Advocate’s Overview: Decriminalizing libel


The journalists’ campaign, which the National Union of Journalists of the Philipines (NUJP) leads, urging Congress to enact a law decriminalizing libel has gained ground again with the conviction of The Daily Tribune publisher Ninez Cacho-Olivarez of libel lately by an RTC judge in the National Capital Region.

The Daily Tribune was closed down by the police force after President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Proclamation 1017, putting the country under national emergency. The Supreme Court, however, ruled for the unconstitutionality of the takeover of the Daily Tribune by the police as it (SC) upheld the supremacy of the constitutional freedoms of expressions and of the press. Olivarez’es paper was at that time consistent in bringing out people’s issues whether it is against the administration or not.

This time, however, Olivarez was convicted in exercising her constitutional freedoms. She was convicted of the antiquated libel law.

It is timely to trace and discuss how the libel law came into being in the Philippines. The libel law was introduced by the colonialist Spaniards. It was then used to contain the propaganda movement in the Philippines whether in relation with the call for reforms of the system or independence from their colonial policy in the country.

It provides that cny act, whether through oral, or in writing, or in visual expressions which the Spanish colonial government considered “seditious” must be silenced. That was a tactic that they had adopted to silence any advocacy related for reforms or for independence.

The concept of libel was adopted and institutionalized under the Philippine system by post-colonial governments. It is now contained under the Revised Penal Code (Codigo Penal which originated from the Spanish) particularly Art. 353, which defines libel “as a public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status, or circumstance tending to cause the dishonor, discredit or contempt of a natural or juridical person or to blacken the memory of one who is dead.”

Art 353 added: “Every defamatory imputation is presumed to be malicious, even if it be true, if no good intention and justifiable motive for making it is shown.” Here, even if the statement is true you can still be punished in Libel if the court will found out that you don’t have no good intention or not justifiable in your publication or broadcast.

This antiquated law should have been removed from our system as past constitutions adopted afterwards contained freedoms of expressions and of the press. In fact, the Bill of Rights under the 1987 constitution provides that “No law shall be passed abridging the freedoms of expression, of speech, of the press, of assembly, and petition the government for redress of grievances.”

By all means, the libel law contradicts these fundamental rights and it has no place under our system. Its repeal is just but formalization. Under our system, journalists who exercise their constitutional mandate can be made criminal because of the libel law, particularly that journalists are among the lowest paid who cannot hire the services of topnotch lawyers.

It is therefore a challenge for congress to show its genuine adherence to the basic constitutional rights to enact a law that would decriminalize libel law. Such antiquated law is already thrashed by most countries.

I personally believe that even removing the libel law under our penal system, any act that causes damage to a parson would entitle the said person for the damages caused unto him or her. The greater the damage caused by the act makes a person entitled for damages to be granted by the court. #(NorDis)

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