Groups decry libel case over fossil gas facility buyout news reports

December 6, 2021

Pro-environment and media organizations denounced the multiple libel lawsuits filed by energy secretary Alfonso Cusi and businessman Dennis Uy against seven news entities over their reports on the controversial Malampaya gas facility buyout.

“These libel cases are clearly Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) against media covering and investigating the Malampaya anomalies,” said Leon Dulce of Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment. 

Last Week, Cusi and Uy filed separate complaints for libel and cyberlibel against Carlo Katigbak and Lynda Jumilla of ABS-CBN; Maria Ressa, Aika Rey, Glenda Gloria and Chay Hofileña of Rappler; Camille Diola, Rhodina Villanueva and Ian Nicolas Cigaral of Philstar; Herminio Coloma Jr, Loreto Cabañes, and Jel Santos of Manila Bulletin; Jaemark Tordecilla and Ted Cordero of GMA News Online; and Samuel Medenilla, Lenie Lectura and Lourdes Fernandez of Business Mirror.

Cusi accused the reporters and editors of reporting “libelous and false statements” on his involvement in the controversial sale of the multi-billion-peso Malampaya gas facility to Uy’s Udenna Corp.

Dulce said the energy secretary is “hiding behind judicial harassment instead of addressing the lack of transparency and accountability over our oil and gas resources in the West Philippine Sea.” 

“We are in a time of climate crisis when we need the strictest economic planning over our fossil fuel resources,” adding that the country must show to the international community that “we are serious about our right to develop vis-a-vis the remaining global carbon budget.”

“The cronyism over our natural gas reserves is clearly detrimental to this national aspiration,” said Dulce. 

Secretary Cusi is seeking PHP 200 million in damages from each of the accused news organizations for publishing articles that “damaged my good reputation and good standing in government.”

The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) on December 6 said the libel cases can create a chilling effect on other media practitioners who are reporting the issue.

“The libel complaint can intimidate and muzzle independent and courageous reporting on issues surrounding Malampaya, a critical infrastructure that supplies a fifth of the Philippines’ energy requirements and benefits millions of Filipinos and businesses,” the group said.

FOCAP renewed its call for the decriminalization of libel, “which has been used and abused by powerful individuals in government and beyond as a weapon against independent and factual journalism they deem critical of them and their interests.”

The National Union of Journalists in the Philippines urged Cusi to drop the complaints and “instead focus his attention on explaining to the public what happened in the Malampaya gas deal.”

“Keeping his reputation clean is not the job of journalists, but his own,” the group said. 

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