Editorial: Decriminalizing libel-A A +A
Wednesday, September 4, 2013
A FEW congressmen have already attempted to pass a law that decriminalizes libel. Our City Mayor Rodrigo R. Duterte, in his short stint as congressman did. Nothing came of it.
Recently, Bayan Muna Party-list Reps. Carlos Isagani T. Zarate and Neri J. Colmenares filed House Bill 1324, which again tries to decriminalize libel. The bill cites a valuable passage in the Philippine Constitution: The Constitution guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Specifically, Section 4, Article III of our fundamental law, in part, provides that “(N)o law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press.”
Of course, this very section is the most often ignored and violated.
It’s been more than four decades since Martial Law was declared by the most hated dictator at the time, President Ferdinand E. Marcos, but the culture of abuse of authority spawned by that decade remains. We see it in the abuse of government funds. We see it in the killings of helpless indigenous people’s leader who dare stand up against development aggression. We see it in every journalist’s death, and yes, we see it in the government’s refusal to decriminalize libel.
Doing so is like asking politicians to give up a bit of their power, the power to silence without necessarily pulling a trigger. Libel as a criminal offense is the significant other of the practice of killing journalists and everyone else who dares stand up and voice out their protest against a person, against an ill-doing.
In the explanatory note of HB 1324, it reads: Accordingly, our libel law was enacted to protect private citizens from unwarranted damage to reputation. Today, however, the law has been increasingly used by public officials as a tool to cow and muzzle an independent press. Indeed, the law is meant to shield the subjects of reporting and comment from media abuse. Yet, it has become the convenient and predominant way for those in power to harass and silence critical and opposing voices.
We say, amen.
But that is precisely why we hold little hope of such a law being passed, not with the system of government we have now, not with the type of legislative officials out there. But then, as oft been said, hopes springs eternal. Who knows? Maybe, with all these exposes on how corrupt politicians really are, there will be those who will finally dispel the wrong road and finally find what is now just a mythical “tuwid na daan”. Along that road lies a law that decriminalizes libel, among many other laws that lessens the stranglehold of politicians on vital information.
Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on September 04, 2013.