Judge fines journalist told to defend self

Posted at 01/18/13 11:31 PM

MANILA, Philippines - A community journalist in Virac, Catanduanes has been fined P30,000 by a judge who accused him of indirect contempt for an article that allegedly maligned her, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said Friday.

"Island Sandigan" publisher-editor Carmelo "Mel" Rima, who did not have a lawyer in the proceeding, was also ordered by Virac Regional Trial Court Executive Judge Lelu Contreras to publish an apology in newspapers in exchange for a jail term, NUJP-Catanduanes chairperson Ramil Soliveres said in a press statement.

The indirect contempt charge stemmed from an article that criticized those involved in the controversial naturalization of the incumbent governor of the province, according to the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR).

Rima was arrested January 15 on Contreras' order and he spent 3 nights at the local police camp.

The judge ordered Rima's detention even when Rule 71, Sec. 4 of the Revised Rules of Court allows imprisonment only for direct contempt, the NUJP said.

Rima who is recovering from throat cancer, decided to apologize than serve a jail term because he fears that he might die in prison, the organization added.

Public Attorney's Office lawyer Emmanuel Pelea and private lawyer Leo Mendoza  were initially set to represent him but backed out.

Mendoza cited conflict of interest since he is a brother in law of Gov. Joseph Cua, who was cited in Rima's article.

Judge Contreras felt she was alluded to in the artice as the judge who had a hand in allegedly forging Cua's naturalization documents.

The NUJP said the judge proceeded with the hearing, reportedly telling the lawyerless Rima: "Hindi mo ba kayang depensahan ang sarili mo? Di ba matalino ka naman? (You can defend yourself, can't you? You're smart enough, right?)"

Rima asked for additional time to find a lawyer, but the judge denied his request. Contreras reportedly told Rima that he could defend himself.

The journalist posted a P20,000 bond earlier in the day.

Judge Contreras, however, did not sign a release order, saying that the hearing would be  in the afternoon anyway, according to CMFR.