Senate bill seeks decriminalization of libel

(GMA) A bill seeking to remove jail time for libel cases and limit the venue of filing libel suits has been filed in the Senate.advertisement

Senator Jinggoy Estrada proposed Senate Bill 2521, noting that the previously filed measures seeking to amend the law on libel and strengthen press freedom have “languished in the Senate legislative mill for two decades.”

In filing the bill, Estrada mentioned the perception of the Philippines as one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists.

In the 2022 Global Impunity Index, which ranks the number of unsolved journalist murders of each country, the Philippines ranked seventh in the world with 14 unsolved murders.

Estrada also cited the 2023 World Press Freedom Index, which evaluates the environment for journalism in 180 countries, where the Philippines ranked 132nd.

“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. While it is the 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,” Estrada said.

“It is the duty of the State to afford ample protection to journalists, which, in turn, translates into adherence to a larger cause: the promotion of the Constitutionally-protected right to expression. This bill seeks to decriminalize libel and limit the venue of filing libel suits,” he added.

The bill seeks to amend provisions of the Revised Penal Code by replacing penalties of imprisonment that may vary from six months to six years with fines ranging from P10,000 to P30,000.

Estrada’s bill also proposes that the offense and penalty be applicable within six months from the initial publication, airing, or exhibition of the libelous material.

For reporters, editors, or managers of a newspaper, daily, or magazine who publish facts related to a private individual that are offensive to their honor, virtue, and reputation, a fine ranging from P5,000 to P15,000 will be imposed instead of jail time.

SB 2521 likewise proposed that the suits involving community journalists, publications, or broadcast stations should be filed in the regional trial courts of the province or city where their principal office or place of business is located.

In his explanatory note, Estrada raised that under present rules, the complainant in a libel case may file their suits in far-flung areas or away from the office of the media practitioners, which has been “used and abused” by the offended party “in order to harass and cause inconvenience to the journalists and media organizations.”

“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…The passage of this legislation is earnestly sought,” Estrada said. —KBK, GMA Integrated News