Cheche Lazaro, PROBE and The Wire-tapping Case filed by GSIS

I’ve known Cheche Lazaro through two live interviews (here and here). It is such an honor to be interviewed by her. I am aware that most TV hosts get their research materials from their assistants but in all those interviews, she personally wrote down notes about me before airing live. She verified all the materials given to her and didn’t just take her assistants’ word for it.

So when Ricky Lim (Associate Dean of AIM who I met in a Bloggers’ Roundtable) sent me an email about her sister, I was just appalled. Cheche has been charged for wiretapping by GSIS, when her Probe Team tried to do a story on unfair compensation practices. Cheche had explicitly told GSIS that she was recording their conversation beforehand. She had offered them all the airtime to present their side of the story. In the end, because the story was negative, GSIS is now charging her with criminal offenses.

Cheche is the only one facing the wiretapping case at the moment. ““They have made it a point to singularly point me out as the person who wiretapped the whole conversation that they alleged was wiretapping. That is not true,” she said.

““I think this is intimidation of the press. They are trying to send a message to the press and using me as a sample for this kind of a message.”

Cheche Lazaro’s Statement on the wire-tapping case filed by the GSIS against her
May 8, 2009

It is mind-boggling why I am being singled out for prosecution for following the tenets of responsible journalism. If raising the concerns of underpaid public school teachers deprived of their benefits by a publicly accountable government institution and giving my accuser the airtime to explain her boss’s side of the story are now considered crimes under our laws, then I plead guilty.

This is a small price to pay for bringing a perfectly legitimate public interest issue out in the open. Probe will not be intimidated into submission. I just wish my accuser will play fair and hire private lawyers instead of using government lawyers (from the GSIS), whose salaries are incidentally paid for by, among others, the teachers shortchanged by the questionable policy of the GSIS and private citizens like me who pay taxes.

In the last 22 years, Probe has carved a niche in the industry and won recognition here and abroad for consistently adhering to time-honored journalistic values of accuracy, fairness and objectivity. My team and I have no plans of changing the way we work just to accommodate the personal agenda of people in power.

****Ms. Lazaro will post today before Judge Josephine Vitocruz of the Pasay Metropolitan Trial Court, Branch 47, before 1:30 p.m.

Here is the PROBE Memorandum on the case Ella A. Valencerina vs. Angelita A Ressa et. al where the PROBE respondents respectfully pray that the Complaint be dismissed outright for lack of probable cause.
Probe Memorandum for Violation of RA 4200 , The Anti-wiretapping Act

They were given a chance to air their side. Like her brother Ricky , I am biased , of course. That bias has basis. Through the years, she has proved her credibility and responsibility as an esteemed media personality. It is pathetic that GSIS wants to cloud the issue by filing a wire-tapping case against the PROBE team.

I know Cheche can take care of herself. But really, where is the justice and fairness of this all?

Other Updates

Statement of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines on the anti-wiretapping case against Cheche Lazaro

The issuance of a warrant of arrest against respected broadcaster Cheche Lazaro related to the wiretapping case filed by an executive of the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) once again debunks government claims that it is serious in protecting the rights of journalists and upholding press freedom.

The case is obviously meant to harass Lazaro and send a warning to other journalists who are just doing their role as watchdog of government and society.

Rather than be amused by the absurdity of the case filed by GSIS Vice President Ella Valencerina, we view the case with alarm especially that it comes from a top official of a government agency that should be transparent to media and the people in all its dealings.

We call on our colleagues to condemn this recent attack on the press and to be vigilant against measures curtailing press freedom.

For reference:

Sonny Fernandez

NUJP Secretary General

Below is a statement of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) on the Anti-Wiretapping suit against Cecilia ““Cheche” Lazaro.

ABSURD AND DANGEROUS

THE SUIT against Cecilia ““Cheche” Lazaro alleging that she wire-tapped her own phone conversation with the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) Vice President for Public Relations and Communications is as dangerous as it is absurd.

The suit is based on the airing of several minutes of the Probe episode of November 12, 2008 during which GSIS Vice President Ella E. Valencerina reiterated her refusal to be interviewed by Lazaro. In the course of that phone conversation, Lazaro clearly informed Ms. Valencerina that the conversation was being recorded.

The absurdity is not limited to the basis of the suit. As a government agency charged with custody of a mass of information on such government employee concerns as salary loans and retirement benefits, the GSIS should be the last to display the secretiveness and oversensitivity to the media that make public information so problematic in this country.

But Ms. Valencerina’s own statements during her conversation with Lazaro, as well as those in a letter she sent earlier in response to the Probe request for an interview, provide a clue as to why she filed the suit.

In both instances Ms. Valencerina referred to the alleged bias of ““Lopez-owned media entities” as the reason for her and her superiors’ refusal to present their side of the issue. This suggests that Ms. Valencerina and/or her superiors see the incident as an opportunity to get back at those ““entities.” Lest the public has forgotten, the GSIS is the lead government agency that has been trying to gain control of the Manila Electric Company, or Meralco, which, like ABS-CBN, is among the ““Lopez- owned entities” for which the present government has a demonstrated antipathy.

It doesn’t matter that Probe productions is not part of ABS-CBN, and is an independent entity. The point of Ms. Valencerina and her superiors is to somehow get back at ABS-CBN through Lazaro and Probe.

Unfortunately the suit has implications beyond its serving the ends of the GSIS leadership. It joins other attempts by government agencies to silence the media through harassment and intimidation, which over the last several years has characterized government policy towards the independent press.

As whimsical as the suit may be, it sends a warning to journalists that government agencies will find an excuse no matter how absurd to prevent the press from looking into such public issues as the GSIS premium-based policy, the subject of the Probe report. CMFR is certain, however, that in this as well as in the other instances of harassment it has resisted, the press will not be intimidated– and that, as Che Che Lazaro said in a statement, the press will continue to do its work of bringing to the attention of the public information on the issues that concern it, and will not bend to the wishes of the powerful

.

Related News

Cheche Lazaro eludes arrest, posts bail over wiretapping case, by GMA News TV

GSIS VP hit for ‘press intimidation’, by ABS CBN

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