GSIS VP hit for 'press intimidation'

ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 08 2009 12:02 PM | Updated as of May 08 2009 09:27 PM

A warrant of arrest was issued Friday morning for journalist Cheche Lazaro for alleged wiretapping, a case which the veteran broadcaster said was a way of intimidating the press.

According to Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) vice president Ella Valencerina, Lazaro wiretapped their phone conversation in November 2008 and aired portions of it on ABS-CBN’s “Probe” without her consent.

Lazaro said she and her lawyers will be posting a P12,500 bail this afternoon at the Pasay City Hall of Justice.

The anchor of ANC’s “Media in Focus” will file bail at the building's room 205, branch 47, the sala of Judge Josephine Advento Vito Cruz.

“It is mind-boggling why I am being singled out for prosecution for doing my job as a responsible journalist [or for following the tenets of responsible journalism],” said Lazaro in a Probe statement.

“If raising the concerns of underpaid public school teachers deprived of their benefits by a publicly-accountable government institution and giving my accuser the airtime to explain her boss's side of the story are now considered crimes under our laws, then I plead guilty,” she added.

Lazaro explained on “Mornings @ ANC” that the Probe story pertains to the “retirement fund of teachers who have been working in the public school system for most of their life and who filed for retirement. And the case here is that these teachers did not get their full retirement benefits.”

“A teacher that we interviewed worked for a full 35 years but only got 32 years in benefits,” she noted.

“We thought that this is a public interest issue that needs to be addressed, that needs to be answered by a publicly-accountable government institution like the GSIS. And instead of focusing on the story of these teachers, they decided to focus on this wiretapping case,” said Lazaro.

Intimidation of the press? 

She also related that she submitted a counter-affidavit stating that the phone interview, spanning close to 10 minutes, was taped. “Valencerina knew about this because I told her and we have tapes to prove that.”

She reasoned that Valencerina was “aware that the conversation was being taped and the portions that we issued on the episode that we presented on ABS-CBN were exactly the words that she used in a letter which she wrote us.”

Lazaro is the only one facing the wiretapping case at the moment. “They have made it a point to singularly point me out as the person who wiretapped the whole conversation that they alleged was wiretapping. That is not true,” she said.

“I think this is intimidation of the press. They are trying to send a message to the press and using me as a sample for this kind of a message,” she noted.

Lazaro, meantime, also mentioned in her statement, “This is a small price to pay for bringing a perfectly legitimate public interest issue out in the open.”

She continued, “I just wish my accuser(s) will play fair and hire private lawyers instead of using government lawyers (from the GSIS), whose salaries are incidentally paid for by, among others, the teachers shortchanged by the questionable policy of the GSIS and private citizens like me who pay taxes.”
 
“In the last 22 years, Probe has carved a niche in the industry and won recognition here and abroad for consistently adhering to time-honored journalistic values of accuracy, fairness and objectivity. My team and I have no plans of changing the way we work just to accommodate the personal agenda of people in power,” she concluded.