Senate hears proposals to decriminalize libel-A A +A
Monday, March 3, 2014
AS THE Senate takes up measures seeking to strike out some of the provisions of the anti-cybercrime law, the matter of decriminalizing libel appears to be one of the priority concerns of several groups of people, which include professionals, students and members of the media.
During a Senate hearing of the Senate committee on science and technology chaired by Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, the senator admitted that there are several unsettled issues on cyberlibel, despite the Supreme Court's decision upholding its constitutionality.
Recto earlier expressed his vocal stand for the delisting of libel as an offense in the Revised Penal Code (RPC).
Recto filed last February 27 Senate Bill 2146, effectively repealing all libel provisions in the RPC and Section 4 (c) 4 of Republic Act 10175, also known as the Cybercrime Act of 2012.
The best way to address the Supreme Court-upheld cyberlibel provision in the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 is to go to the source which is the RPC, Recto said.
In the bill's explanatory note, the senator echoed Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen's dissent on the Cybercrime Law "that libel prosecution has evolved from protecting both private citizens and public figures to its modern notion of shielding only private parties from defamatory utterances."
"To those who fear that decriminalizing libel would make defamation a national sport, I say that there remains other means to penalize slurs and smears," Recto said.
Even if libel will be decriminalized, the senator said there is another way that "scurrilous and defamatory remarks damaging to one's reputation" can be set right.
"A public official who complains about, say, a bad press is like a ship captain who complains about the sea. Besides, all public officials have resources and opportunities to rebut lies," Recto said.
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago and Senator Paolo Benigno "Bam" Aquino IV proposed to pass a Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom that will guarantee rights of Internet users.
The bill is being described as a "crowdsourced" measure that was formed by stakeholders such as bloggers, netizens, and human rights advocates.
Those who attended the hearing, which include representatives from the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, the National Press Club, National Union of Students of the Philippines, members of Democracy.net.ph, Media Defense Southeast Asia, and the Philippine Internet Freedom Alliance, echoed the same view by saying that online libel is against the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech.
Lawyer Gilbert Andres of Media Defense Southeast Asia even cited Article 19 of the freedom of expression of the United Nations - International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that the Philippine government agreed and signed on December 19, 1966 and ratified on Oct.23, 1986.
Andres said the online libel is an "outright defiance of UN human rights committee's view."
Andres specifically stated the following:
"Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference" and "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include 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."
A group of bloggers who also attended the hearing voiced out that the new law will definitely kill the right of every person to express one's opinion, their ideas and the truth.
Justice Assistant Secretary Geronimo Sy, who was also present during the hearing, confirmed that they are already focusing on the implementing rules and regulations of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.
Earlier, the Supreme Court ruled on February 18 to uphold the constitutionality of most provisions of Republic Act 10175.
The Supreme Court ruled that the controversial provision on online libel is constitutional, but is subject to one condition: only the original author, not those who simply receive or react to the post, can be penalized.
Under the RPC, libel carries a penalty of prision correccional in its minimum (six months and one day) and medium periods (two years, four months and one day to four years and two months). Under the cybercrime law, the penalty for online libel "carries a two-fold increase in the maximum penalty – from four years and two months to eight years. (Camille P. Balagtas/Sunnex)