Estrada critic convicted of cyber libel

(CNN) Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 22) — A critic of Senator Jinggoy Estrada was convicted of cyber libel for statements made against the lawmaker in 2020.

The case stemmed from a complaint filed by Estrada over Jessant So’s Facebook posts where he described the lawmaker as “magnanakaw, abusado at corrupt na opisyal at isang kandidatong maagang nangangampanya (a thief, an abusive official, and a candidate who participates in early campaigning).

So said his social media posts were not libelous, malicious or defamatory, but merely opinions.

However, Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 90 Presiding Judge Maria Zorayda Zabat Tuazon found So guilty of seven counts of violation of Section 4(c) (4) of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.

The court said So’s statements were “intended to cast aspersions on the character and person” of Estrada and the use of “diumano (according to)…as a defense fails to convince the court that the statements were opinions and commentaries considering the failure of the accused to identify the factual basis and/or sources of these alleged animalis, illegal actions and accusations.”

The court added So’s guilt was proven “beyond reasonable doubt.”

It sentenced So to the penalty of prision correccional, with its maximum period of four to six years, to prision mayor, with its minimum period of six to eight years, for each of the seven counts of cyber libel.

In a statement posted on Facebook, Estrada said he welcomed the decision.

He stressed that the accusations against him were proven false, and he hopes the case serves as a lesson to those who make baseless accusations.

“Freedom of expression and the right to critique public figures are crucial for a healthy democracy. Ngunit may hangganan din ang mga karapatang ito lalo na kung walang bahid ng katotohanan ang mga paratang at mga binitawang salita at ang tanging layon lamang ay makapanira ng pagkatao,” he added.

[Translation: However, these rights are not absolute, especially if the accusations are untrue and only meant to malign a person.]