DOJ warning vs learning module critics sends ‘chilling effect’: lawyer

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 30 2020 02:03 PM | Updated as of Nov 30 2020 03:19 PM

A module from the Department of Education which recently drew criticism from lawmakers for its 'poor' depiction of farmers. Screencap from Senate of the Philippines' livestream

MANILA – Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra’s warning to people who spread “malicious” claims about error-filled learning materials allegedly by the Department of Education sends a chilling effect as Filipinos may be afraid to voice out comments on such matters, a media law and ethics expert said Monday.

In an interview with TeleRadyo, lawyer Marichu Lambino said Guevarra should have avoided issuing a warning as “an act of prudence.”

“Sana huwag na lang siyang manakot dahil ang pananakot niya ay may kinalaman sa kalayaan sa pamamahayag, at ito ay isang uri ng prior restraint,” said Lambino, who teaches at the University of the Philippine College of Mass Communication.

(He should not have issued that threat because it involves the freedom of speech and is a type of prior restraint.)

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On Saturday, Guevarra said people spreading “malicious” claims about error-filled modules falsely attributed to the DepEd may face criminal charges such as cyberlibel. 

“If the false claim about a module is directly attributed to a certain person with no manifest intent but to ridicule or malign him or her, the latter may have cause to file a complaint for libel or cyberlibel,” he told reporters in a Viber message.

Guevarra’s statements came after Education Secretary Leonor Briones said the DepEd was not responsible for all errors in learning materials that have gone viral online.

Briones added that the department was seeking the DOJ’s help to go after those who falsely attribute module errors to the DepEd.

DepEd should not ‘wash hands’

Lambino said it is not libelous for people to criticize the DepEd over error-filled modules that did not come from the agency since one of the department’s functions was to oversee all learning materials used in the country’s education system.

“Hindi po ito libelous dahil may substantial basis na punahin iyong DepEd kahit na hindi ito ‘yong author, dahil tungkulin nito na tiyaking hindi mali ‘yong mga pinapalaganap na kaalaman,” she said.

(This isn’t libelous because there’s substantial basis to criticize the DepEd even if it was not the author, since the agency is tasked to ensure that the knowledge being spread is correct.)

“Hindi niya (DepEd) puwedeng hugasan iyong kaniyang kamay at sabihing, ‘Ah hindi, wala kaming kinalaman diyan,’” Lambino added.

(The DepEd can’t wash its hands and say, ‘We have nothing to do with that.’)

The DepEd earlier this month drew flak from social media users over a learning module which stereotyped Filipino farmers as impoverished by depicting them as a family who wear ratty clothes.

The agency’s local office in Occidental Mindoro also recently apologized after one of its teachers described actress Angel Locsin as “obese” in a learning material for MAPEH (Music, Arts, Physical Education and Health).

In October, the DepEd launched formal channels where the public could report errors found in its learning materials and education program episodes.

-- With reports from Jaehwa Bernardo and Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News