GSIS to TUCP: Media has responsibility, too

Published by rudy Date posted on November 10, 2008

from The Daily Tribune

The State pension fund Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) has said its president and general manager, Winston Garcia, filed libel suits against certain newspaper columnists last week not to “bully the media,” but rather to remind journalists that they, too, have a responsibility to bear.

Reacting to the press statement made by the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) where TUCP urged Garcia “to stop bullying the press” with libel complaints, GSIS Executive Vice President Enriqueta Disuanco said it is the responsibility of the media to be fair and accurate with their reporting and not to use this power to destroy the reputation of a person or an institution.

“Mr. Garcia has no problems with regard to criticisms. He welcomes them, in fact. But when certain so-called journalists write about something that is totally baseless and, worse, filled with malice, he felt the need to defend himself,” she said. “He has his legal right, too, and he just exercised it,” she stressed.

Last Nov. 10, the GSIS chief filed libel complaints against Philippine Star opinion editor Ramon Lim and columnist Federico Pascual Jr.; Business Mirror opinion editor Lynn Ressureccion and columnists Raul Valino and Lito Gagni; Manila Times editor-in-chief Rene Bas and columnist Dan Mariano; and Alliance of Concerned Teachers president Antonio Tinio.

The complaints were filed against the respondents after they wrote (in Tinio’s case, he was quoted in various press releases) that the recent sale by the GSIS of its shares in the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) to San Miguel was a “bargain sale” even though the transaction value represented a hundred-percent premium from Meralco’s market price at that time; that Garcia had a conflict of interest in the sale as a member of the San Miguel board; and that Garcia allegedly retracted from his previous statement that the transaction was just worth P27 billion instead of P30 billion.

Worse, the respondents insinuated that somebody may have pocketed the supposed P3 billion in commission culled from this retraction that never really occurred.

As seen from the separate complaints filed by Garcia, the columnists made almost identical assertions, prompting the GSIS chief to describe their actions against him as “confederated libel,” apparently fed them by only one source.

He added he did not participate in any meeting of the board of San Miguel on anything that had to do with the GSIS, thus could not be accused of conflict of interest.

TUCP secretary general and former Senator Ernesto Herrera said in his statement that scornful criticism by the media forms part of the occupational hazards of public office, and if GSIS officials or other government executives cannot “stand the heat,” they should abandon their posts.

Disuanco countered that Garcia is not “onion-skinned” as he has been subjected to various criticisms before, on the different policies the GSIS has implemented to prolong its actuarial life and, most recently, on the prospects of the pension fund’s global investment program. On each case, Garcia accordingly answered each question and explained the side of the GSIS, she said.

Disuanco, however, emphasized that libelous statements should not be taken sitting down by anyone.

“When your integrity is trampled upon by malicious statements that are totally untrue, you have the legal right to protect yourself. Freedom of speech is not without its boundaries. Freedom with responsibility is not freedom from responsibility,” she said.

The GSIS executive added Garcia and the whole of GSIS have been transparent in answering the issues thrown against them, but she lamented that some groups just have a different agenda.

“You just can’t please everyone. Nonetheless, the GSIS will keep on answering the issues presented to it by our stakeholders, the media, lawmakers and other groups. They should just be responsible on what they say or write about the GSIS,” Disuanco said.

The GSIS official said the libel charges would, in fact, give the accused members of media the opportunity to prove that what they have written are true and were not motivated by malice or ill-will.

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