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Nov 05

First blood

An extremely rude, though not unexpected shock, this morning, with the news that the PCIJ blog has come under attack. And so it has come to pass, that after repeated attempts, one effort has finally succeeded. The courts have intervened when it comes to blog content.

Do read the PCIJ entry on the case in full. In its entry, the PCIJ says,

The PCIJ was served the temporary restraining order (TRO) today after the court granted the request of Tiongco’s wife, Rona, who said that the PCIJ blog post was an intrusion into “my private life and happy 12-year marriage with my husband” and a “grave violation of my rights and those of my minor children.”

In issuing the TRO, Quezon City RTC Presiding Judge Ralph S. Lee said that it had not yet ruled on the merits of Mrs. Tiongco’s allegations, but that an order removing the blog post was “the safer and more prudent recourse in order to safeguard and balance conflicting rights and interests of the parties/litigants.”

The court also banned the PCIJ, for the 20-day duration of the TRO, from “broadcasting, publishing or posting or causing to broadcast, publish, or post articles and statements similar and related to, or connected and in conjunction with,” that blog post. It is for this reason that we cannot repeat the facts about Tiongco that we had revealed in our blog post, nor can we say what Mrs. Tiongco found so offensive in it. (That post, however, is cached in Google and can be downloaded from the Google website, which is not covered by this court order.)

This is the first legal action, and the first TRO, issued against a blog in the Philippines.

It always seemed to be, that a restraining order is meant to prevent a potential action, but then again it might also cover an ongoing action, which I suppose a blog entry could be construed as being. But to target a blog entry, without targeting, say, television or radio, or even the papers, suggests at the very least that the difference of blogs with regards to traditional media, is that while an offended party may want to penalize a columnist, broadcaster, or radio announcer for a particular incident with a specific date, when it comes to bloggers, our work will be considered something of a continuing crime.

Or perhaps neither the lawyers of the offended party nor the magistracy have thought it through as much, and simply view the internet as a bulletin board, from which a person a can be instructed to remove an offending article. But do so, as Edwin Lacierda points out, is as futile as finding an offending article in a newspaper, and ordering every single copy of that day’s issue of the newspaper destroyed. As the PCIJ and everyone else has pointed out, once you post something on your blog or any online forum for that matter, you lose control of your content to a certain extent. Both Google and Yahoo have already archived the offending article, which includes the information Tiongco’s wife believes should not have been made public (and a part of me hopes a case is filed compelling both companies to follow the TRO: it will make news around the world and engage free speech advocates globally). The question will be, does a “PNP dossier” have the same status as, say, the blotter of a police station? Because once blottered, an incident becomes subject to public reportage and dissemination, being a public document.

This event also shows that a critical mass has been reached by a critical subset of the Filipino blogosphere: the lawyer-pundits. With Edwin Lacierda leading the charge, Punzi temporarily in shock they believe that this is about freedom of expression. Says Lacierda,

The judge violated a cardinal principle in the issuance of a TRO. The article complained of has already been published, in this case, posted. It was a done deed. That ought to have made the request for the issuance of a TRO moot and academic. You can no longer restrain an act that has already been performed. And even assuming that Mrs. Tiongco can make a compelling case of her privacy, the judge, if he knows how blogs work, could have ordered that particular paragraph alluding to Mr. Tiongco’s marital status removed, at most and not the wholesale censorship of the blog. Mrs. Tiongco’s request and the order of the judge is therefore, invalid and assuming it is valid, it is downright impractical.

Sassy Lawyer taking on a dissenting opinion, saying that this is about the right to privacy:

PCIJ is quick to point to that decision. However, while the central issue there is the right to freedom of expression, the central issue in the current case is the right to privacy. PCIJ plans to make a collateral attack on the privacy issue by raising the right to freedom of expression. Bad move, I think. Personally, I don’t like sneaky defenses. They’re weak. I’d attack the issue squarely by saying that no privacy was invaded because the blog entry contained nothing that wasn’t already public knowledge at the time of publication. If that, in fact, is the case of course. Okay, unsolicited legal advice, sorry. At any rate, I have a lot of respect for the law firm representing PCIJ and since their lawyers are the ones privy to the facts, they are in the best position to decide which move is best.

All views, nonetheless appreciates the seriousness of the situation, not just journalist-bloggers but lawyer-bloggers have come of age. Quite clearly, media bloggers, from Jove Francisco, to Leon Kilat, to Piercing Pens, are concerned. Is this a government effort, aimed at the PCIJ, for whom the Palace surely has no love lost? It depends on whether Mrs. Tiongco can afford, personally, her legal team, and the process in which she and her lawyer have become engaged. It depends, too, on whether her case can be separated from prior efforts to bring the PCIJ to court. Obviously, it cannot: Tiongco, the husband, went to the Supreme Court; after that effort failed, his wife then went to an inferior court. My view is that the government has been out to get PCIJ and Newsbreak for some time, and that the blogosphere is small potatoes for the Palace. This is about those two organizations, and they deserve our fullest support: this will not end until the Palace exacts whatever vengeance will satisfy its people.

The PCIJ already received some grief at the hands of Inquirer columnist Vic Agustin, who asked some questions concerning the funding of PCIJ and Newsbreak magazine at a time when both organizations were incurring the ire of the Palace for their reportage. Newsbreak itself, after being harassed, subsequently discovered that its offices had been bugged. The President’s continued belligerence toward ABS-CBN is just the latest example of her attitude towards media she does not control. The thoughts of Marites Vitug, editor-in-chief of Newsbreak, are all the more relevant today: we have a lot to learn from South Korea.

(Update: Dean Jorge Bocobo in Philippine Commentary, weighs in too).

Via Belmont Club, this entry in neo-neocon, with further links to an essay by Theodore Dalrymple and another essay by Francis Fukuyama (who mentions the death anniversary of Theo van Gogh: on that day, apparently, small dead animals points out, Muslim riots broke out in a town in Denmark). Philippine Commentary argues cogently that the Philippines must embark on a genuine War on Terror, because the threat is real. But I recall the remarks Gen. Anthony Zinni, a critic of the Bush war in Iraq, made at a conference I recently attended: “How can you declare war against a tactic?” he asked. One might as well proclaim a Crusade against Outflanking Maneuvers.

Leon Kilat has a fascinating entry on trying to keep all his data and work online.

Just a note that it would be nice if TV news ratings were this transparently available. This suggestion indicates that the unfortunate Blogs of the Round Table was onto a good thing.

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  1. gari

    wondering whether right to privacy supercedes freedom of expression?

    i think freedom of expression is much a greater causa than claims that Tiongco’s right to privacy has been violated.

    isn’t it a circumstancial evidence that jonathan tiongco, coming forward as a public figure in defense of garci tape and i presume, under oath means that he is waiving their rights to privacy.

    with the controversy being out there, don’t they [the QCRTC] think that other blogger will be reproducing the same entry just like what you did?

    i think, if Tionco’s wife is serious with her allegation of invasion of privacy, i think she should also file complaints against google for archiving the entry.

    well, i think that what they’ve done in private has now become public and the public no longer think it as private anymore.

    or maybe, it’s just my thought and i am not a lawyer after all.

  2. DJB

    There is a species of spider that lives in damp swamps of Borneo, the females of which carry their young on their backs, sometimes up to 200 lil arachnids clinging to the hairs of the mother spider. Swatting the mother, as every human young’un in those parts soon learns, only unleashes the progeny in a terrifying cloud and shower of angry copies of her.

  3. Ed

    Good luck with the TRO cos they cant touch the servers. The servers are in the US ( i know this because I have my own web hosting company also ) if they want to shut down the pcij blog they might have to get an order from a US court.

    thats what I think.

  4. cvj

    Framing the analysis as ‘war on terror’ versus ‘appeasement’ is simplistic if not entirely unexpected. We must not buy into the Neocons’ ideologically driven war to defend the USA’s dominance which is definitely not in the Filipinos’ interest. We will just increase our chances of becoming collateral damage in what is basically a struggle between two evils.

    There is however the genuine question of how to defend against terrorism as a tactic. There is a clear need to eliminate the risk of a small group whatever their motivations to disrupt the lives of the general population. In this matter, there are practical issues that need to be sorted out. For instance, we may have to give up our right to anonymity (without somehow giving up our right to privacy which must in no way be compromised.) Calling this a ‘war’ is at best a poor use of words. Competence, not misguided ideology, should be the focus.

  5. Karl M. Garcia

    How stupid Someone tested the speed of the TRO and the Blog….Blogs are almost instantaneous and TROs now matter how fast a complainant is he can never outrun a blogster….

    It is a futile attempt, even with the TRO no one can stiop other blogsters who may have copied or saved it to express their views.
    It appears not only in cahes of google but any search engine for that matter which may have been used before the blog was ordered deleted.

  6. djuara

    “testing the water” is a more appropriate term perhaps to the TRO
    issued by the quezon rtc, the TRO is full of loopholes yet it has been issued.

    this action taken against the PCIJ must be given the widest media coverage, for one simple reason the so called invasion of one’s privacy is not defined specifically neither could the judge cite any vituperative statement, but again the TRO has been issued.

    this serves notice to the active media in the blogosphere
    the present government will not stop at anything that tries
    to expose the ills and wrongs in its administration it will find ways to circumvent if not warp the basic understanding and the right definition of an existing law, for its own survival, beware….

  7. Karl M. Garcia

    I maintain and reiterate what i said about the futility of a TRO against the PCIJ .he blogosphre is not only open to media practitioners ,it is open to ordinary people like me.

    Reading and reacting to this particular blog for example may prove that at least for now the TRO proved to be useless.

    I do not condone people getting around the law and I believe that the law will catch up with some one , one way or the other.
    I am saying that it issuing TROs against one pticular media outfit will not stop the bloggers who have read the questioned blog and spread word about it.
    Unfortunately for the complainants all they can get is the so called pampalubang loob. Come to think of iot for some it is enough.

  8. Zach Harden

    I still also think that Yahoo and Google will not comply with the TRO, since both servers are located in the USA and outside of the scope of Filipino law. There was a case where the USA allowed websites, located on US servers, to display symbols of Nazi Germany and it said that American websites do not have to comply with French law about the display of the said symbols. Plus, if the main blog allows RSS feeds, then there could be a possibility that this post will be on a blog somewhere in a country other than the Philippines.

  9. ricelander

    Interesting to find out how the antiquated legal system could check the crawling blogosphere. Technology vs suppressors: let’s see who wins.

  10. Karl

    Respect and trust are the two values we Filipinos must optimize.
    It is correct that ones privacy must be not be trivialized.
    Like our tendency to talk about others,but upon hearing our name being talked about we will be fuming mad .
    We all see that in showbiz news on how public figures often cry for privacy only to be rebuked by veteran show biz writers that they are owned by the public.

    It is a good thing that most(highlite most) bloggers are responsible enough in their blogs. Media bloggers may claim its their job to investigate and the news trigerred their investigation but unfortunately we are over showered with showbiz news that we think that everything shoud be treated as such.

  11. parol

    Kjempe kuuuul hjemmeside du har.

  1. Divergent Poles => * <= » Blog Archive » The Last Political Blog in the Top 10

    […] According to the Sassy Lawyer, the issue is all about violating the right to privacy by the Tiongco’s; however MLQ III is thinking it’s more about the freedom of free speech. I happen to lean towards what Sassy Lawyer’s take. […]

  2. Global Voices Online » Blog Archive » Court Orders Philippine Blog to Remove Post

    […] The action spurred much commentary across the Philippine blogosphere, particularly among its most active participants: journalist-bloggers and lawyer-bloggers. Media blogger Jove Francisco fretted that the court action could frustrate efforts by both the local mainstream media and bloggers to police themselves, while columnist-blogger Dean Jorge Bocobo calculated that the Tiangco action will end up where most libel suits in the Philippines go: dead in the water. Law professor-blogger Edwin Laceirda launched an email-writing campaign. Journalist-blogger Manuel L. Quezon III called for full support of PCIJ and its print magazine Newsbreak. Sassy Lawyer isn’t so sure, pointing out that the PCIJ backgrounder on Tiangco didn’t have to mention his marital arrangements: [I]f you must write to the Supreme Court regarding this issue, then write you must. We all want to see the right to freedom of expression upheld. But neither should we triviliaze Rona Tiongco’s right to privacy. If we do that, we triviliaze our own right to privacy. […]

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