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Philippine president's husband drops libel cases against Filipino journalists

Philippine president's husband drops libel cases against Filipino journalists

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's husband announced Thursday he is dropping libel suits against more than 40 journalists, explaining that he wants peace and reconciliation after surviving high-risk heart surgery.
The cases _ filed over the last three years by Jose Miguel "Mike" Arroyo against reporters, newspaper columnists, editors and publishers _ had alarmed media watchdogs in one of Asia's liveliest democracies.
The suits stemmed mostly from stories alleging corruption and claiming Arroyo helped his wife rig the closely contested 2004 presidential election.
Despite condemnations by foreign and local media watchdogs, the president's husband continued to pursue journalists with lawsuits, then adopted a reconciliatory tone following the surgery that confined him to a hospital for about three weeks last month.
Arroyo, an attorney from a prominent family, has no official powers but is regarded as an influential back-room operator and is a vocal backer of his wife against political rivals.
He was discharged from a suburban Manila hospital Sunday, looking pale and considerably thinner. His daughter held his hand as he walked from the hospital to a van.
"I have instructed my attorneys to withdraw all the libel suits pending before the courts," Arroyo said in a statement read by the presidential press secretary.
"Seeking redress for all the grievances that the libel suits sought to address now pales in comparison to taking on a genuine chance to make peace," he said.
He said he would try to reconcile "with those who will accept my offer of a handshake."
Arroyo thanked his wife, who cut short a trip to China to be at his bedside, and his "harshest critics" for showing compassion.
He called his wife "the constant light in my life" and added "a lesser person would not have been able to take care of me and still take on the duties of a president."
Some journalists said they wanted the court, not Arroyo, to eventually clear them of the lawsuits.
"We would like them to be resolved in court. ... We believe we can get an acquittal," said Marites Vitug, editor in chief of Newsbreak, an online magazine sued by Arroyo's husband for libel.
Rowena Paraan, secretary-general of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, doubted the sincerity of Arroyo's husband, whose announcement coincided with the celebration of World Press Freedom Day.
"It's a perfect way out for him, given all the bad press that the libel cases have generated," Paraan said. "Sincerity? We'll see that in their next moves."
Last December, 36 Filipino journalists filed a class-action suit against Arroyo, alleging that he stifled press freedom.
More than 600 Filipino reporters and foreign journalists have also signed a petition calling for the decriminalization of libel and criticizing "the propensity of public officials and figures like Mr. Arroyo of using our outdated laws to muzzle a critical press."
Under a 105-year-old law, people can be fined or sentenced to prison for libel.
Press freedom groups have also protested a series of killings of journalists in the Philippines, which has been listed among the world's most dangerous countries for media.


Updated : 2021-06-17 07:15 GMT+08:00