NUJP finds no malice in cyber libel-convicted journo’s tirades vs Piñol
MANILA, Philippines — The tirades made by a Baguio-based journalist recently convicted for cyber libel against former Agriculture secretary Manny Piñol did not carry any malice, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) claimed on Tuesday.
In a statement, NUJP condemned the use of a cyber libel case against Frank Cimatu after it was reported that Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 93 Acting Presiding Judge Evangeline Cabochan-Santos issued a decision to convict the journalist.
The cyber libel raps were for Cimatu’s September 2017 social media post, which read “Agri Sec got rich by 21 M in 6 months. Bird flu pa more” — which the court said showed intent “to injure the reputation, credit, and virtue of Piñol” and also “expose him to public hatred, discredit, contempt and ridicule.”
“The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines is saddened by a Quezon City local court decision convicting journalist Frank Cimatu of cyber libel […] NUJP supports Cimatu’s plan to appeal the court decision, asserting it sees no malice in Cimatu’s Facebook post on September 24, 2017 which read, ‘Agri Sec got rich by 21 M in 6 months. Bird flu pa more,’” NUJP said.
“Cimatu’s case is proof [of] how government officials use libel as a weapon to harass and intimidate journalists,” it added.
READ: QC court finds Baguio-based journalist Frank Cimatu guilty of cyber libel
According to NUJP, it is ironic that Piñol cried foul over the post made on Facebook, when the country is under a democratic system that hears the public grievance.
“With due respect to the local court’s decision, NUJP maintains that the right to free expression and press freedom is paramount especially when exercised in relation to public officials. A powerful politician such as Piñol crying foul over a Facebook post of a community journalist is ironic in a supposed democratic country,” NUJP claimed.
“Under the comments on the same post, Piñol himself issued threats and derogatory remarks against Cimatu. Online trolls flooded Cimatu’s Facebook account with vitriol,” it added.
In the 19-page decision, the Quezon City court said that the post alleges a crime was committed, which satisfied the first element of cyber libel — adding that the post was made with reckless disregard as Cimatu did not present any evidence to prove his claim.
But NUJP maintains that libel, and cyber libel, should be decriminalized so that journalists can work without fear of retribution.
“NUJP reiterates its position that libel laws should be decriminalized as these are not compatible with the Bill of Rights stated in the Philippine Constitution and with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of which the Philippines is a state party,” the group said.
“Even worse is the fact that penalties for cyber libel are stiffer compared to ordinary libel. This makes cyber libel a Damocles’ sword hanging above our head, and reinforces the chilling effect that Filipino journalists need to confront every day in this benighted land,” it added.
Several proposals in Congress seek to remove criminal liabilities from libel and cyber libel. Just this November 28, Senator Raffy Tulfo said that while it may be impossible to remove criminal liability for libel cases, they can lobby that legitimate journalists can be exempted from jail time should they face libel charges.
READ: Senator Tulfo on decriminalizing libel: No penalties for legit journalists
Coincidentally, Senator Risa Hontiveros announced earlier that she also had filed a bill to decriminalize libel.
READ: Sen. Risa Hontiveros files bill decriminalizing libel
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