Senators favor decriminalizing libel ‘in its totality’

By Jelly F. Musico

MANILA, March 3 (PNA) — Senators will push to decriminalize libel not only in the internet but in other mediums of communication by repealing a provision in the Revised Penal Code.

”If we address the issue of libel as cybercrime, we should decriminalize libel in its totality. If it is libelous in one, it must be libelous in all,” said Senate President Franklin Drilon in media interview before Monday session.

Drilon said he is endorsing the decriminalization of libel under the Revised Penal Code.

For his part, Senator Teofisto Guingona III said libel should be stricken out “altogether”, not only from the Cybercrime Prevention Act which the Supreme Court declared constitutional in the matters of libel.

”Let’s take it out in totality. My point is why single out cybercrime or the use of computer? Why not take away libel altogether,” said Guingona, chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee.

Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto agreed with his colleagues, saying “even if you remove the provision in the Cybercrime Law, you can still be sued under the Revised Penal Code. It should be both.”

”My position is to decriminalize libel,” Recto told the media after the first Senate public hearing on the proposed bills amending Republic Act 10175 or Cybercrime Prevention Act and bills establishing a magna carta for Philippine internet freedom.

Meanwhile, the Senate committee on science and technology joint with committees on constitutional amendments, civil service and finance, also tackled bills creating the Department of Information Technology.

During the Senate hearing, National Press Club (NPC) president Benny Antiporda thanked the senators pushing to decriminalize libel.

”Let us reiterate that it has always been the National Press Club’s respectful position that criminal libel, regardless of the penalty imposable, simply has no room in our democratic system. An exercise of press freedom and freedom of speech can in no way be regarded as a criminal act,” Antiporda said.

Aside from NPC, other representatives from the private and public sectors have expressed their views against the anti-cybercrime law.

Gilbert Andres of the Non-government organization Media Defense Southeast Asia, told the panel that online libel violates the United Nations (UN) International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) that the Philippines signed in 1966 and ratified 1986.

In his opening statement, Recto said all the inputs from the widest sources are very important in crafting a new law on cybercrime.

”In general, the IQ or ICT quotient of Congress remains low. There is still a deficit of knowledge when it comes to ICT rule-making,” he said.

To those who fear that decriminalizing libel would make defamation a national sport, Recto said there other means to penalize slurs and smears.

”There remains a shield a private, ordinary citizen can use when he is assaulted by harsh tags,” he said.

For the public officials, Recto said they “have resources and opportunities to rebut lies.”

Aside from Recto and Guingona, other senators who filed respective bills seeking to decriminalize libel are Senators Francis “Chiz” Escudero, Majority Leader Alan Cayetano, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Bam Aquino.

Senators Loren Legarda, Sonny Trillanes, JV Ejercito and Jinggoy Estrada filed bills for the creation of ICT. (PNA)