Journalist gets death threat after release of book on Supreme Court

By Aries Rufo, abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak

Posted at Mar 22 2010 06:27 PM | Updated as of Mar 23 2010 05:41 AM

MANILA, Philippines (1st UPDATE) - Newsbreak editor-in chief Marites Danguilan Vitug has received death threats through text messages from an unknown sender.

The threatening messages came following the release of her hot-selling book on the judiciary, "Shadow of Doubt."

Vitug said the first text message she received “was about the pen being mightier than the sword.” The sender added: “But the sword kills faster than the word.”

The second text message was more explicit: “Kaya pala maraming napapatay na journalists dahil katulad mo. May katwiran pala si Ampatuan na pagpapatayin ang mga journalists. Sana nakasama ka dun, malay mo malapit na. (Your kind is one of the reasons why journalists are being killed. Ampatuan has valid reason to kill those journalists. I hope you were one of them. You’ll never know, it could be sooner)”

The Ampatuan political clan in Maguindanao has been tagged as the mastermind in the November 23, 2009 killings of 57 people, including at least 30 journalists. The massacre has been described as the worst attack of its kind against journalists.

We called the sender’s cell number, 09091348825, but it could not be contacted, as of posting time.

A warning, intimidation?

Vitug, in a statement, pointed out that the threat “comes after the release of my book, Shadow of Doubt.  The sender wants to intimidate me or warn me. I want to make this public because this is the best protection.”

Vitug immediately reported the death threat to National Capital Region Police Command director Roberto Rosales.

The controversial book launched Tuesday last week, probed into the inner workings in the Supreme Court and the dynamics of personal relationships among the justices that affect how decisions of the high court are reached.

Prior to the launch, Vitug was slapped with a libel suit by Justice Presbitero Velasco for an article she wrote last year in ABS-CBN's news website, abs-cbnnews.com.  Newsbreak is a content provider of abs-cbnnews.com.

Some unidentified men were also observed monitoring her activities before the book launch.

"Shadow of Doubt" touched on some sensitive cases and controversies in and outside the High Court.  There were not-so-subtle attempts to spoil the publication of the book.  The publisher backed out at the last minute, and a major bookstore chain refused to carry the book on its shelves.

NUJP urges protection, probe

Meanwhile, in a statement, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) condemned the threatening message sent to Vitug, and demanded that she be given protection.

The NUJP also urged authorities "to investigate the threats and those responsible for making them."

"Surely, Vitug is not the first, nor will she be the last, Filipino journalist whose work people will disagree with. But that she is threatened with death because someone has obviously taken offense at what she has written again highlights the culture of impunity that has emboldened those who wish to silence a dynamic and critical Philippine press to impose the ultimate form of censorship on those whose only sin is to strive to deliver the truth as best as they can to their audiences," the NUJP said.

"Indeed, Vitug did right to make the threats public. The pattern of media murders in this country shows such threats have invariably preceded actual attack. But even if the threats are intended more to intimidate than to warn of any actual harm, they are no less odious," the NUJP said. 

"If anything, Vitug deserves praise for the courage to focus the spotlight on an institution that, for all its importance in our national life, very few of our people actually know and understand. This, after all, is the role journalism plays in any genuine democracy - that of stripping away the mystique that often surrounds the way government and its instrumentalities work so that the people may judge whether that government is true to its mandate to serve them," the group added.