Cebu Citizens-Press Council

Being accountable comes with being free

CCPC  lauds  Supreme Court for acquitting  broadcaster Leo  Lastimosa of libel. Took courts almost 16 years to resolve but SC has clarified the rule on identifying libel victim.  

April 9, 2023 · No Comments

Statement, April 8, 2023

THE Cebu Citizens-Press Council (CCPC) commends the Supreme Court decision finding as not libelous the June 29, 2007 column of  Leo Lastimosa in The Freeman.

Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia charged that  the  newspaper article  libeled  her, with the ABS-CBN broadcaster  using  a supposed fish vendor named “Doling”  as the object  of  slander.  Lastimosa called  “Doling”  “a thief, corrupt, arrogant,”  in a clutch of defamatory  words. The governor alleged that “Doling” was Gwendolyn. The SC ruling said  the victim of defamation was not named or otherwise identified, thus acquittingthe journalist.

CCPC has  always advocated for public officials to respond in kind  to media criticism: with the printed or broadcast word. The aggrieved person has the right of reply.  More than that, in the case of high officials  such as the governor or mayor,  there’s no compelling need to sue because  each has the equivalent of a “bully pulpit”  and an extensive media apparatus to presentone’s side or refute any accusation.   

The final  decision —  promulgated December 5, 2022 but posted in the internet only this week — took a total of almost 16 years  to reach.   In 2013, Cebu Regional Trial Court  Branch 14  convicted Lastimosa.  In 2016 Court of Appeals Nineteenth Division affirmed the conviction, modifying only the damages.   In 2022, acting on Lastimosa’s petition for review, the SC reversed the lower courts’ ruling.   Or a total of  almost 16 years since the year the newspaper column was published and Governor Garcia sued. 

The long wait for the high court’s decision produced something new,  at least in jurisprudence on libel cases involving Cebu journalists.   The court  questioned and struck down the claim  of the  witness, the “third person,” presented to  prove that “Doling” was indeed Gwen.

The SC, unlike the RTC and the C.A., didn’t just accept the  “say-so” of  the witness who identified the victim.  “It is material,” the ruling said —  for the governor to win her claim and  Lastimosa to get convicted —  “to establish how such third person was able” to  identify “Doling” as Gwen. 

Atty. Pachico A.  Seares

CCPC executive  director

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CCPC mourns loss of journalists Luis Teodoro  and Pegeen  Sararaña

March 21, 2023 · No Comments

March 14, 2023

Luis V. Teodoro, former two-term dean of U.P. Diliman College of Mass Communication and newspaper columnist, was regarded by his colleagues as a press freedom stalwart. He taught journalism and helped produce journalists skilled in their craft and faithful to its values.  He was both educator and practitioner. Seventeen years ago, working with Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, Teodoro  and Melinda Quintos-de Jesus, CMFR’s executive director helped three Cebu editors found the Cebu Citizens-Press Council (CCPC).

Pegeen Maisie Sararaña , a Cebu Normal University graduate, was described  by her paper as a “budding journo” who reported mostly crime stories for Cebu Daily News and  CDN said she was in Negros Oriental “as part of her assignment to document the Pamplona massacre.”  Pegeen told a friend she couldn’t leave journalism “for now  because  somehow ka feel sad ko nga  I belong here.”

Dean Teodoro, 81, died of heart attack Sunday midnight, March 12.  News reporter Sararaña, 24, died on a motorcycle Monday night, March 13.  She died after an Elf truck crashed into the motorcycle she and her boyfriend rode on, while they were waiting at a street corner in San Jose, Negros Oriental.

Circumstances of their death differed hugely, although the grief of those who knew and loved Luis Teodoro and Pegeen Sararaña cannot differ much.   

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Cebu media loses veteran journalist Elias Baquero (1959-2023)

January 29, 2023 · No Comments

Official statement, Saturday, January 21, 2023

Cebu just lost a multi-media practitioner whose work in community media had spanned more than three decades. Elias O. Baquero died of cardiac arrest Saturday, January 14. He would’ve turned 64 this July 10.

Elias O. Baquero (EOB) was one of a few Cebu journalists whose work straddled multiple platforms:  radio (Aksyon Radyo Cebu DYRC), television (CCTN 47 TV), print (SunStar, Business Week), and in the last few years, digital media.

Baquero helped the growth of Cebu Federation of Beat Journalists (CFBJ), one of the organizations under the umbrella of Cebu NewsWorkers Foundation (Cenewof).  He served for a number of terms as president of CFBJ and as chairman of   Cebu NewsCoop, steering early growth and stability of the two media-allied organizations.

As program coordinator at 888 News Forum, he had pushed public conversation on major issues.  That forum also led to the birth of Cebu Business Week, which Baquero founded and served as its finance and marketing head.

Even as it grieves over the passing of Mayor Ely – he actually served as OIC mayor of his hometown Balilihan, Bohol in post-Edsa era and his friends loved to call him “Mayor” – the Cebu Citizens-Press Council (CCPC) recognizes and applauds his invaluable contribution and devoted service to community media.

PACHICO A. SEARES, Executive Director

Elias Baquero – broadcaster, reporter, newsman, friend. Photo: from Elias Baquero’s personal Facebook account.

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CCPC  says Congress definition of ‘fake news’ must exclude specifically honest mistakes in news reporting

January 29, 2023 · No Comments

CCPC statement, Dec. 8, 2022

The Cebu Citizens-Press Council (CCPC) has condemned and deplored the proliferation of  false and deceptive stories in media platforms.  On proposals in Congress, however,  which seek to criminalize  misinformation and disinformation,  CCPC has repeatedly called for  a clear and specific definition  of  “fake news.”

CCPC believes the definition of Senate Bill #1296 does not shield journalists from prosecution for mistakes in news gathering or editing.  Fake news is defined in the bill as “misinformation or disinformation of stories, facts and news which is presented as a fact, the veracity of which cannot be confirmed, with the purpose of distorting the truth and misleading its audience.”

A Department of Justice lawyer said  it is “very difficult to investigate and prosecute.”  CCPC fears  for something else:  The proposed bill  might  become just another instrument  to hit back at journalists and discourage  active reporting and commentary.

CCPC DEFINITION.  The  proposed Senate definition does not exclude honest journalistic mistake or lapse in judgment in the field or in the newsroom —  or, for many “citizen journalists,”  lack of journalistic training.  The definition  is so broad that it  allows a prosecutor to raise a complaint to court even on shaky ground,  so abundant in faith that it gives police and prosecutors unqualified discretion to judge what is fake news.

On March 6, 2018, CCPC  defined “fake news”  thus:  “Fake news is fabricated content presented as factual information in the guise of news. Mistakes in reporting and editing, made in good faith in the rush of deadline are not fake news but such errors violate journalism standards and shall be avoided or promptly corrected.”

(CCPC offers definition of ‘fake news,’  SunStar, March 6,  2018;  Why CCPC has defined ‘fake news,’  CJJ Magazine,  June 26, 2018)

A media colleague reportedly suggested that Congress refrain from using the phrase “fake news.”   An oxymoron:  if it’s news, it’s not fake; if it’s fake, it’s not news.   The problem is that “fake news” as a term  is already widely used, with legitimate media work as among its victims., Merriam Webster  and  other English dictionaries such as Cambridge, Collin, Mcmillan, and Oxford, and  think groups like the Center for Information Technology and Society.   It was word of the year in 2017.

What media can help is to have it defined clearly and specifically so that the public will be reminded of what it is not.  The reason is more compelling in a  penal law that  could be used to intimidate and harass  media workers. []

Atty. Pachico A. Seares, Executive Director

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F.O.I. ordinance didn’t make it to Mayor Rama’s First 100 Days list. Process of legislation and enforcement mechanism not yet complete.

October 3, 2022 · No Comments

Cebu City Ordinance #2657, also called Freedom of Information Act of 2019, was signed into law last July 28, 2022  by Mayor Michael Rama. Today, 67 days  after the  signing, the ordinance is still inoperative.

              The ordinance is not yet complete, legislatively and administratively. The city’s Legal Office still has to list the exceptions to the ordinance and submit to the City Council for approval. And each department head and office at City Hall still has to designate its FOI officer. All the said officials are needed to complete the process of legislation and mechanism of enforcement. And all, except the Sanggunian members,  work under the mayor. 

City Councilor Francis Esparis, without media’s prodding, called out in a privileged speech last Sept. 21, 2022 – significantly, on Cebu Press Freedom day and during the Press Freedom Week celebration — for the city’s heads  of  office  to appoint their respective FOI officers. Esparis was the lone Cebu City official who publicly worried about the ordinance being incomplete.  

Mayor Rama would finish his first 100 days in office October 3. The mayor’s  accomplishments of the period may well include the FOI ordinance. He didn’t build a road or bridge by that ordinance, it could help make the travel of news and information from government to citizens easier and faster. Applause. Even though Mayor Rama  has yet to complete work on the FOI ordinance, there are still other sets of 100 days ahead. [] 

Pachico A. Seares, Executive Director

Cebu City, October 3, 2022

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