Should libel be decriminalized?

February 18, 2019

PRESIDENTIAL Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said that a libel suit could just be civil instead of criminal amid efforts of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS) to get a collective stand on the decriminalization of libel and cyber libel.

Panelo made the statement after the PTFoMS said that it was facilitating discussions among media partners for a consolidated position on the decriminalization of libel following the arrest of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa on a cyber libel complaint.

“Personally, kung ako lang (in my opinion), not the Palace view, sa akin pwede na yung (for me, we can go for a) civil suit,” he said Monday.

Panelo, however, said that while some agree about decriminalizing libel, there were still some journalists who want the law to remaini in order to keep media personalities in-line. He also said that some media personalities even consider libel suits as badges of honor.

“Sa mga peryodista parang sinasabi, ‘Hindi, mabuti para hindi mag-abuso yung mga kasama natin’ (Even journalists prefer to have libel there so some members of the media won’t abuse their power),” he said.

Duterte’s chief presidential legal counsel also said that libel was an ordinary crime with a small penalty. He also pointed out that it was hard to convict someone for libel because it is difficult to prove malice, which is one of the primary requirements of libel.

“Mahirap magdemanda ng libel kasi baka wala agad probable cause, lalong mahirap magpruba (It’s hard to charge someone for libel because at the beginning maybe there is no probable cause, what more when you have to prove that there is malice),” Panelo said.

Meanwhile, Panelo said the courts should decide about cyber libel, following arguments regarding the law.

Debate about cyber libel surfaced when Wilfredo Keng filed a cyber libel case against Rappler for an article it published in 2012.

While some argue that the law could not be enforced retroactively, republishing an article, according to the Department of Justice (DoJ), would put it within the purview of the law.

“Whatever it is, whether the opinion of the DoJ or the opinion of the respondent is correct or not, I think we have to leave it to the courts to decide whether or not sino ang tama sa kanila (who is right between the two),” Panelo said.