Lawmakers refile House bill to repeal libel law

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SEVERAL congressmen have refiled a bill that seeks to decriminalize libel, which they said has been used to harass journalists.

Congress should repeal that law against libel as part of its “sworn duty to uphold and strengthen the democratic rights of the Filipino people,” Party-list Reps. France L. Castro, Arlene D. Brosas and Raoul Daniel A. Manuel said in House Bill 1769.

Filipinos should have unfettered access to information involving matters of public concern, they added. In a separate statement, Ms. Castro said the bill was refiled after the Court of Appeals’ guilty verdict against Rappler founder Maria A. Ressa and former Rappler researcher Rey Santos. “The libel law has been increasingly used by public officials and public figures as a tool to cow and muzzle the independent press, to shield themselves from critical reportage,” she said.

“With the passage of Republic Act 10175 or the Cyber-crime Law of 2012 and its criminalization of cyber-libel, the threat to the people’s right to free expression and free press has even become more serious and real,” Ms. Castro said.

The bill cited a dissenting opinion by Supreme Court Senior Justice Marvic Mario Victor Leonen in a 2014 libel case, where he said libel is used “not so much to prosecute but deter speech.”

“It is time that we now go further and declare libel as provided in the Revised Penal Code and in the Cyber-crime Prevention Act of 2012 as unconstitutional,” Mr. Leonen said in the dissenting opinion. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza