MULTIPLE press and civil groups have rallied behind Baguio Chronicle editor Frank Cimatu, who was convicted of cyberlibel by a Quezon City court over a Facebook post regarding former agriculture secretary Emmanuel “Manny” Piñol.
Cimatu has been sentenced to between six months and five years, five months, and 11 days, with a P300,000 fine for “moral damages.” Cimatu made a Facebook post five years ago on Piñol, who then sued for cyberlibel.
The Baguio Correspondents and Broadcasters Club (BCBC) and Kordilyera Media-Citizens Council (KMCC) issued a joint statement denouncing the conviction, calling for press freedom and the decriminalization of libel and cyberlibel in the country.
“Cimatu’s conviction over a Facebook post does not only adversely impact on journalists, but also on the public who air critical views on issues affecting society,” the statement said.
The Baguio Writers Group (BWG) and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) both condemned the conviction, calling for the decriminalization of libel and cyberlibel as “incompatible” with the Bill of Rights stated in the Philippine Constitution and with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of which the Philippines is a state party.
“With due respect to the local court’s decision, NUJP maintains that the right to free expression and press freedom is paramount, especially when exercised in relation to public officials. A powerful politician such as Piñol crying foul over a Facebook post of a community journalist is ironic in a [supposedly] democratic country,” the NUJP said in a statement.
Altermidya Network, a coalition of alternate media outfits in the country, called the move an amplification of the culture of impunity in the country.
“Amid a rapidly eroding civic space, libel has been used to convict journalists and attack the core principles of journalism – accountability, truth, and fair comment. Weaponizing libel promotes impunity and censorship, breeding a scenario where people expressing opinions are adjudged ‘criminal,” Altermidya said in its statement.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) called the move “an assault to democracy,” as did the Facts First PH movement (FFPH) and the Movement Against Disinformation (MAD).
Currently, opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros has filed a bill seeking to decriminalize libel.