LP lawmakers bully a journalist

House of Representatives members of the Liberal Party are acting like attack dogs in their attempts to force Manila Standard reporter Christine Herrera disclose her sources on a series of controversial stories.

photo grab from Manila Standard website
photo grab from Manila Standard website

I can understand the anger among lawmakers. At the height of the controversy over the Bangsamoro Basic Law, when the administration of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III was trying its best to push for its final approval at the House, the Standard came out with this story: Crime Lord Paid for ‘BBL’ Payola?

It’s explosive; the sources for the main charge are mainly anonymous. But Herrera did attempt to get the side of Speaker Feliciano Belmonte and Bureau of Immigration officials — about efforts to stave off Wang’s deportation.

THE Aquino administration used funds from an alleged Chinese crime lord to raise campaign funds for the ruling Liberal Party and to guarantee the swift approval of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), The Standard learned Sunday.   Lawmakers received millions in hard cash from Monday to Wednesday last week, shortly after Wang Bo, who is wanted by Interpol and the Chinese government for allegedly embezzling $100 million, was ordered released by the Bureau of Immigration and Deportation, highly reliable sources said.   “Unknown to the lawmakers, the funds they are receiving from the Palace to change their votes and blindly pass the BBL came from the leader of a crime syndicate in China,” a high-ranking official at the BID, who requested anonymity, told the Manila Standard.

Curious tale

The House of Representatives is probing the Wang Bo scandal. And it should, since Bureau of Immigration officials have been blaming each other for preventing his deportation to China, where he is wanted for alleged illegal gambling activities.

Even taking away the briber angle, it’s a curious tale.

  • One of the deputy commissioners, Gilberto Repizo, is a member of the Liberal Party and lawyer to the treasurer of the LP, Oriental Mindoro Gov. Alfonso Umali.
  • Umali and BI chief Siegfred Mison have been throwing brickbats at each other. Umali claims it was Mison who made a deal with Wang. Mison claims it was Repizo who turned around after meeting with Wang’s representatives.
  • Another story, which Mison denies, quotes an official of the bureau claiming an influential Cabinet official with “leftist” ties (that is, “leftists” allied with President Aquino), is behind the attacks on Mison. The BI chief has denied any statement about this, and says a malicious email spread the news.

This much is clear: The Chinese government has asked for the deportation of an alleged big-time gambling lord, a beneficiary of our welcome arms policy for foreign investors with a thriving business in the Cagayan economic zone.  The request was ignored or people sat on said request, depending on who’s talking.

One of the strangest explanations came from Repizo, who linked his action to prevent deportation to Mr. Aquino’s defense of Philippine territory. How the LP has people who can connect the West Philippine Sea controversy to a wanted gambling lord is anybody’s guess.

Herrera’s latest story quotes a transcript of a BI meeting that tries to, well, resolve the problem in a creative way. Considering they are a quasi-judicial body discussing public documents, it’s pretty damning.

Threatening a journalist

Now the House of Representatives wants to force Herrera to reveal her sources, threatening her with charge her with content if she refuses to bow to their will.   Another LP leader, Cavite Rep. Elipido Barzaga, has given Herrera a week to reveal her sources, including some House members who reportedly gave her the story.   That’s just bullying. Media should protest this threat.

This country has a Shield Act that protects journalists from being forced to reveal their sources unless a court or Congress determines the information is needed to protect the security of the state.

Even a more recent law, RA 10173, which aims to protect citizens’ personal data, states:

SEC. 5. Protection Afforded to Journalists and Their Sources. – Nothing in this Act shall be construed as to have amended or repealed the provisions of Republic Act No. 53, which affords the publishers, editors or duly accredited reporters of any newspaper, magazine or periodical of general circulation protection from being compelled to reveal the source of any news report or information appearing in said publication which was related in any confidence to such publisher, editor, or reporter.

The problem with politicians is they often equate security of the state with security of their dirty backsides.

Remember the 2007 ZTE Telecommunications-National Broadband Network (ZTE-NBN) scandal? The Senate ethics committee also tried to force a journalist, the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Juliet Labog-Javellana to reveal sources who exposed details of a closed-door hearing. Her report claimed then Sen. Joker Arroyo stopped former NEDA head, Romulo Neri, from revealing what he knew about the deal. Four other senators backed Arroyo. The Inquirer stood by its story and refused to give up its sources.

Track record

The Standard’s first story contains details that seem too good to be true: cash being delivered to the HoR, CCTV footage overwritten. That is, until you realize, oh, yeah, this is the Philippines and this is the House of Representatives.  

Anyone who has chatted with congressional staff will tell you that, yes, cash exchanges hands in the august halls ruled by these honorable men and women.

Remember Epira? We’ve also had past coverage of lawmakers trooping to visit Malacanang in 2007 and emerging with brown bags full of cash.

We could say, but wait, that was Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. But then we have the Development Accepleration Program (DAP) goodies in the time of tuwid na daan.   Allegations of millions of pesos pushed towards lawmakers for the prosecution and ouster of disgraced chief justice Renato Corona emerged long after his exit.

Malacanang, which had desperately tried to keep DAP out of the public eye, denies using it as a bribe. But DAP is hardly fiction; in fact, it has been slapped down by the Supreme Court.

Herrera stands by her story. “They are based on credible sources and solid evidence. I (exerted) efforts to verify and corroborate the story before submitting for publication,” she told lawmakers Tuesday.

The HoR is better off probing the flaws and/or deliberate actions that may have protected Wang. Those of the ruling coalition who still claim to be activists should stop this nonsense. Those of the Liberal Party who like to talk nice about rights and democracy should rein in their attack dogs.   Congress should keep its hands off Herrera. Media organizations should also stand up for our colleague.

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