WITH the decision by Quezon City RTC Branch 93 Acting Presiding Judge Evangeline Cabochan-Santos on the cyber libel charge filed by former journalist Manny Piñol against fellow journalist Frank Cimatu over a Facebook post, all the more that the old libel law and the cyber libel law became hazy.
A libel case was filed against our media colleague Frank for his Facebook post “Agri Sec got rich by 21 M in 6 months. Bird flu pa more.” The person who thinks he was the “Agri Sec” alluded to in the FB post was former journalist Piñol.
Before becoming a Mindanao politician, he was a sports columnist with the Tempo tabloid newspaper. Sec. Piñol was gearing up to run for senator in the 2022 election after the FB post was published. Maybe the situation could have been less serious if he was not going to be a senatorial bet and the post did not appear on FB.
The old libel law is in the Revised Penal Code (RPC) and calls for a lesser penalty while cyber libel under RA 10175 is punished with a higher penalty. There is a big difference depending on the circumstances.
If the libel is committed with the use of ICTs (information and communications technologies) or the internet, it will fall as cyber libel under RA 10175 which has increased the penalty.
However, committing libel under any circumstances, with or without the use of the internet or ICTs which increased the penalty of the crime would still be prosecuted under the terms of the RPC.
I read somewhere that libel is a crime against honor. That depends on whether the person or entity being libeled is “honorable” or has the honor to protect. That court should study that. It is also defined as the “public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary…”
Libel is an “act, omission, condition, status or circumstance that can cause the dishonor, discredit or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead.”
All the elements of libel under the RPC would determine the filing of charges. If one element is lacking, the crime of libel would not exist. Thus, for libel to be sustained, all the components of libel must be present. Not all the elements in Frank’s case were present!
The case at hand puts to test the applicability of the penalties under the RPC and RA 10175. The libel cases under the two circumstances could be scrutinized by the public. Under the RPC, what is involved are well-written journalistic articles and broadcasted news reports and commentaries that do not get instant feedback and comments.
Furthermore, libel cases under the RPC include filing of charges against newspaper publishers and editors, including the circulation managers, radio/TV station managers, not only the writers. This proves that the outfits have the accountability and system of fact-checking information released to the public.
On the other hand, socmed posts on the internet, even while they contain five words, more or less, are commented on by the public as quickly as when these were posted. This brings more embarrassment to the personalities involved.
The situation calls on lawmakers to reconsider amending the cyber libel law and to include in the charge sheets the platform where the allegedly libelous statement was posted such as FB, Instagram, Viber, Twitter, etc. The platform owners should equally be accountable.
To calm down the nerves of journalists, both situations found under the RPC and RA 10175 have to be restudied and may be considered to be decriminalized under separate conditions for respectable journalists who can account for their work.
This is one instance where lawmakers become selective in their work because they have to distinguish between journalists who have a system of editing information and people who want to do media work on the internet and criticize without basis.
The law, if crafted, could prevent responsible media workers from serving jail. Decriminalizing libel under the RPC and RA 10175 could be done on the condition that criminal liabilities should not totally be removed as they could be abused. There should be accountability in free speech.