Justice Velasco asked to inhibit self from petition vs cybercrime lawPhilippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—Because of the libel suit he had brought against journalist Marites Danguilan-Vitug, Supreme Court Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr. is being asked to inhibit from the cybercrime law case, on which he has been reportedly assigned to write the decision.
Journalists led by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) filed a case before the high court last Monday seeking the “voluntary recusation” of Velasco from taking part in the deliberations on the consolidated 15 petitions challenging the controversial Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, saying that Velasco’s previous act of filing libel complaints against a member of the press “does not sit with the cold neutrality of a dispassionate judge.”
In their motion to inhibit, the journalists said the high court, in its en banc session last October 2, had given Velasco the job of writing the decision on the case.
The high tribunal last week suspended for four months the implementation of the new cybercrime law while it hears the petitions against it, and set oral arguments for next January.
The law has been greeted by protests from netizens, journalists, academics and social activists because of its controversial provision criminalizing online libel, punishable with imprisonment.
They said that Velasco cannot be allowed to participate in the high court deliberations and resolution of the petitions against the cyberlibel provision as he had filed a libel suit against Vitug.
“It is public knowledge and particularly a matter of judicial knowledge that Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr. filed two libel cases against multi-awarded journalist, bestselling author and editor-at-large of Rappler, Marites Danguilan-Vitug, before the regional trial court of Manila for libel,” they said.
They noted that Velasco had sought to file 13 counts of libel against Vitug but the courts had reduced these to two charges based on the fact that the offending article was carried in two publications and not on the number of days they were left standing on the website of ABS-CBN news online.
Velasco filed in March 2010 a P1-million libel suit against Vitug in connection with her December 2009 news story posted on ABS-CBNNews.com/Newsbreak for 13 days where she had alleged that the associate justice had used his influence over local officials in Marinduque to support the congressional bid of his son.
Velasco has since withdrawn the case but the NUJP continues to insist that he should inhibit anyway.
It argued that Velasco was the “only sitting associate justice to have used the provisions on libel under the Revised Penal Code against a member of the press” and pointed out that he “enjoyed a position of ascendancy over judges as well as prosecutors, and that the suits were filed in connection with stories that ran online—a question that is directly posed by the 15 petitions challenging the cybercrime act.”
“That Justice Velasco has sued Ms. Danguilan-Vitug for libel clearly shows his predisposition on this issue,” it said.
Velasco’s bringing a criminal libel suit against a member of the press for an online publication “indicated that he sees nothing inherently wrong about libel, in general, or cyberlibel, in particular,” the petitioners said.
They asked the high court to raffle off the case and get another member of the high court as ponente.
The petitioners also included the Philippine Press Institute, Center for Media and Responsibility, Melinda Quintos-de Jesus, Rowena Carranza Paraan and Alwyn Alburo.—Christine O. Avendaño