WE defend and uphold the freedom of expression and the press even as we also maintain that these rights should not be abused and should be exercised with utmost responsibility.
The recent arrests of columnist and television host Peter Jimenea and blogger and block time host Manuel “Boy” Mejorada has again highlighted the call of freedom of expression advocates and journalists to decriminalize libel in the Philippines.
Jimenea, a polio survivor, and 60-year-old Mejorada were arrested on libel charges.
Jimenea was handcuffed and brought to San Jose town in Antique where the complaint was filed.
Mejorada was arrested at his residence in Pavia town, handcuffed and brought to the municipal police station on Friday evening, which meant he could only post bail the next day.
He would have spent a night in jail if he was not brought to a hospital after feeling ill due to elevated blood pressure.
We do not agree with and subscribe to many acts of Mr. Mejorada in the exercise of our basic right to expression.
But the guilt or innocence of Jimenea and Mejorada in the specific cases they were arrested for will still be determined by the appropriate courts.
That is why we question why in the implementation of arrest warrants, they were treated like dangerous armed criminals.
The two are facing libel charges, a bailable offense. It is unlike, murder, drug trafficking, robbery or rape.
Considering their age, physical condition and stature in the community, it is ridiculous to consider that they are dangerous and pose flight risks.
The libel law in the Philippines as provided in the Revised Penal Code is archaic. While it is meant to deter abuse of the freedom of expression, this law has also been widely used to intimidate and harass journalists and suppress legitimate expression and criticism which are essential in a democracy.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee said in an October 2011 declaration that the criminal sanction for libel in the Philippines is “excessive” and violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a multilateral treaty that the Philippines is a signatory of.
Globally, there has been a trend for the decriminalization of libel especially on speech concerning public officials or figures.
In many countries, libel is a civil offense and violators face civil liabilities through indemnification of the aggrieved party and not imprisonment.
These countries have taken the position that a civil law is adequate to protect one’s reputation against defamation or libel and offer compensation for any damages done.
The amendment of the libel law in the country is more than delayed.
National Union of Journalists of the Philippines-Iloilo Chapter