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On Panelo’s ‘honor’

Presidential legal counsel and spokesperson Salvador Panelo again proved that both libel and cyberlibel should be decriminalized when he threatened both Rappler and the Inquirer.net with legal charges for simply reporting on an important and raging public issue. Panelo is showing the Filipino people that this country’s criminal libel and cyberlibel laws are, more often than not, used as weapons wielded by the powerful to exact revenge and to punish than a legal remedy for justice.

In a press briefing in Malacañan Palace Tuesday, Panelo said his office is drafting the libel complaints, against both media outfits for being “irresponsible” and “malicious.” To his mind, reports about his February 26, 2019 letter to the Board of Pardons and Parole forwarding Antonio Sanchez’s family’s request for executive clemency were meant to discredit him in public and to tarnish his honor.

“Balat-sibuyas” is what we Filipinos call officials who are incapable of thinking beyond their imagined hurt and fail to see that the reports are not all about them. Officials of Panelo’s kind must at least admit that, in this case, those reports helped avert the travesty of the convicted rapist and murderer’s early release. Those reports informed the public that flawed laws are being abused by powerful people and that such laws beggars revisiting. Those reports also serve to warn officials like Panelo to be careful in dispensing both duties and favors, even to old friends.

If protecting his honor is what Panelo is really after, he should refrain from carrying out his threat against Rappler and Inquirer.net. Magnanimity is key. Honor is, after all, like a nice shirt seen by others on the wearer, not a sword wielded harshly by the bearer. #

The National Directorate

NATIONAL UNION OF JOURNALISTS OF THE PHILIPPINES

September 4, 2019

Netizens’ free expression in grave threat with cyberlibel conviction

THE CONVICTION of two radio broadcasters in Kidapawan City for simply expressing their opinion in social media –supposedly meant to provide an avenue for personal opinions and narratives – is the latest attack on free expression not only of media practitioners but of everyone who dare share their stand on burning issues. Their conviction may well be a signal that will herald a new wave of attacks against free speech and expression, rights that are in fact enshrined in our very own Constitution.

We condemn in the strongest possible terms the conviction meted by the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Kidapawan City to broadcasters Eric Rodinas of Radyo Natin and Larry Baja Subillaga who were charged with online libel by North Cotabato Governor Emmylou “Lala” Taliño-Mendoza.
In a decision dated March 22, the Kidapawan RTC convicted the two broadcasters of online libel with a penalty imprisonment ranging from a minimum of 4 years and one day to a maximum of 8 years and one day. The broadcasters were also ordered to pay P1 million fine, P1 million for moral damages, and P500,000 for examplary damages.

The case sprung from what Governor Taliño-Mendoza labelled as “malicious” statements posted by the two in their social media accounts last March 2017. In his Facebook post, Subillaga said that Taliño-Mendoza was fooling the people of the province, while Dugaduga said the governor became rich because of corruption. The broadcasters said that they will appeal their conviction before the Supreme Court.

This latest development proves what we have been pointing out ever since the passage of Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012: that it can be exploited to silence criticism by well-entrenched and powerful people, especially government officials. RA 10175 not only criminalizes libel – something that has long been clamored to be decriminalized – but also sets penalties “one degree higher” than that provided for libel in the Revised Penal Code.

Weaponizing online libel adds to the long list of attacks perpetrated by state forces to the media, which include harassment of journalists, cyber attacks on newssites, legal debacles, and most heinously, killings. This latest development only intensifies the reigning climate of impunity brutely cultivated and propagated by the current administration. Online libel is yet another lethal weapon that can be abused to silence criticism by an apparent insecure government afraid of the truth. We reiterate our call to repeal the anti-cybercrime law, decriminalize libel, and to put a stop to all forms of attacks against legitimate dissent and free speech.

Position Paper on the proposed amendments to the Human Security Act of 2017 (House Bills 7141 and 5507)

Your Honors:

Following is a more complete version of NUJP’s position paper delivered during the Technical Working Group (TWG) meeting of June 18, 2018.

The NUJP opposes these bills, as well as the working draft currently being discussed by the TWG, asthey include provisions that may be later used against the people’s right to freedom of expression and the freedom of the press. If passed and implemented, this will make the practice of journalism in this country impossible and extremely dangerous.

Specifically:

  1. Section 4, wherein Republic Act 10175, otherwise known as the Cybercrime Law, specifically its Chapter II, item 4 on Libel, is included as a predicate crime on terrorism.

The NUJP and the mass media industry in general is on record to be opposed to libel as a crime, as it in fact being used to harass journalists. We have petitioned congress to decriminalize libel, as we are on record to have opposed the Cybercrime Law. We surely cannot agree to making libel an even stronger law by making it a predicate crime for the crime of terrorism.

In addition, almost all media outfits nowadays have online platforms. The inclusion of the Cybercrime Law as a predicate crime to the crime of terrorism would endanger journalists the most. We fear critical reports and opinion may already be called terroristic acts. Why pass bills that may constrict the exercise of free journalism in this country when, in fact and in practice, it is increasingly being subverted already? May we remind the TWG that according to our Constitution, “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of the press.”

  1. Section 5(b). Inciting to terrorism. – Any person who incites another person by any means to commit terrorism whether or not directly advocating the commission of any of such act, thereby causing danger that one or more such acts may be committed, shall be punished with the penalty of life imprisonment.

(We note that the National Bureau of Investigation and the Anti-Money Laundering Council propose that the words “inciting to terrorism” be defined and that the NBI has said that the penalty of life imprisonment is excessive and places inciters at the same level as those who actually commit terrorism. On the basis of the gravity of offense, inciting to terrorism warrants a lighter penalty.)

We ask, who determines incitement? Would a news article explaining the roots of “terrorism” or rebellion, which terms the government often interchanges freely, qualify as incitement? Past governments certainly viewed it this way.

  1. Sec. 5 (f). Glorification of terrorism – Any person who, not being a conspirator, accomplice or accessory under Sections 5, 6 and 7 of this act, shall by any means make a statement or act, through any medium, which tends to directly or indirectly encourage, justify, honor or otherwise induce the commission of terrorist acts (as proposed by the department of defense) by proscribed or designated individuals or organizations, or shall by any means honor glorify proscribed or designated individuals or organizations (as proposed by the AMLC), shall suffer the penalty of ten (10) years of imprisonment.

We offer the same comment as above. Who determines glorification and terrorism? Might not this provision be used by state forces to charge and harass members of the press who would write something about so called terrorism, misconstruing such as glorification?

  1. Sec. 5(g). Membership in terrorist organizations. – Any person who shall knowingly become a member or manifest his/her intention to become a member of any Philippine Court-proscribed or United Nations Security Council-designated terrorist organization shall suffer the penalty of life imprisonment.” (House Bill No. 5507)

The government, particularly state security forces, have time and again tagged legal organizations, including the NUJP, as “fronts” or even “enemies of the state.” If these agencies have been so cavalier in endangering the lives and reputation of legitimate media organizations in the past, these bills would further embolden them to violate our rights.

  1. Sec. 9. Section 8 of the same act is hereby renumbered and amended to read as follows:

“Section[8] 9. Formal application for judicial authorization. – The written order of the authorizing division of the court of appeals and/or regional trial court.

(The Philippine Military Academy Alumni Association – Eagle Chapter proposes to change the references to Court of Appeals and RTC to “proper judicial authorities” and the phrase “probable cause based on personal knowledge” to “probable cause based on reasonable ground of suspicion of facts and circumstances.”)

To track down, tap, listen to, intercept, and record communications, messages, conversations, discussions, or spoken or written words [of any person suspected of the crime of terrorism or the crime of conspiracy to commit terrorism] in Section 8 hereof shall only be granted by the authorizing division of the Court of Appeals and/or the Regional Trial Court upon an ex parte written application of a [police or of a law enforcement official] law enforcement or military personnel [who has been duly authorized in writing by the anti-terrorism council created in sec. 53 of this act to file such ex parte application], and upon examination under oath or affirmation of the applicant and [the] his/her witnesses [he may produce to establish]: (a) that there is probable cause to believe based on personal knowledge of facts or circumstances that any of the [said] crimes [of terrorism or conspiracy to commit terrorism] in section 4, 5, 5(a), 5(b), 5(c), 5(d), 5(e), 5 (f) and 5(g) hereof [has] have been committed, or [is] are being committed, or [is] are about to be committed; (b) that there is probable cause to believe based on personal knowledge of facts or circumstances that evidence, which is essential to the conviction of any charged or suspected person for, or to the solution or prevention of, any such crimes, will be obtained; and, (c) that there is no other effective means readily available for acquiring such evidence.

(On the phrases “In case of imminent danger or actual terrorist attack,” we note that the Department of Information and Communications Technology proposes to define the terms “imminent danger” and “actual terrorist attack.)

The Secretary of the Department of Information and Communications Technology / National Telecommunications Commission (as proposed by the DOJ) the Court of Appeals or the Regional Trial Court, upon the certification of the Anti-Terrorism Council based on reasonable ground of suspicion on the part of the law enforcement or military personnel, (as proposed by the Philippine National Police) shall have the power to compel telecom and internet service providers to produce all customer information and identification records as well as call and text data records and other cellular or internet metadata of any person suspected of any crime in section 4, 5, 5(a), 5(b), 5(c), 5(d), 5(e), 5(f) and 5(g) hereof.

Again, Your Honors, this is dangerous. It would open the floodgates to a widespread violation of people’s rights, including journalists. Also, if the proposals of Philippine Military Academy Alumni Association–Eagle Chapter to change the references to Court of Appeals and RTC to “proper judicial authorities” and the phrase “probable cause based on personal knowledge” to “probable cause based on reasonable ground of suspicion of facts and circumstances” are adopted, this could expose practically anyone to invasion of privacy.

  1. Section 18. Period of detention without judicial warrant of arrest. – The provisions of Article 125 of the Revised Penal Code to the contrary notwithstanding, any [police or] law enforcement or military personnel [, who, having been duly authorized in writing by the Anti-Terrorism Council] has taken custody of a person [charged with or] suspected [of the crime of terrorism or the crime of conspiracy to commit terrorism]of committing any of the punishable acts in section 4, 5(a), 5(b), 5(c), 5(d), 5(e), 5(f) and 5(g) hereof shall, without incurring any criminal liability for delay in the delivery of detained persons to the proper judicial authorities, deliver said [charged or suspected]arrested person to the proper judicial authority within a period of thirty (30) days (security reform initiative proposes a maximum of fourteen (14) days.) Counted from the moment the said [charged or suspected] person has been [apprehended or] arrested excluding Saturday, Sunday and Holidays.[, detained, and taken into custody by the said police, or law enforcement personnel: provided, that the arrest of those suspected of the crime of terrorism or conspiracy to commit terrorism must result from the surveillance under sec. 7 and examination of bank deposits under sec. 27 of this act.]

Thirty days is too long and open to so many potential abuses of basic rights. As you know, Your Honors, journalists are victims of harassment suits and arbitrary arrests and detention for the flimsiest of reasons. On the inclusion of the cybercrime law as among the special laws that may be applied against suspected terrorists.

Your Honors, it was clear to the NUJP during the June 18, 2018 meeting that these bills were merely cobbled up versions of anti-terrorism laws by other countries such as Australia. This much the proponents admitted. What they dishonestly withhold from the TWG, however, is that the laws they copied have very clear definitions and exemptions as safeguards against abuse, something they did not bother to copy in their dangerous versions. Many provisions of House Bills 7141 and 5507 are bullets aimed to kill people’s civil, political and human rights.

And so, while the NUJP was encouraged by the Honorable Chairperson Rufino Biazon’s opening statement last June 18 that people’s rights must be guaranteed, we, however, declare our opposition to the bills.

Thank you.

NUJP National Directorate

Nonoy Espina                                    Marlon Ramos                                   Dabet Panelo

      Chairperson                                       Vice Chairperson                              Secretary General

     Raymund Villanueva                       Jhoanna Ballaran                             Ron Lopez

Deputy Secretary General                           Treasurer                                          Auditor

 

Directors

Nestor Burgos                   Gerg Cahiles                       Kath Cortez                        Virgilio Cuizon

Justine Dizon          Sonny Fernandez        Kimberlie Quitasol         Richel Umel          Judith Suarez

NUJP to Piñol: Filing civil complaint vs Baguio journo in Cotabato harassment

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) described as harassment agriculture secretary Manny Piñol’s two-pronged cyber libel case against Baguio journalist Frank Cimatu over a Facebook post.

In a statement, the NUJP said Piñol’s move illustrates how the law is often used not to seek redress as to harass perceived foes, and why the offense should be decriminalized.

“It is doubly unfortunate that Sec. Pinol, who makes much of the fact that he is a former journalist, should even think of unreasonably punishing a former colleague by filing a complaint in a venue on the opposite side of the country as Cimatu,” the NUJP said.

Piñol filed a criminal complaint in Quezon City Wednesday against Cimatu over his September 24 Facebook post.

“Agri sec got rich by P21-M in 6 months. Bird flu pa more” Cimatu’s post said.

The official also announced he will file a civil complaint in Kidapawan City in Cotabato province.

“I am a government official but I will not be a punching bag to reporters like Cimatu. It is time to teach people like him a lesson,” Piñol in turn posted on his Facebook page.

Cimatu declined to comment further on the development, saying he has yet to receive copies of the complaints.

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“…That where one of the offended parties is a public officer whose office is in the City of Manila at the time of the commission of the offense, the action shall be filed in the Court of First Instance of the City of Manila or of the city or province where the libelous article is printed and first published, and in case such public officer does not hold office in the City of Manila, the action shall be filed in the Court of First Instance of the province or city where he held office at the time of the commission of the offense or where the libelous article is printed and first published…”–RA 4363 (1965), amending Article 360 of the Revised Penal Code 

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The NUJP however said Pinol’s threat to file the civil aspect of his complaint in Mindanao is prohibited by law, specifically 1965’s Rep. Act No. 4363, which amended Article 360 of the Revised Penal Code which orders that public officers should file their complaints where they hold office.

Piñol primarily holds office in Quezon City.

“It seems evident that a ranking government official who seeks to compel a journalist from Baguio City to travel all the way to Kidapawan is engaged not in an attempt to seek redress but to inflict a punishment that is way too cruel and excessive for the perceived offense, which is yet, we stress, to be proven in court that it could well enter into a gross abuse of the powers of his position,” the NUJP said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)