Bills ‘decriminalizing’ libel a misnomer, says DOJ chief
MANILA, Philippines—Pending bills aimed at decriminalizing libel are “incomplete” and also a “misnomer,” said Justice Secretary Leila De Lima.
Submitting a position paper on the bills, De Lima said the authors of the bills failed to include a provision clarifying what would happen to pending libel cases, should the Revised Penal Code be amended, according to the new proposal.
She also noted that the term “decriminalization” was a misnomer because the bills only sought to abolish imprisonment as a penalty. Libel remains a crime in the penal code and there is still a penalty in the form of a fine, she added.
De Lima submitted her position paper after the Senate committee on mass media and public infromation sought her input on several pending bills on the matter.
“Without passing upon the wisdom of the bills and assuming only that they will be reconciled and approved, the present forms are incomplete,” De Lima said.
De Lima said the bills should contain a provision on pending cases or those filed before the law takes effect in order to avoid ambiguity and confusion in its application.
“In other words, should the pending cases be considered automatically dismissed or what?” De Lima said of Senate Bill Nos. 2162, 3303, 3244, 3298 and 2668 authored by Francis Escudero, Alan Peter Cayetano, Gregorio Honasan, Pia Cayetano and Manuel Villar respectively.
Sen. Loren Legarda’s Senate Bill No. 3294, also on decriminalizing libel, provides for the dismissal of pending libel cases if the measure is passed.
De Lima, however, said Legarda’s measure allows a separate filing of a civil action suit for damages independent of criminal action.
To simplify the proceeding, De Lima suggested that the bill make the filing of the criminal action automatically carry with it the filing of the civil action. Therefore, “no right to reserve the filing of separate civil action will be recognized,” De Lima said.
On Sen. Edgardo Angara’s Senate Bill No. 2053, abolishing the penalty of imprisonment in libel cases, De Lima said the use of the term “decriminalize” in its explanatory note was a misnomer.
Still a crime
“First, libel is still a crime under the proposed bill except that the penalty of imprisonment is sought to be abolished. There is still a penalty in the form of a fine,” De Lima said.
“The crime is still covered by the Revised Penal Code; hence, still committed against the state. Thus, it is not accurate to state in the explanatory note of the bill that it intends to decriminalize libel,” she added.
Honasan, the committee chair, conducted public hearings yesterday on seven pending bills either repealing libel or decriminalizing libel in the aftermath of the recent enactment of the Cybercrime Prevention Act that mandates a longer prison term for online libel.
Most of the resource persons expressed support for the bills “decriminalizing” libel.
They include Commission on Human Rights chair Loretta Ann Rosales, Harry Roque and Theodore Te of the University of the Philippines College of Law, Victoria Garcia of the University of Santo Tomas College of Law, Virgilio Jara of the San Beda College law school, and media representatives.
Honasan expressed optimism that the bill will pass if given “some priority and attention.”
As for a right to reply bill filed by Sen. Manuel Villar, Honasan said it may be difficult to pass. “We may have to put it in the backburner,” Honasan said.
The right of reply bill wants private media to guarantee politicians and others equal space to answer criticism against them in print publications, broadcasts, even including blog space. Media representatives have criticized this bill as an encroachment on their freedom of advocate their various causes.
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