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Broadcast journalist Che-Che Lazaro posts bail over alleged wiretapping case
[May 12, 2009]

Broadcast journalist Che-Che Lazaro posts bail over alleged wiretapping case

MANILA, May 11, 2009 (Asia Pulse Data Source via COMTEX) -- Veteran broadcast journalist Cecillia ?Che-Che? Lazaro recently posted bail before the Pasay City Regional Trial Court (RTC) in connection with a wiretapping case an official of the state-run Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) filed against her.

Accompanied by her lawyers and teachers from the Teachers Dignity Coalition (TDC) and the Manila Public School Teachers Association (MPSTA), Lazaro posted P12,500 as bail for her temporary liberty after Judge Josephine Vitocruz of the Pasay Metropolitan Trial Court Branch 47 issued an arrest warrant against the journalist May 7.

Ella Valencerina, GSIS vice president for Public Relations and Communications, accused Lazaro of violating Republic Act 4200 or the Anti-Wiretapping Law.

Lazaro denied that she and her staff, who were also earlier named respondents in the complaint, violated the law.

The Anti-Wiretapping Act prohibits the recording of any private communications or spoken word without the consent of all parties involved.

Those who will be found guilty are liable to a prison term of not less than six months or more than six years.

In her complaint-affidavit, Valencerina said Lazaro ?in conspiracy? with Probe Productions, Inc. staff members and Maria Ressa, head of the public affairs division of broadcast network ABS-CBN, secretly recorded and without her consent aired their 10 November 2008 phone conversation in an episode of the late-night documentary show Probe.

Probe, which Lazaro hosted, is produced by Probe Productions, Inc. and aired on ABS-CBN 2 as a block time program.

The segment Perwisyong Benepisyo (Troubled Benefit) tackled problems in the GSIS Premium-Based Policy.

Lazaro and the other respondents filed through their counsel a memorandum to dismiss the case for lack of probable cause before the city prosecutor on 26 March 2009.

In the memorandum, the respondents said Valencerina was informed that the telephone conversation was being recorded, contrary to what she alleged in her complaint.

The memorandum stated that the respondents have filed their respective counter-affidavits to the complaint along with the full and unedited recording of the phone conversation, which showed that Valencerina was informed of the recording, and the complete episode of Perwisyong Benepisyo.

In a statement, Lazaro said: ?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.? ?It is mind-boggling why I am being singled out for prosecution for doing my job as a responsible journalist or for following the tenets of responsible journalism,? Lazaro said.

?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,? she said.

In a related development, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) branded the latest development in the case as ?absurd and dangerous? saying it sent the wrong signal to journalists and press freedom in general.

?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,? the CMFR statement said.

The group's statement said: ?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.? The group also chided the GSIS official for filing the case.

?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,? it said. (PNA)

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