"What this Country needs is not a change OF men but a change IN men" March 1980

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Decriminalize political libel

A SENATE committee is crafting a bill that seeks to distinguish libel against a private person and a public officer.

The substitute measure, which will amend Article 354 and 361 of the Revised Penal Code, will scrap the fine of imprisonment only for political libel, Senator Richard J. Gordon, chairman of the committee on constitutional amendments, revision of codes and laws, said yesterday.

"If a politician is attacked, presumption of malice is no longer there. Malice should now be proven by the prosecution," he told BusinessWorld.

By law, libel may be committed in writing, printing, lithography, engraving, radio,
phonograph, painting, theatrical exhibition, cinematographic exhibition or any similar means.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Q. Pimentel, Jr., Senators Francis Joseph G. Escudero, Manuel A. Roxas II and Jose "Jinggoy" E. Estrada filed separate bills to scrap the fine of imprisonment for libel, but Mr. Gordon’s bill distinguishes between political and private libel.

Mr. Gordon said a final hearing will be held next week to thresh out the details of the consolidated measure to "strengthen democracy and freedom of the press."

Meanwhile, the National Press Club (NPC) sought for "total decriminalization" of libel since the law is only "cramping our hands to express and write."

"There are other remedies where the accuser and the accused can settle the issue themselves. It will only be a matter of words against words — those implicated can answer back," NPC legal counsel Berteni "Toto" C. Causing said in a phone interview.

"In the environment today, libel is only used by politicians to complain about media abuse. Libel only sends wrong signals in a democratic country," he added.

In January, the Supreme Court came out with a circular instructing all judges to give preference for the imposition of monetary penalty instead of imprisonment for those who will be convicted of libel, as a result of the petition of the NPC to scrap the fine of imprisonment for journalists.

Two libel cases have recently been acted up by the high court. One case in the lower court involved some staff of broadsheet Philippine Daily Inquirer. Another case downgraded penalties for some staff of tabloid Remate. — BUA

Senate bill seeks to ‘decriminalize’ libel
BusinessWorld Online
Vol. XXII, No. 40
Friday, September 19, 2008
The Nation


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