Editorial: Decriminalize libel

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Friday, February 21, 2014


THE thumbs up given by the Supreme Court on the Cybercrime Prevention Law, complete with the libel clause, gives us an even deeper glimpse into how those in authority are not about ready to give up the life of privilege that they have accorded to themselves at the expense of the public.

If there's anyone who can attest to how the libel law, and this is the one in the Revised Penal Code at that and not the one inserted by Senator Tito Sotto, it is Sun.Star Davao. Former publisher Antonio M. Ajero and present editor-in-chief Stella Estremera are both convicts; convicted last year for a libel case filed in 2003 against them over a police report that listed names of drug suspects who surrendered to the police. The list came from the Police Regional Office 11. Did that even merit a doubt? No. Beyond reasonable doubt, the judgment said, the two are guilty. There would have been three, except that former Sun.Star Davao SuperBalita managing editor Ely Luciano had already travelled to the great beyond.

For so long, Filipino journalists have known that the very reason why the Libel Law remains a criminal case is because this has been among the tools of harassment used by those in power, next to guns and goons, to silence journalists who are exposing their shenanigans.

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If we review all the laws passed in recent years, we can see insertions of a similar kind, punishing journalists for revealing information the less evolved lawmakers see as none of the public?s business. It is only through concerted efforts to raise a big howl that these same people take back their words and try to sneak out undetected. This is precisely what happened to Republic Act 9208 or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 where it specifically prohibited the media, all forms of media (print, radio, TV, and new media) to cause the publicity of the case and the naming of both the victims and the suspects.

Reporters media executives and all those deemed involved in the publicity of a trafficking case, including the naming of the suspect, was publishable with life imprisonment and a fine of not less than Two million pesos (P2,000,000.00) but not more than Five million pesos (P5,000,000.00).

To keep confidential the names of the victims is acceptable. But to keep confidential the names of suspects? This slip alone gives us a clue on who those in authority are trying to protect.

It was only through much lobbying and protests that these same lawmakers were forced to amend this law and thus the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2012 (RA 10364) removed the suspects from the persons who should enjoy the confidentiality clause. But, the penalties remain the same. Rejoice then for libel in RPC because it’s so old, it cannot hold a candle to the penalties lawmakers have made sure will punish journalists no end.

Now they have the Cybercrime Law and the malfeasance is spread all around, to the whole public who has access to Internet service. Now we are all criminal material. It only takes one more slighted government official to haul us all off to jail.

This somehow brings to mind the French classical liberal theorist (and member of the French assembly) on his “The Physiology of Plunder” where he wrote: “When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves in the course of time a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.”

No wonder we get to witness multi-million and multi-billion scams being exposed every once in a while. The laws that have been crafted and are being crafted were already giving us broad hints about who are trying to hide what.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on February 22, 2014.

Opinion

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