Cebu Citizens-Press Council

Being accountable comes with being free

Statement on arrest of Iriga reporter

August 12, 2023 · No Comments

August 12, 2023

Data Privacy Act as a rule doesn’t apply to information processed for journalism. Thus, the arrest of an Iriga City reporter by the police comes out as an overreach and invasive.

The case of Jose Rizal “Jores” Pajares  could’ve been handled by the Iriga City, Camarines Sur police with more caution, less aggressiveness as  the personal information handled by the Radyo Nation reporter falls under the No. 2 exception of Data Privacy Act (DPA) of 2012:  “personal information processed for journalistic … purposes, subject to applicable laws.”

Would the office protocol of the police, requiring prior permission of thepolice chief, fall under “applicable laws” in the exception to the rule?We doubt if the reporter  and the arresting officer were sure about that. The general rule is specific while the exception is broad:  “subject to applicable laws.”

The outcry of some media organizations  states only  the general ruleof the DPA. The police reply does not tackle media’s basis for   condemning the arrest, let alone the exception to the general rule. 

An inquiry into the incident must include clarification of the law. Would the police requirement of prior permission qualify as exception to   journalists’ work  protected by  the DPA?

The DPA specifies (in Section 7) “Protection Afforded to Journalists and their Sources” but it also provides penalties on  persons who violate “knowingly and unknowingly.” Absence of malice here won’t help  the violator, journalist or not.

But even as the legal rule is sorted out,  media deserves to know from the police how the news reporter deserved the brash and aggressive action  from them.  That is important for the continuing  relations between the reporters and  the law enforcers  they cover.

Atty. Pachico A. Seares Executive director, CCPC

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CCPC meets Bahia Tahzib-Lie, Human Rights Ambassador of The Netherlands

June 20, 2023 · No Comments

On June 14, 2023, the Cebu Citizens-Press Council had the honor of meeting Ambassador Bahia Tahzib-Lie and engage in a free-wheeling, informal conversation about issues affecting Cebu, Cebu’s media in particular. Ambassador Tahzib-Lie, who chose Cebu as her only out-of-Manila destination during her stay in the Philippines, was accompanied by Marielle Geraedts, Ambassador to the Philippines, Annelou Aartsen, Political Officer at the Hague, Atty. Jaymie Reyes, the Senior Policy Officer of the Dutch Embassy, and Dondi Joseph, Cebu’s honorary consul of the Netherlands.

The meeting was presided by CCPC’s chairperson Dr. Pureza Oñate and attended by CCPC members as well as representatives of Cebu Media Legal Aid (CEMLA).

The CCPC is a member of the Solidarity for Media Freedom project, a project that is supported by several countries, including The Netherlands.

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Cebu Declaration in connection with World Press Freedom Day (May 3, 2023)

June 20, 2023 · No Comments

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Cebu City’s FOI ordinance to be amended even before implementation

June 20, 2023 · No Comments

An article on CCPC’s World Press Freedom Day Forum on Cebu City’s Freedom of Information Ordinance. Written by John Sitchon who attended the forum. Published by Rappler, on May 3, 2023

CEBU, Philippines – On World Press Freedom Day, Cebu City’s journalists asked an important question: Why hasn’t the city government implemented its Freedom of Information (FOI) Ordinance?

City Ordinance No. 2657, also known as the FOI Ordinance, is a special piece of local legislation that ensures citizens would be able to access information, whether public records or documents, about official acts, transactions, data, and the like under the custody of city hall.

Cebu City Mayor Mike Rama signed the ordinance on July 28, 2022, which was authored by his nephew, then-councilor, and now Cebu City-South District Representative Eduardo Rama Jr.

Based on the ordinance, each office city hall is required to designate an FOI receiving officer tasked with accommodating requests for information filed through their office.

But in a forum organized by the Cebu Citizens’ Press Council on Wednesday, May 3, Cebu City Councilor Rey Gealon confirmed that no designated FOI receiving officers have been appointed in any of city hall’s offices.

Gealon, who chairs the city council’s committee on laws, emphasized the need to appoint an FOI receiving officer for all 27 departments to comply with the FOI ordinance.

Gealon said there was also a need to amend the FOI ordinance so that it would include the list of exceptions that the Cebu City Legal Office (CLO) crafted and submitted to the council on January 31.

These proposed exceptions include information related to national security, those covered by executive privilege, information classified as confidential for the safety of minors and victims of heinous crimes, and information related to public safety and law enforcement, to name a few.

A journalist’s perspective

For former city hall beat reporter Mildred Galarpe, now the digital media director of SunStar Cebu, the ordinance could affect the reportage in many difficult ways.

“In the past, it was easy for us to ask for documents. It would just be given. Now that the FOI ordinance was introduced, it’s supposed to give us ease of access to information, but it seems to be harder,” Galarpe said.

Section 10 of the ordinance provides that anyone who asks for information must submit a written request to the FOI receiving officer before getting any official document. A maximum of 15 days is allowed for the office to respond to the request and can be extended up to 20 working days if the information requested requires “an extensive search of the office’s records facilities.”

“By the time that document is released, it won’t just be way past the deadline but there were already other developments that that information would reach irrelevancy,” Galarpe said.

Galarpe said the FOI would only help provide documents but no insights and analysis from news sources in the event an executive order that would prevent officials from giving interviews would be implemented.

“How will you reconcile that? … You cannot just interpret it on your own,” Galarpe said.

Lawyer Pachico Seares, the head of the Cebu Citizens’ Press Council, told Rappler that journalists and residents will still need the ordinance.

“When worse comes to worst, we have something to use… If they refuse to release even an ordinance that is not very important, we can push them,” Seares said.

Picking up the pace

While it is unclear to Gealon why there has been a delay, he assured journalists that he would file a resolution on Thursday, May 4, urging the executive body to install FOI receiving officers in every department and office.

Cerwin Eviota, the former head of the Public Information Office (PIO) and now the mayor’s special assistant for communications, was expected to speak during the forum and explain the local public information officer’s role as the “FOI Focal Person.” He was unable to attend due to health reasons.

Based on Section 9 of the FOI Ordinance, the FOI focal person would be responsible for developing the standard forms for the FOI requests and monitoring such requests.

Estela Grace “Jinky” Rosit, the head of city hall’s PIO, told Rappler that she was also unable to attend due to a “very important assignment” but promised to release more details on the matter soon.

In the meantime, Gealon informed the public that they can still access information by reaching out to the concerned offices.

Rappler’s Visayas Bureau checked with the Sangguniang Panglungsod’s records office which provided a free copy of the FOI ordinance on the same day of the request. –

Atty. Rey Gealon, Cebu City councilor, flanked by Atty. Eddie Barrita (left) and Atty. Jose Mari Poblete
Mildred Galarpe, Sun Star Cebu
John Sitchon, Rappler. The author of this article

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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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