MANILA (UPDATED) – Senator Chiz Escudero believes that the country is ready for libel to be decriminalized.
“I think we are ready. Not too many people have been found guilty of libel because it’s very difficult to prove it… I think if the cases are decided more speedily, especially in a civil case for libel, I think it will still serve as a deterrent because you will still have to be responsible for your words, not in the form of imprisonment but in the form of simple civil liability by way of paying damages,” Escudero told ANC Prime Time on Thursday.
According to the senator, he filed a bill to decriminalize libel back in 2007, but only a few lawmakers supported it.
“Some even want to make the penalties stiffer than as provided by existing law,” he said.
Escudero said a person should not be imprisoned for libel.
“Liability would be civil in other words in terms of damages but not imprisonment but won’t be penal in nature but only civil,” he said.
The senator said libel laws in the past were used to intimidate journalists.
“But I think we have gone a long way from the 30s, 50s and even the 60s when the so-called power of the pen was abused by some. I think journalists over the course of the decades have become more responsible, insofar as in some of the words they use or how they describe or come up with their respective articles,” Escudero noted.
“We public officials should not be thin-skinned when it comes to criticisms coming from the public or coming from journalists because these are part and parcel of what I believe are the hazards of the trade, and we should learn to live with that," he said.
"I don’t think we can hide behind the provision of existing libel laws in order to prevent people from writing or saying things that they want to write or say,” he added.
Cayetano: Cybercrime law against freedom of speech
Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, meanwhile, believes that the online libel provision in the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 suppresses internet users’ freedom of speech.
This is one of the reasons why he did not approve the controversial law, he said in a statement Thursday.
He is urging his colleagues in the 16th Congress to repeal the provision of the law on online libel, and is pushing for the enactment of his Senate Bill 245 that seeks to decriminalize libel and all forms of defamation.
The bill, he said, will pave the way for the creation of a Civil Defamation Law which will only impose civil penalties in the stead of criminal sanctions on all forms of defamation.
Cayetano is also pushing for the approval of Senate Bill No. 249, which in part mandates the repeal of Sec. 4 (c) 4 of Chapter II of RA 10175 or the online libel provision of the anti-cybercrime law.
The bill, which he filed in July 1, 2013 during the first day of the 16th Congress, also calls for the repeal of Sections 5 and 7 of RA 10175, which was already declared as unconstitutional in part by the SC in its decision last Monday.
Cayetano warned of the dire effects of online libel not only on the freedom of speech of netizens, but on the Philippine justice system.
“Napakahirap ng magiging epekto noon. Kahit anong sabihin mo na mao-offend ang ibang tao, pwede kang kasuhan ng libel. That will kill the freedom of speech and the creativity that we have in the internet,” he said.
“Kung magkakasuhan tayong lahat, mapupuno ang mga korte, walang mangyayari kung hindi ang mga piskalya, walang ibang gagawin kung hindi mag-prosecute ng internet at social media libel cases.”
“True, we should not libel each other in the internet. But it is also true that the internet is a different kind of medium... Hindi katulad yan, halimbawa, ng dyaryo. Kapag nilagay sa dyaryo, people will believe the credibility of the story, kaya dapat i-check muna ng mabuti ng mga journalist ang kanilang facts. But in the internet, anyone says anything,” he said.