Last year, the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) asserted that the criminal sanction for libel in the country is “excessive.” Libel being a criminal case in the Philippines is a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in which the country is a signatory.
While the campaign to decriminalize (diminish from being a criminal to a civil case) libel in the country continues, CEGP Baguio-Benguet sees the approval of Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Law as a backward step in the campaign to decriminalize libel. With the inclusion of online libel in the punishable acts under the content-related offenses, the limit to freedom of expression and the public’s right to information already caused by the criminal libel can now take effect in the internet as well. To put it satirically, it seems like libel has become “redundantly excessive” in the Philippines.
In the past, criminal libel cases were filed against journalists, mostly from the community or alternative press, who expose the anomalies of and criticize influential people. For instance, Alexander Adonis of Bombo Radyo Davao was accused of committing criminal libel by then Congressman and eventual House Speaker Prospero Nograles and convicted after failing to defend himself in court due to financial concerns. This came about after Adonis reported of an incident where the Congressman was caught with a mistress in a Manila Hotel.
At present, a member of the Guild, the former Editor-in-Chief of UP Baguio Outcrop is facing a libel case in the Regional Trial Court. The case ensued from a section of a lampoon article criticizing acts of powerplay in the university.
With the approval of the Cybercrime Law, the Guild is wary of it posing a limitation to the freedom of expression and free flow of discourse in the internet. Undeniably, the online medium has proven to be one of the more efficient ways of disseminating information and participating in the discourses in the society especially among the youth. The possible implementation of the Cybercrime Law can only curb the potentials of the online medium for sharing information and shaping public opinion. With numerous campus publications setting up online version of their newspapers, any content that can be deemed “libelous” by authorities can lead to undue penalties.
In the end, CEGP Baguio-Benguet perceives the approval of the Cybercrime Law to be another manifestation of the Aquino regime’s stifling of the rights of its people. With its continued blundering in addressing the issues confronting the basic people such as access to basic social services, employment, land distribution among others and the resulting outcry from more and more of its constituents, the Aquino regime seeks to systematically repress their expression of dissent through various means. The Cybercrime Law is clearly one of these tactics. To this, the Guild sees nothing more apt a response than continuing dissent. Silence cannot be condoned when it is the rights of the people that are at stake.