Manila, August 18, 2003 (STAR) By JP LOPEZ and JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR  - Opposition lawmakers yesterday chided President Arroyo for allegedly berating television reporter Tina Cassandra Panganiban-Perez for interviewing Sen. Gregorio Honasan, who is charged with leading the civilian component of the July 27 mutiny.

"President Arroyo's public scolding of a newswoman was unpresidential and uncalled for. Maybe she sought to know, she ought to be reminded that she isn't a queen and we're not living in Middle Ages," Sen. Aquilino Pimentel said.

In Cabanatuan City, House minority Leader Carlos Padilla said Arroyo should declare a "state of national insecurity."

"Yung ginagawa niyang tinutugis ang opposisyon at kung anu-ano ang ibinibintang, tinatarayan pati ang mga media, ito sa aking palagay ay nagiging insecure ang ating Presidente," he said.

Minority leader Sen. Vicente Sotto III and Sen. Teresa Oreta said there was nothing wrong with the interview because the charges against Honasan have not even been filed in court.

"Why are they treating Honasan as a fugitive? I thought they said they are following due process? Why are they now treating him as a rebel?" Sotto III asked.

He said Perez, a reporter of GMA Network, could not be accused of abetting rebellion because the interview was conducted after the President lifted the state of rebellion last Aug. 11.

"So it's very clear that they are trying to sow fear among media," Sotto III said. "That's not good for press freedom."

Oreta said the latest display of Arroyo's temper cast a cloud of fear over the media and shoved the Arroyo administration even closer to a "garrison state" that the late Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. warned the nation about in a 1968 speech.

"Unwittingly or otherwise, Mrs. Arroyo's not-so-veiled threat that journalists who cover Honasan are abetting rebellion smacks of media harassment and intimidation," she said.

Oreta said Malacaņang's attempt to clamp down on media was first shown in the arrest of Tribune publisher Ninez Cacho-Olivares days after the Makati mutiny.

She said Olivares was not given time to exhaust all legal remedies, including the right to a counsel, at the time of her arrest over a libel case filed by F. Arturo Villaraza, private counsel of Arroyo and her family.

The President went to GMA Network Inc. last Saturday "to clarify with network officials that Malacaņang never intended to pursue legal action against GMA reporter Tina Panganiban-Perez," the network said in a statement.

Press Secretary Milton Alingod, who was a former executive of the network, said Arroyo also assured the network that the government has no plan to muzzle media.

"Nobody is under surveillance," he said.

Marita Jimenez, presidential adviser on official development assistance, said the government was not coercing anyone in the media to focus on stories the government wanted played up.

Jimenez also denied that the President berated Perez at the Microtel Inn and Suites in Calapan, Oriental Mindoro, last Friday.

Jimenez said in an interview with dzBB that the President was in a good mood during the dinner and was even teasing Perez when she said, "Hoy, siguro ang gusto mo lang interview-hin si Gringo."

She said the President never shouted during her exchange with Perez, adding that some television stations even had to use subtitles when they showed the footage because "the President's voice was too soft."

"I am so concerned na iba ang lumabas. I think our press should really do something about this," Jimenez said.

She also clarified Arroyo was referring to a different story reported by Perez when she mentioned "abetting rebellion," and not to the interview with Honasan.

Jimenez did not disclose the story the President referred to.

Jimenez, who was seated between the President and Perez during the Friday dinner, said Arroyo informed Perez in a very soft and casual voice, "O, Tina, our assets saw you in a particular situation and that happened before the state of rebellion was lifted."

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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