By Raïssa Robles
Now expect waves of sleazy libel suits filed by politicians against Filipino Internet users.
Not because politicians think they can win but simply to suppress criticism and keep potential critics terrified — in short, create a chilling effect in cyberspace. And also because, being politicians, they can afford it. In fact they might even use OUR money.
UPDATE as of 11:07 am, Feb 19-14:
In an ambush interview today by reporters, President Benigno Aquino was asked about the Cybercrime Law. ABS-CBNews.com quoted him as saying:
Aquino: “Kapag lumipat ng format (mula trad’l media), dapat ba exempted? Kung tama naman ang sinasabi mo, bakit ka matatakot? #CybercrimeLaw”
To read more on what Aquino said, pls click on this link.
My comment on Twitter to what Pres. Aquino said – Bec truth not a defense in libel.
Unlike US law, Philippine law states that if the aggrieved party believes the statement was malicious even though it’s true, then he can file a libel suit. The best example of this is the libel suit of the former First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo who found it malicious to be described as “gordo” or fat.
And just because the justices say that merely reposting or commenting would NOT BE LIBELOUS does not mean that politicians and wealthy individuals won’t file libel suits against those who repost or comment. Their clever lawyers can argue that they are not merely reposting and their comments are equivalent to ORIGINAL POSTS.
Nuisance lawsuits can still be filed with chilling effect on cyberspace.
The Supreme Court today upheld much of the Cybercrime Law including Internet libel, even as lawmakers were issuing assurances that they intend to decriminalize libel – by removing the jail sentences and retaining the fines.
Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te explained that Internet libel could only be filed against “the original author of the post.” It cannot be filed against those “who simply receive, post, react to the [message].”
This seems to mean that retweeting a libelous statement or reposting it on Facebook is not libel.
In other words,
“The Court also ruled on the constitutionality of online libel when it further declared that Section 4(c)(4) which penalizes online libel is not unconstitutional with respect to the original author of the post but unconstitutional only where it penalizes those who simply receive the post or react to it,” Atty. Te said.
And the irony? The decision comes on the the eve of the 28th anniversary of People Power, when Filipinos decided to break the shackles of a dictatorship and chase a despot from office.
The Supreme Court has taken a step towards bringing back that era of repression.
And irony of ironies, the son of the icon of democracy (President Benigno Aquino III) and the widower of one of the major champions of Edsa (House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte) played midwives to the efforts.
To be sure, the Supreme Court tried to curb the effects of libel by stating that only the one who posted the piece can be sued. But given the kind of politicians we have, this won’t be enough to protect legitimate dissent.
We all know how libel suits work in real life. The Supreme Court did not put sufficient safeguards.
This is how a libel suit meant to harass works. First the complainant will usually file the case in a court far from where the defendant lives (the filing fee is P1,000 — chicken feed to politicians grown fat on public funds). This will keep the defendant shuttling around, spending money on travel, wasting time, preventing the defendant from earning a living. The Supreme Court decision will allow libel suits to be filed in the most remote places because politicians can claim that the libel was first viewed in Tawi-Tawi, for instance, or Cagayan or Palawan. The one being sued for libel will have to commute to those remote places every time there is a hearing. Non appearance will result in losing the case, being fined and jailed.
Second, the complainant himself or herself will not show up in court — his or her lawyers will do that — after all, that’s the advantage of being wealthy, right? Big media companies usually have lawyers to take care of libel cases, but what about bloggers, Facebook commenters or citizens who Tweet?
Historically, libel suits in the Philippines are mainly the weapon of the powerful and the rich against those whose only weapons are words.
Remember what the former First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo did. Here’s my previous story on it:
Presidential spouse Jose Miguel Arroyo is a natty dresser and a man of many suits. But his critics are finding out his favorite is the libel suit.
Mr Arroyo has sued or is suing six politicians, two publishers, and 12 editors and writers. Two weeks ago, he threatened to sue three more journalists and, this weekend, another congressman.
His critics say he uses the courts as a political tool. But Mr Arroyo, who could not be reached for comment, has claimed his critics have maliciously and falsely accused him of corruption. The claims include vote-buying for his wife President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s 2004 poll victory, money laundering, demanding illegal gambling payoffs and influence peddling.
He has also said they called him fat.
To read the rest, click on this link.
I am not saying that libel on the Internet does not exist or a Cybercrime Law is not needed. I am saying that the Cybercrime Law – which has just been declared mostly constitutional – is so badly worded, especially the section on Internet libel – that it is better to trash it and begin anew.
I am waiting for the wave of sludge to come. Libel suits will clog up the Department of Justice and the court system.
I am posting below the various articles I have written on this topic: