Saying civil damages are enough, Estrada filed Senate Bill No 2521, or an Act Abolishing the Penalty of Imprisonment in Libel cases Against Community Journalists, Publications or Broadcasters.
“The Philippines is perceived as one of the most dangerous pieces in the world for journalists, with numerous cases of killings against media practitioners in recent years” Estrada said on Friday.
Estrada first filed a similar bill during his first term in 2004 in the 13th Congress and refiled the same in 14th, 15th and 16th Congress but, in all instances, failed to pass.
Based on the 2022 Global Impunity Index, which calculates the number of unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of each country’s population, the Philippines ranked seventh in the world with 14 unsolved killings.
According to the 2023 World Press Freedom Index, which evaluates the environment for journalism, the Philippines ranked 132nd among 180 countries, an improvement from last year’s 147th standing.
“The 1987 Constitution guarantees freedom of the press but, in practice, Philippine law does not protect the free exercise of journalism,” Estrada said.
“It does not help that while journalists are under attack, the domestic legal framework poses another serious threat — through imprisonment due to libel, which is currently a criminal offense,” he added.
Under the Revised Penal Code, libel is committed by means of writing, printing, lithography, engraving, radio, phonograph, painting, theatrical exhibition, cinematographic, exhibition, or any similar means.
As amended by Republic Act 10951, it shall be punished by prison correctional (6 months and 1 day to 6 years) in its minimum and medium periods or a fine ranging from P40,000 to P1.2 million, or both.
In a news release last year on its ruling to impose a fine on a cyber libel case, the Supreme Court ruled that the RPC recognizes that the penalty of fine may be imposed as a single or alternative penalty for libel, as evident in the RPC’s “plain use of the disjunctive word ‘or’ between the term of imprisonment and fine, such word signaling disassociation or independence between the two words.”
Thus, for traditional libel, a fine can be imposed in lieu of imprisonment, the SC said.