The local government unit (LGU) of Guimba, Nueva Ecija, is set to file a complaint against local radio station Radyo Natin Guimba (RNG) for alleged false reports.
On May 11, the municipal council adopted a resolution allowing Mayor Jose Dizon to take legal action against RNG, whether civil, administrative, or criminal.
Guimba Secretary to the Mayor Oliver Domingo told Rappler on Friday, May 22, that the LGU is pushing through with a complaint against the station and will file it on Tuesday, May 26.
The complaint cited an alleged violation of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, particularly Section 6 (f), which punishes the creation, perpetration, and spread of false information related to the coronavirus crisis.
The penalty for such violation is "imprisonment of two (2) months or a fine of not less than Ten Thousand Pesos but not more than One Million Pesos, or both such imprisonment and fine, at the discretion of the court." (READ: Bayanihan Act's sanction vs 'false' info the 'most dangerous')
The complaint was made with regard to statements by RNG about the supposed "pending" status at the municipal council of the P25-million grant from the national government to the municipality, as well as the existence of a P16-million "supplemental budget."
In the complaint, Dizon said that the municipal council already approved the P25-million budget and that there was no approved P16-million supplemental budget.
However, RNG station manager Gie Herrera said they had video footage of the session where this was discussed.
"Sa bibig po nila galing iyon, sa sesyon ng Sangguniang Bayan, at meron po [kaming video footage] regarding that," Herrera told Rappler. (It came from their own mouths, in the municipal council session, and we have video footage regarding that.)
The LGU also made other allegations against the station, including that they made senior citizens hold placards containing demands, like "Nasaan po ayuda sa amin (Where is our aid?)" and "Help us." Herrera said they merely covered these seniors that were holding the placards.
In a statement on May 20, RNG condemned the passage of the resolution, calling it a move that outrightly suppresses press freedom as well as the people's right to ask for aid amid the community quarantine.
The station also made other claims of previous tussles with the LGU and Guimba police, such as how cops prohibited their reporter from taking photos and videos of the people appealing for emergency subsidy at the office of the mayor and the Municipal Social Welfare and Development Office. Public Information Officer Sherwin Guiuo said that this was for security purposes.
Moreover, RNG said that, on May 19, police allegedly apprehended their field reporter at a coverage, telling them to acquire a permit from the mayor first. Guiuo said that the LGU does not issue such a permit.
"Hindi kami papayag sa ginagawang harassment ng LGU-Guimba. Tungkulin namin na mag-ulat ng tama at makatotohanang impormasyon sa mamamayan na kanilang batayang karapatan. Hindi kami papayag na paglabag sa Bayanihan to Heal as One Act ang malayang pamamahayag," RNG's statement read.
(We will not allow the harassment being done by the Guimba local government unit. It is our duty to report the truth and accurate information to the public which is their basic right. We will not agree to the interpretation that press freedom is a violation of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.)
The AlterMidya Network also issued a statement on the "direct attacks" against RNG, claiming that these were made in response to the station's reports on the LGU's "problematic implementation" of the emergency subsidy program.
"Reporting the people's grievances and demands is the solemn duty of the media; it is not a crime," the statement read.
"Local government executives should keep in mind that that the current national emergency does not empower officials to silence dissent and curtail press freedom, both of which are essential to a functional democracy in which elected officials are duty-bound to defend the Constitution," AlterMidya said. – Rappler.com
Loreben Tuquero is a researcher-writer for Rappler. Before transferring to Rappler's Research team, she covered transportation, Quezon City, and the Department of the Interior and Local Government as a reporter. She graduated with a communication degree from the Ateneo de Manila University.