No crackdown on media – Palace

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — THERE is no crackdown on media practitioners critical of the administration of President Macapagal-Arroyo.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye issued the statement yesterday after Manila policemen tried to arrest Business Mirror reporter Mia Gonzalez in connection with a libel case filed against her by First Gentleman Mike Arroyo.

Bunye said he could have stopped policemen from issuing the arrest warrant on Gonzalez.

“Things could have been avoided if there was proper coordination. We would have negotiated to stop it,” he said.

Bunye took exception to claims that the President had something to do with the incident, saying even his office was not informed about it.

“It turns out that the policemen were trying to enforce a legal order issued by the court. There is no crackdown on media practitioners critical of the present administration. But in hindsight, the incident could have been avoided if the police had coordinated with this office,” he said.

The plainclothes policemen tried to serve the arrest warrant at the Malacañang press working area at the New Executive Building where Bunye’s office is also located.

The Malacañang Press Corps and other media groups scored the manner by which at least five policemen tried to serve the arrest warrant on Gonzalez on Monday.

Bunye said the Office of the Press Secretary would have “acted differently” had the arresting officers coordinated with his office.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. advised journalists to lobby for a bill decriminalizing libel amid the apparent indifference of Malacañang to the measure.

Pimentel said journalists should lobby with the Senate committee on mass media and public information chaired by Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr. to pass the measure.

Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, on the other hand, said the recent harassment of journalists through libel suits filed by the First Gentleman could be a break for the Senate to review proposed measures to protect journalists.

Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano, who is also a respondent in a separate libel complaint filed by Mr. Arroyo, said the attempt to arrest Gonzalez right inside Malacañang grounds was calculated to produce a chilling effect on administration critics.

Cayetano challenged President Arroyo to certify a bill in Congress seeking to decriminalize libel if she truly believes in the freedom of the press.