Down with prior restraint!
Published by the Visayan Daily Star Publications, Inc.
|NINFA R. LEONARDIA|
Editor-in-Chief & President
CEDELF P. TUPAS
Sports Editor (On Leave)
MAJA P. DELY
ANTONIO L. LEONARDIA|
The still controversial “Hello Garci” case may continue to hang to this day, but it has resolved a very major question affecting freedom of the press for the Philippine media.
This came from the landmark decision of the Supreme Court declaring unconstitutional the warnings issued by two government agencies against the act of acquiring or playing the tapes supposedly containing the conversation between two persons, one of them believed to be the President, and the other a member of the Commission on Elections. The tape purportedly revealed a scheme to manipulate the results of the May 2004 national election to insure a one million lead for the winner.
But the tape, and their allegedly confidential contents, fell into the hands of the wrong – maybe the right – people, and soon the entire country was agitated into determining their authenticity. Attempts were made to produce other versions, but the country's imagination had become so fired up that the position of the President herself appeared endangered.
In what could only be presumed to be a highly protective manner, the Department of Justice issued a warning that all journalists who possess copies of the questioned tapes or compact discs would be liable under the anti-wire-tapping law. The Justice secretary even ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to go after media organizations that have caused the spread or the playing of such tapes. The National Telecommunication Commission then issued its own warnings for media organizations “to observe the anti-wire-tapping law.”
It took former Solicitor General Frank Chavez to challenge both agencies in the Supreme Court which, last week issued its resolution, penned by no less than the Chief Justice himself, ruling against the DOJ and the NTC. Calling the moves of the two agencies acts of “prior restraint”, Chief Justice Puno gave his opinion in a beautiful statement: “A blow struck too soon for freedom is preferred than a blow too late”.
We in the media thank Chief Justice Reynato Puno, and especially former Solgen Frank Chavez, a fellow Negrense and Bacoleño for this gift.*