SENATOR Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday filed Senate Bill No. 1593, a bill to decriminalize libel, highlighting how current libel laws have been used and abused to suppress freedom of the press.
“Our libel laws have been weaponized to stifle very basic fundamental rights. These laws have been used to constantly attack many of our freedoms, particularly the freedom of the press. We need to decriminalize libel if we are to truly defend press freedom,” Hontiveros said.
The senator pointed out that just today (December 13), a Quezon City court convicted journalist Frank Cimatu, who was charged with cyberlibel for a 2017 Facebook post about former Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol.
Hontiveros then stressed how cyberlibel was also repeatedly used against Nobel laureate Maria Ressa for her work in Rappler.
In 2020, Ressa and former colleague Reynaldo Santos were convicted for cyber libel. In July 2022, the Court of Appeals rejected Ressa and Santos’s appeals, and last October, the Court of Appeals again rejected their motion to reconsider the decision.
“These journalists have wasted years of their lives facing charges for basically doing their jobs. Gamit na gamit na ang cyber libel para patahimikin ang ating mga mamamahayag. Kung hindi natin maiwasto ito, patuloy na gagamitin ang libel para kitilin ang ating kalayaan,” Hontiveros said.
In SB No. 1593, Hontiveros emphasized that the rise and prevalence of social media as a primary medium of communication has led to the further weaponization of libel laws against the press and active citizenship. The senator also said that the avalanche of cyberlibel cases has only resulted in the clogging of our court dockets.
“Trabaho ng mga reporter ang magbahagi ng mga impormasyon para sa kaalaman ng publiko. We need the press to vet information and continue to be the safekeepers of facts. Sa pagbaha ng fake news sa social media, mas lalong kailangan nating maprotektahan ang propesyon nila. If we fail to do so, if we allow our laws to punish rather than protect the press, we chip away at our Constitutional rights. This will cost us our democracy,” Hontiveros concluded.