As journ prof seeks decriminalization of libel for all, Tulfo asks: Even for extortionists? | Inquirer News

As journ prof seeks decriminalization of libel for all, Tulfo asks: Even for extortionists?

/ 04:56 PM November 28, 2022

MANILA, Philippines —Sen. Raffy Tulfo and Prof. Danilo Arao squared off over who should be exempt from criminal prosecution under the proposed decriminalization of libel, with the educator arguing that everyone should be.

In the Senate Committee on public information and mass media’s hearing on Monday, Tulfo initially suggested that legitimate journalists — and not those who are merely posing to be part of the media or those called “hao siao” — be exempt from the criminal penalties brought by libel or cyber libel.

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In response, Arao, an Associate Professor at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman, said that he would like to thank Tulfo for supporting moves to decriminalize libel.  However, no distinction should be made between media personalities and ordinary people.

“We need to stress the experience of other countries; there is no distinction as to whether you are a journalist or an ordinary citizen regarding the gravity of the offense of libel.  We want to clarify that the call to decriminalize libel has been there ever since, and we do not call for its abolition,” Arao said in Filipino.

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“This means that it is still there, but only civil suits would be filed against a journalist, blogger, or whoever — so the criminal component is gone so that nobody would get jailed; the worst thing that could happen is the imposition of fines.  What should be remembered is that there should be no distinction between ordinary people and professional journalists, as it defeats the purpose of citizen journalism,” he added.

But Tulfo noted that he was not talking about citizen journalism, but those labeled “hao siao” who criticize government offices and elected officials and extort money for their silence.

“Excuse me, I think you don’t understand me; I see where you’re coming from, citizen’s journalism […] What I said earlier was what would we do about extortionists posing as journalists, who open blog sites or channels then they would criticize and extort,” the senator explained.

Also, Tulfo asked how a civil case would suffice for media extortionists who would be found guilty of libel, noting that the court may not find enough property and assets to garnish from the respondent.

He also pointed out that if civil liabilities are demanded from a journalist from a legitimate news site, the said company can temporarily cover the fees, especially since the supposedly libelous material appeared through their channel.

“Yes, that is true that we have civil liability where he or she can still be charged.  But what if he or she does not have the money to pay fines? Would they be jailed?  Of course, the court would look for their properties, but since he or she is an extortionist, he does not have anything,” Tulfo noted.

“What if the Supreme Court tells the extortionist to pay P1 million?  But he has no money to give, so what’s gonna happen? He’s free as a bird?” he asked.

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For the sake of press freedom, Tulfo asked Arao whether he would be ready to absolve media extortionists of criminal responsibility, and Arao answered yes. But the senator expressed his disapproval of Arao’s view, saying that the extortionists would have to thank the UP professor for his stand.

“No, I don’t agree. I’m sorry, Mr. Danilo Arao, I disagree; decriminalizing libel should be for the legitimate media. They should benefit from it, not the ‘hao siao’ in media […] So for you, is it okay to spare them from criminal liability so that they would not be jailed?” Tulfo said.

“Right now, many are happy with what you are saying; a lot of extortionists are clapping.  ‘Thank you, Mr. Arao, long live Mr. Arao, because we extortionists, we who have no shame, we are okay, we’re free as a bird,’” he added.

Arao replied that the most significant penalty to the erring media practitioner if found guilty of libel, is not criminalization but the absence of credibility.  Tulfo countered Arao’s views again, saying that the damage had been done and would not be repaired in that situation.

“They would continue doing that (extorting), but their credibility would be put into question, and there would be a time that over social media platforms, their credibility would wane,” Arao said.

“But the problem here, Mr. Arao, is that the extortionist has already hurt someone, so the audience — that’s why fake news spreads — is because they believe what they write.  So the victims are forced to come up with the money demanded from them, just to stop the tirades against him or her,” Tulfo replied.

During the earlier part of the hearing tackling misinformation and disinformation, Tulfo assured media practitioners that he had not forgotten his campaign promise of pushing to decriminalize libel.

But to ensure that libel and cyber libel laws are not toothless, only journalists from legitimate companies — those with editing, vetting, and fact-checking systems — would only be exempted from criminal penalties.

READ: Senator Tulfo on decriminalizing libel: No penalties for legit journalists

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