HB 3535: Satur bill pushes decriminalization of libel

(The House militant bloc of legislators led by Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo renewed the push for the passage of House Bill 3535 that decriminalizes libel.

The said bill was included in the initial consideration of the Committee on Revision of Laws on the bills seeking to amend/repeal the provisions of the Revised Penal Code on libel today.)

When we drafted HB 3535, we were not unmindful of the fact that our libel law was originally enacted to protect citizens from unwarranted damage to reputation. We knew for a fact that the libel law was designed to protect the good name of an individual from being destroyed by the misuse of the freedom of speech.

Libel is increasingly used as the convenient and predominant tool for those in power to muzzle an independent media and silence critical voices.

A major case in point is First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo who filed libel suits against at least 42 journalists from different media outlets in 2006. Although, as a supposed “gesture of peace,” Mr. Arroyo ordered his lawyers to withdraw all these libel cases in 2007.

This reality has spawned widespread calls among media practitioners to decriminalize libel. Some approached us to file a bill seeking to take out libel from our criminal laws, arguing that its decriminalization will strengthen the safeguards on free speech and expression and promote free flow of information which is necessary in a democracy which we claim to enjoy.

We were thus confronted with the difficult question as to whether or not the decriminalization of libel is the appropriate path to pursue. Or better still, we were concerned whether decriminalizing libel will keep the delicate balance between an individual’s right against unwarranted damage to his reputation vis-a-vis the guarantees of freedom of speech.

Our libel law has been abused by the powerful few to curtail the right of the press to delve into the truth behind matters of public interest and the people’s right to know.

We believe that the delicate balance between private reputation and the freedom to speak will not vanish into thin air if and when libel is decriminalized.

If libel is decriminalized, those whose private reputation are attacked will still have adequate means of legal relief, foremost of which are Articles 19 and 26 of the Civil Code.

Article 19 of the Civil Code holds a person liable for damages if she/he fails to act with justice and observe honesty and good faith when exercising her/his rights and while performing her/his duties.  On the other hand, Article 26 of the Civil Code holds an individual liable for damages if she/her fails to exercise the duty to respect the dignity, personality, privacy, and peace of mind of others.

If libel is decriminalized, the press can enjoy the free exercise of its duties and functions, and as a result, the people will have unimpeded access to information involving matters of public concern. Decriminalizing libel will remove its potency as an instrument to intimidate and harass. It will allow the media to do their work without fear.

HB 3535 has Ocampo as principal author and Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño, Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano, and Gabriela Reps. Luzviminda Ilagan and Liza Maza as co-authors.

Ocampo is a former assistant business editor of the Manila Times. #

LIST OF JOURNALISTS CHARGED WITH LIBEL BY MR. ARROYO IN 2006

NEWSBREAK (“MORE PROPERTIES,” DEC. 8, 2005 ISSUE)

1. Marites Vitug (editor-in-chief)
2. Glenda Gloria (associate editor)
3. Ricky Carandang (business editor)
4. R. E. Otico (editorial consultant)
5. Jose Dalisay Jr. (editorial consultant)
6. Booma Cruz (contributing editor)

NEWSBREAK (“WILL SHE NOW CHANGE?” JUNE 7, 2004 ISSUE)

7. Concepcion Paez (contributing writer)

MALAYA (“POE’S CAMP SAYS MIKE IS CHIEF CHEATING OPERATOR,” MAY 19, 2004)
8.
JP Lopez (reporter)
9. Regina Bengco (reporter)
10. Amado Macasaet (publisher)
11. Enrique Romualdez (executive editor)
12.
Joy de los Reyes (editor in chief)
13. Ma. Teresa Molina (managing editor)
14. Minnie Advincula (news editor)
15. Ellen Tordesillas (chief of reporters)

MALAYA (“FIRST COUPLE’S IDEA OF CHARITY,” JULY 9, 2004, “BUSINESS INSIGHT” COLUMN

(Macasaet)

16. Rosario Galang (business editor)

PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER (14 COUNTS, TULFO’S COLUMN “ON TARGET” THAT APPEARED ON JAN. 14, 17, AND 26; MARCH 9 AND 23; MAY 23, JUNE 17, AND AUG. 3, 2006)

17. Ramon Tulfo (columnist)
18. Isagani Yambot (publisher)

19. Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc (editor in chief)
20.
Jose Ma. Nolasco (managing editor)
21. Abelardo Ulanday (associate editor)
22. Rosario Garcellano (associate editor for readership)
23. Artemio Engracia Jr.
(news editor)
24. Jorge Aruta (opinion editor)
25. Pergentino Bandayrel Jr. (national editor)
26. Juan Sarmiento (senior desk editor)

BANDERA (SIX COUNTS, TULFO’S COLUMN “ON TARGET” THAT APPEARED ON JAN. 26; MAY 23 AND 27; JUNE 6, 8, AND 17, 2006)

27. Eileen Mangubat (publisher)
28. Beting Laygo Dolor (editor in chief)
29. Jimmy Alcantara (associate editor)
30. Raymond Rivera (circulation manager)

DAILY TRIBUNE (STORIES WHERE TATAD WAS QUOTED AS SAYING ARROYO WAS HIS WIFE’S “CHIEF CHEATER,” MAY 14, 16, 17, AND 18, 2004)

31. Ninez Cacho-Olivares (editor in chief)
32. Romulo Mariñas (news editor)
33. Gina Capili-Inciong (city editor)

34. Jake Martin (construction editor)
35. Marvin Estigoy (advertising manager)
36. Gerry Baldo (reporter)
37. Sherwin Olaes (reporter)
38. Lito Tugadi (circulation manager)
39. Jing Santos (subscription manager)

(FOR ACCUSING MIKE ARROYO OF INFLUENCING RPN-9 NETWORK TO AXE ” ISUMBONG MO , TULFO BROTHERS DURING A PRESS CONFERENCE IN QUEZON CITY ON AUG. 2, 2006 )

(Tulfo)

40. Erwin Tulfo
41. Raffy Tulfo

INQ7.NET (“HOW TO SOLVE A PROBLEM LIKE MIKE ARROYO,” JULY 5, 2004, HIGH GROUND COLUMN)

42. William Esposo

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