Senator Jinggoy Ejercito Estrada has proposed the imposition of a fine instead of imprisonment as a penalty in libel cases.
In Senate Bill No. 2521, Estrada also pushed for limiting the venue of filing libel cases involving community journalists, publications, or broadcast stations.
“While it is right of individuals to be protected from irresponsible reporting or commentary, imprisonment is not a just penalty for such. Civil damages may be enough penalty and deterrence,” he said.
Under Estrada’s bill, instead of facing jail time, individuals found guilty of libel could face fines ranging from P10,000 to P30,000.
At present, libel convictions can lead to jail terms from six months to six years.
On the issue of filing venues, Estrada suggested that libel cases involving journalists and media entities should be filed in the regional trial court of the province where their office is located.
Currently, in libel cases involving public officers, they can file complaints in courts where their offices are located.
Private individuals file in the trial court where they reside when the alleged libel occurred.
He however lamented that the existing system is often abused by subjects of news articles, causing undue harassment and inconvenience to journalists and media organizations.
“They file suits in distant locations, leading to unjust imprisonment or bail, even if the cases are later dropped, resolved, or dismissed,” he said.
Estrada has advocated for the decriminalization of libel since he was first elected senator in 2004. He has repeatedly filed bills decriminalizing libel, but such measures have languished in the Senate.
“It is unfortunate that despite the clarion call of mass media organizations and human rights groups to amend prevailing laws on libel, they have remained untouched over the years. Efforts to revise existing laws to strengthen press freedom have languished in the Senate legislative mill for two decades since I first filed this bill,” he said.