Cabral’s libel case, bad for blogging

Secretary Esparanza Cabral, formerly of the DSWD and currently with the Department of Health. Photo grabbed from the DSWD website.

Secretary Esperanza Cabral is apparently harassing the blogger who blogged about the relief goods stockpiled in warehouses of the agency she used to head in the aftermath of supertyphoon Ondoy (Ketsana). She has filed a libel case against Ella Ganda for supposedly defaming her, the men and women of the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the agency itself.

Cabral is committing a grave mistake for which she would probably shame herself before the court which will hear the libel case. The subsequent events after Ella Ganda published her controversial post — Cabral admitting that there indeed were plenty of relief goods in DSWD warehouses and Cabral accepting the offer of citizens to help in repacking them to speed up distribution, the online community’s response to such call for volunteers — would only confirm what the blogger wrote. In fact, Ella Ganda did the country a favor by ensuring speedy and transparent distribution of these relief goods for their intended recipients.

It is doubtful too whether Cabral, the entire DSWD, the National Bureau of Investigation and the state prosecutors could prove malice on the part of the blogger. I think the blog post in question was an expression of concern over how the government was perceived to be working at a time when tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands were waiting for relief aid. There is no indication in the blog post that the blogger maliciously wrote about the relief goods she claimed to have seen “rotting” in one such DSWD warehouse. By “rotting”, she may have meant being left there even amid the dire situation of Ondoy evacuees.

Authorities have so far failed to identify the person behind Ella Ganda so we suspect this will delay the legal proceedings. But if she surfaces and she fights back, I am hopeful the online community and ordinary citizens would rise up and back her up.

Cabral, an alter-ego of President Arroyo, should not use her powers to intimidate Ella Ganda and consequently the blogging community into a false sense of objectivity. She must recognize that her position carries with it the responsibility of accepting criticism and fair comment from the public she has sworn to serve. Criticism is part of the territory she has placed herself into.

[Of course, there are opposing views on this issue, but I think Cabral is going overboard in her drive to save face. She could just have answered back by publishing a full accounting of relief goods that passed through the DSWD and other government agencies, when they were received and from whom, whenand where they were distributed, etc. The government owes such a report to the donors and the citizens to whom these agencies and officials are accountable.]

We owe it to ourselves, future bloggers and netizens and our readers to defend our fundamental rights to free expression, to redress of grievance, to fair comment, to hold government accountable and to exchange of information without threats of persecution a la Cabral.  If it goes unchallenged, it would be bad for blogging, sending a chilling effect on the online community.

Otherwise, blogging and the internet would be useless, toothless and bereft of the hope for great possibilities as we have seen in the great bayanihan after Ondoy. That would be a sad terrible day when our rights and the medium we have grown to love would itself “rot”.