Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi recently filed separate libel charges against seven national news organizations for their reporting on the buyout of Malampaya by Dennis Uy’s Udenna Corporation.
Cusi claims that the media’s reporting on the controversial transaction was malicious, and has demanded a whopping P200 million in damages for supposedly ruining his personal reputation. The complaints had been filed against reporters and editors of Rappler, ABS-CBN, Business World, Philstar, Manila Bulletin, GMA News Online, and Business Mirror.
Whether the case will prosper in court is purely speculative at this point, but it essays the pattern of attacks on media unique to the Philippines context by those in power who have no tolerance for independent journalism. The magnitude of Secretary Cusi’s libel case approximates that of a case filed a long time ago by then-presidential husband Mike Arroyo against over 40 Filipino journalists over their reporting on the election controversies that hounded Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s term as president.
It also follows the same pattern of attacks experienced by major media entities throughout the Duterte administration, including ABS-CBN, Inquirer, and Rappler.
Leave it to Cusi’s lawyers to try and establish “malice” as a crucial element in this libel case. But the complaint itself has already served its purpose, as it attempts to muffle media’s ongoing coverage of the Malampaya buyout story — what with a Damocles sword hanging over their head in the form of monetary damages that, if awarded, can force any of these entities to close shop.
The Department of Energy’s handling of the sale of Malampaya by Udenna had been questioned not by media specifically but by stakeholders including the Senate due to the controversies surrounding it. The Senate has opened an investigation into it, probing into the assertions that the DOE allowed the sale in a manner that harmed the national interest.
Media’s coverage has mainly focused on a legitimate question on whether the DOE had acted in the best interest of the nation by allowing the sale to proceed as it did. Allegations have been raised not by media but by interest groups that the sale was a midnight deal abated by the current administration.
It is a public debate, and Secretary Cusi’s reaction was out of place, as he should rather be participating in the debate to articulate the government’s rationale for the controversial decisions that it had made.
Barking on the media in this case is barking on the wrong tree.