19 February 2010

Cracking Down on Opinion Blogs

Blog ni Ella
Many breaking news nowadays were not heard and seen first via the traditional forms of media. Online communities are making their presence felt by allowing people to discuss an issue more vigorously and chime in their opinions. The debates have become more colorful and spirited online that its not surprising to see some readers plainly gossiping about them.

This is what happened when Ella Ganda first reported a supposedly massive stock of relief goods that wasn't making it out of the warehouse of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in the aftermath of Tropical Storm 'Ondoy'. The report had the local online community gawking, crying, shaking its head, and cracking its knuckles because the storm was responsible for killing almost 600 Filipinos and left thousands more homeless.

The blog entry entitled "Aanhin pa ang damo kung patay na ang kabayo (What good is help that comes if it is too late)," was picked up by many bloggers, including PolitEkon, because it was simply an excellent piece of blogging and citizen journalism. The author even supplemented the post with photographs, which showed how imported goods remained untouched while paltry relief packages were being sent out.

Even the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) hailed the post as a very comprehensive analysis about the situation at the DSWD warehouse:

It was informative, detailed, and well-documented, and it was written in a light, informal tone that resonated with any blog reader. It also asked pertinent questions: Why was it so hard to sign up to volunteer? Why wasn’t the facility taking in more volunteers when other venues had a surplus of them? What was going to happen to the relief goods once the damage from Ondoy becomes out of sight and out of mind?
As expected, DSWD was quick to defend its case both online and in traditional media outlets.

DSWD rip into Ella's contention that the relief goods were 'rotting" in the warehouse, saying that no such thing was happening because the goods was non-perishable. They conveniently omitted the fact that partly because of the blog post they eventually were able to muster enough volunteers to get all the relief goods rolling out.

What happened next was shameful display of pure harassment. A case where a Cabinet secretary used the government to move her own case forward.

Former Social Welfare and now Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral claimed that the blog entry contained "malicious imputations against her, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and its employees." Hence, she asked the NBI to investigate the identity of the blogger and file a libel case against her.

Libel? What is libelous about the blog post entry that included these comments:
I don't want to accuse (Cabral) of corruption but at the very least she is showing signs of being totally incompetent. We are in a state of calamity where every second counts. May namamatay araw-araw dahil sa sakit (There is someone dying every day because of illness). In my opinion these deaths could have been prevented if Secretary Cabral had tried a little harder to do her job.
The author used that posts to discuss in her 'own opinion' why a line department of the government was relying on the private sector to do its job, considering the manpower at the beck and call of executive officials.

It was obvious that there was no malice involved. Hence, libel will never be proven in this case. And since the matter is one of public concern, the libel jurisprudence is on the blogger's side.

Hopefully, this case will not make the netizens stop expressing their opinions and challenge the officialdom of DSWD and now the DOH.