Feb. 18, 2019
The government’s persecution of Maria Ressa and Rappler, the latest of which is the Department of Justice’s brazen perversion of the law to allow their prosecution for cyber libel, underscores the urgent need to decriminalize the offense.
It is bad enough that a dangerously vindictive government has mangled the law beyond recognition in its obsession to shut down a critical news outfit.
But unless stopped, these machinations will eventually endanger not only Rappler or the independent Philippine media but each and every Filipino who has ever posted anything online.
Already, we see the chilling effect of this blatant perversion of the law in the unfortunate decision of Philstar.com to take down its 17-year old story on Wilfredo Keng, one of the bases of its allegedly offensive article, after the businessman’s camp “raised the possibility of legal action.”
The position of the DOJ and the National Bureau of Investigation that an allegedly defamatory statement posted online will continue to be a crime unless the offending material is taken down means that anything and everything anyone posts anywhere on the web can be cause for criminal prosecution that could lead to long jail terms and crippling fines.
So much so that, while we will never ever agree with suing anyone for criminal libel, we feel we should point out that so-called trolls and other netizens prone to using abusive language against those they disagree with could open up themselves to prosecution.
Once they realize this, it is not inconceivable that we could witness online desertification as people attempt to wipe out any content that might be deemed, for any reason, libelous. Although if the DOJ chooses to further stretch its twisted logic, we might find that even cached versions of taken down content might still be subject to prosecution.
This would, in effect, spell the death of freedom of expression and of the press, without which the triumph of tyranny would be inevitable.
We acknowledge the extreme difficulty of getting Congress to finally heed our decades-old demand, which they have continued to ignore, to decriminalize libel and make it a purely civil matter. After all, our antediluvian libel law and its threat of jail time is one of the weapons of choice of corrupt officialdom against those who dare scrutinize and call out their venality and abuse.
We address our call not only to the community of independent Filipino journalists but to each and every Filipino, regardless of persuasion, who values their freedom of expression and their right to know.
Surrender or defeat are not options in this fight, lest we end up ceding our basic rights and liberties.