may, motu proprio or upon motion of any interested party, conduct its inquiry in an executive session for the purpose of determining the necessity or advisability of conducting such interrogation thereafter in public hearing; (2) Attend-ance at executive sessions shall be limited to members of the Committee, its staff, other Members of the Senate, and other persons whose presence is requested or allowed by the Chairman; and (3) Testimony taken or material presented in an executive session, or any summary thereof, shall not be made public, in whole or in part, unless authorized by the Committee.
Senate National Defense Committee Chair Rudolfo Biazon has already labelled the crime of wiretapping as a violation of national security because it is essentially espionage performed on the Chief Executive and other high government officials. In the same way, I believe that the too-frequent and habitually cynical assertion by the PDI of the so-called Journalists Privilege to quote unnamed sources is most irresponsible and amounts to the same kind of immoral eavesdropping and espionage that political wiretapping represents under RA 4200.

As will all institutional privileges the moral principle violated and ignored by arrogant so-called journalists is ABUSE of privilege. This occurs when the institution, in this case the Press, asserts its privilege and undertakes certain actions which results in unfair or undeserved damage to another person or another institution, in this case the institution of the Senate. It is a matter of discretion which can indeed be gravely abused.

I think it is tantamount to a crime against the national security when a newspaper thinks that its Journalist's privilege outweighs the privilege of the Senate for secure and confidential executive sessions, because executive sessions as such, are crucial to the proper operation of the Senate in general, and the application of last year's historic Supreme Court ruling on the conduct of hearings in aid of legislation in particular.

What for example is the moral difference between what Isapf was doing in spying on Senator Gringo Honasan (as well as the President and a Comelec commissioner) and what Juliet Labog Javellana and PDI did?

Personally, I don't believe they had any sources at all and that the story was pure kuryente, but that isn't something I can prove. Yet it is entirely possible that in such Executive Sessions sensitive matters of military secrets, diplomatic relations and other privilege information would indeed be divulged. The willingness and actual disparagement of the integrity of the Senate executive session must be sanctioned if the mechanism is to be resuscitated and preserved.

If the President has abused her own Executive Privilege in order to thwart and damage the Senate, so has the Press in this case. Who are they now to call the President out, as the kettle calls the pot black?

Someone has abused the institutional privilege given to them by the Law. Either there were no real sources who said what the paper said they said, in which case it is an entirely despicable journalistic innuendo and intrigue, which are that particular newspaper's well known modus operandi (although they call it press freedom); or there really were sources and the newspaper colluded with their self-serving breach of their sworn oaths to obey the Rules of the Senate (if they were Senators).

The most intriguing possibility comes from something Juliet Labog mysteriously said to Ricky Carandang on the Big Picture last Thursday, when she said, "You can record what was said [at the Executive Session] without revealing your source." So, did she just get someone to turn on their cell phone during the session (like Jamby Madrigal) and that's what she meant by "record what was said?"


manuelbuencamino said...

you seem to be on a crusade against PDI.

DJB Rizalist said...

well, i think the senate as an institution deserves our support against arrogance, hubris and abuse of privilege, no matter who it comes from, whether from the chief executive or the Press.

why, mb? what principles do you live by?

rals said...

Whether PDI has a source or did spied, they are not entitled to made public matters arising from the Senate's executive session. The Senate is not just a club of 20-plus people, they were elected by Millions whom they entrusted to safeguard State security. The right to information is not absolute, whereas State security is always paramount. Responsible journalism supersedes press freedom.

DJB Rizalist said...

Welcome to Philippine Commentary rals.