MANILA, Philippines—Are the two Angaras in both chambers of Congress seeing eye to eye on how to punish libel?
Both outgoing Senator Edgardo Angara and his son Representative Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara are authors of separate bills seeking to decriminalize libel “in the light of protecting the right to speech and self-expression.”
But unlike his son, Senator Angara is the main proponent of the Cybercrime Prevention Act, which raises one degree higher the penalty the crime of libel under the Revised Penal Code if committed online, say, through Facebook or Twitter.
The senator, who is set to run for Aurora governor, sponsored the measure, meaning he defended it on the floor. Senate records showed that he acceded to Sen. Vicente Sotto III’s proposal to include a libel clause during the period of amendments last January.
Sonny Angara, a candidate for senator in the 2013 elections, said on Thursday they had not really sat down to talk about the issue of libel. He said the closest they got to a formal discussion was when they jointly faced the Senate media after he filed his certificate of candidacy Wednesday.
The younger Angara said he was not sure if his father knew about his bill decriminalizing libel. Nor was he sure if his father had a similar initiative at the Senate. Apparently, Senator Angara has one, too, in Senate Bill No. 2053. (And a check of their bills showed that they have the same introductory notes.)
SB 2053 is basically the same as the younger Angara’s House Bill No. 476, which has been pending at the committee on revision of laws since July 2010.
Asked if he and his father disagreed on how to penalize libel, Representative Angara said in Filipino: “Perhaps, in terms of details. But in terms of philosophy, I don’t think so.”
“We’re both open to decriminalizing libel, but it’s just more overt in my case,” he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in a phone interview.
In the explanatory note to their respective bills, the Angaras said: “It is not our intent in this proposal to downplay the importance of one’s privacy and the right of a person to be free from public and malicious imputation of a crime….”
“But the penalty of imprisonment that goes with libel is, to our opinion, not commensurate to the act being penalized,” they added.
At the House of Representatives, there are at least six measures filed to remove the criminal aspect of libel. There are at least five such bills in the Senate. Sen. Manuel Villar has one that seeks to cover libel committed through “electronic media such as, but not limited to, the Internet.”
“Unfortunately, unscrupulous individuals have found and exploited with impunity a new avenue to defame another—through the use of the electronic media (i.e. blogs, Facebook or Twitter, etc.),” Villar explained in his bill.
“This is brought about by the uncertainty in the Philippine laws on libel which arguably did not include publication through electronic means.”
The new Cybercrime Prevention Act now covers online libel, much to the chagrin of Internet users (or so-called “netizens), including journalists.
Representative Angara described the outrage as “legitimate,” but said much of the fear was triggered by “misunderstanding.”
“It doesn’t mean that just because you ‘retweeted’ or ‘liked’ something, you would already be liable for libel,” he explained. “If you do it in good faith, then there’s no problem. Many people don’t know the existing jurisprudence on libel.”
Prior to the passage of the new law, he said conviction was rare under the libel provision in the Revised Penal Code because a journalist, for example, “can always claim good faith.”
A related House bill removes the penalty of imprisonment and instead increases the existing fine of P200 to P6,000 and P100,000 to P300,000.