(CNN Philippines) — A media expert and professor of journalism maintains that the right of the public to know takes precedence over other considerations, including court proceedings.
Professor Luis Teodoro of the University of the Philippines and deputy director of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) told CNN Philippines'Newsroom on Wednesday (May 13) that the media were the only venues where the the people can access information that is of public interest.
"I think the media has a superior right to provide the information," he said.
This developed after the camp of Vice President Jejomar Binay reacted and threatened to sue a major broadsheet for running a story on a Court of Appeals (CA) decision to freeze the bank accounts of Binay, his wife Elenita Binay, their son Mayor Junjun Binay and 30 others totaling P600 million — as petitionedby the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).
In separate statements, Binay's counsels and spokespersons maintained that such proceedings should have been kept in strict confidentiality as provided by law, specifically citing Section 14 of the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA).
Atty. Claro Certeza said it was regrettable that the strict confidentiality of a proceeding involving an ex parte petition, meaning the respondents' side was not yet heard, was being "brazenly violated."
"Those violating the confidentiality rule being liable for contempt, as well as criminal prosecution," Certeza said.
Office of the Vice President (OVP) for media affairs head Joey Salgado, likewise, said those who publish such matters can be taken to court.
He pointed to the Liberal Party (LP) as behind the move to leak a copy of the freeze order to the media in an effort to derail Binay's presidential bid next year.
For Teodoro, no one should be threatening any media organization with a suit, even adding that the AMLA itself should be amended because it impinges on the right of people to information.
"So i think that is one of the messages that this incident is saying. The other message that it's sending is that it tends to imply, it tends to suggest that Vice President Binay is hiding something. I mean, unfortunately that's how people will react," he said.
Teodoro noted the huge public interest involved in the issue — which already took up 20 Senate Blue Ribbon Subcommittee probes into the alleged anomalies in Makati.
No legal violation here
For her part, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima noted that the confidentiality rule being discussed here only covered ongoing inquiries, not court orders that have already been issued.
A lawyer, Nilo Divina, also told CNN Philippines that while the proceedings of the AMLC are confidential, court decisions are not.
"Once the Court of Appeals issues a freeze order, that becomes public document," Divina said.
Meanwhile, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV said in a text message that the freeze order was another validation of the corruption allegations against the vice president, and that he was "curious to find out how his spokesmen would choke on their explanations."
On a possible suit, Trillanes, who is a member of the Subcommittee investigating the Binays, said it was a direct threat to press freedom.
"I just hope our media won't be cowed."
The AMLC petition stemmed from complaints filed by Nicolas Enciso VI and Atty. Renato Bondal at the Office of the Ombudsman in connection with the alleged irregularities in the construction of the Makati City Hall Building II and Makati Science High School.
CNN Philippines' Anna Estanislao and AC Nichols contributed to this report.