Tuesday, July 23, 2024

3 more senators push for decriminalization of libel

A couple of days after the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of online libel as provided for under the Cybercrime Law, three more senators have filed proposals to remove the penalty of imprisonment in libel cases.

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This is a day after a neophyte senator, Sonny Angara, renewed his call for the decriminalization of libel as he noted that the criminal nature of libel is no longer in tune with the times and that other countries only impose civil penalties for libel.

On Thursday, Senators Chiz Escudero, Teofisto “TG” Guingona III, and Alan Peter Cayetano all filed identical proposals seeking the decriminalization of libel.

Escudero said he first put the proposal in 2007 to decriminalize libel and the provisions that define and penalize libel under Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC).

“The Philippines, as a country deemed democratic and developing, cannot rest on its antiquated laws that run detrimental and contrary to the exercise of freedom,” Escudero said. “Decriminalizing libel accords greater protection to freedom of speech and expression.”

He added: “If we take away the threat of fear of incarceration and restraint of liberty, we encourage a strong print media to continuously provide a mechanism that promotes transparency over the excesses of government and other entities.”

According to Escudero, the existence of libel in Philippine laws is hurting the country’s global press freedom ranking, which has dropped in recent years from 147 out of 179 countries in 2013 and 140 in 2012 based on the World Press Freedom Index.

“I respect the decision of the High Court but there still lies a pressing need to pass the amendments removing the criminal provisions of libel as a crime.” These bills are only consistent with my long-time position to decriminalize libel from our statutes and just retain civil liabilities just so we also ensure that the exercise of our freedom of expression comes with equal responsibilities,” Escudero said.

Guingona also said he filed a similar bill (SBN 3374) in the 15th Congress that tried to decriminalize libel and promote freedom of speech and expression as mandated by the 1987 Constitution.

“We must not forget how hard we fought for the democracy that we now enjoy, and that includes our freedom to speak against erring public officials. It is counter intuitive therefore for us to have come this far and yet have the cloud of possible imprisonment impinge on the liberties that the very democracy we have fought for seeks to protect,” he said.

Guingona opined that no less than the Bill of Rights as enshrined in the 1987 Philippine Constitution guarantees that “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.”

The senator also cited Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of which the Philippines is a state party, that states “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression,” and that “this right shall include the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”

“This bill proposes to remove imprisonment as a penalty for libel because the threat of jail time sends a sufficient chilling effect on the freedom of expression,” Sen. Guingona said.

Cayetano, meanwhile, said the online libel provision is one of the reasons why he did not sign the Cybercrime Law.

“What is constitutional and what is legal is not necessarily what is moral and what is right. The Supreme Court based it on the legality of the provision. But on the wisdom of the law, that is for Congress to determine,” Cayetano said.

His bill, which he filed in July 1, 2013 during the first day of the 16th Congress, also calls for the repeal of Sections 5 and 7 of RA 10175 which was already declared as unconstitutional in part by the SC in its decision last Monday.

Cayetano further noted that although people are discouraged from making defamatory statements against others online, the Internet should still be regarded as a different kind of medium in which anyone has the right to express their views and opinions.

“True, we should not libel each other in the Internet. But it is also true that the internet is a different kind of medium… Hindi katulad yan, halimbawa, ng dyaryo. Kapag nilagay sa dyaryo, people will believe the credibility of the story, kaya dapat i-check muna ng mabuti ng mga journalist ang kanilang facts. But in the Internet, anyone says anything,” he said.

On the other hand, Cayetano is also pushing for the enactment of Senate Bill 245, which seeks to decriminalize libel and defamation.

The bill, he said, will pave the way for the creation of a Civil Defamation Law which will only impose civil penalties in the stead of criminal sanctions on all forms of defamation.

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