Satur leads solons in withdrawing as authors of libel measure

Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo led four other progressive members of Congress in withdrawing their names as authors of a consolidated bill which, at first, sought to decriminalize libel in the Philippines.

Ocampo is himself a journalist, having served as business editor at the pre-martial law Manila Times and as vice president of the National Press Club.

In a letter to House majority leader Arthur Defensor, the activist solons wrote:

This is to inform you that we are withdrawing our authorship of House Bill No. 5760, which supposedly consolidates various bills seeking to decriminalize libel, or at least eliminate imprisonment as a penalty for the crime.

HB 5760, which does not decriminalize libel but is intended to reform the law, is a direct anti-thesis to our original bill, HB 3535, which aims to delete libel from our criminal statutes.

We have always believed that libel should be decriminalized based on the following grounds:

First, libel, like non-payment of debt, does not partake of a criminal act even if it does cause damage to another person. Thus, the personal injury caused by a defamatory publication constitutes a cause of action for civil damages but not for criminal prosecution.

Second, public funds and the criminal justice system should not be used to vindicate a private reputation. In the case of libel, the criminal justice system is employed against an individual for his act of damaging the reputation of another.

Third, libelous statements against the government are already taken care of by the provisions in the Revised Penal Code defining the crimes of rebellion or sedition.

Fourth, the crime of libel has been used as a tool for repression, particularly against the media.

Fifth, and most importantly, the crime of libel violates the constitutional right to press freedom and presumption of innocence as it constitutes prior restraint and places the burden of proof on the accused.

Moreover, we take exception to the manner by which the consolidated bill, HB 5760, was crafted. We were not informed of or invited to any Technical Working Group (TWG) meeting to iron out the differences of the various bills on the matter, if there were any. In fact, we were surprised that the Committee on Revision of Laws has come out with the supposed consolidated bill.

It may be noted that the consolidated bill is strikingly similar to HB 4914, which was the last to be filed among the various bills, but which advocates the philosophy of maintaining libel as a crime. Such is exactly opposite to the other bills. To say that HB 5760 is a “middle ground” is therefore unacceptable since it clearly is not.

It is admitted that the consolidated bill includes certain provisions that are “better” than the current libel law particularly on venue and the liability of editors. However, it is still subject to the five points explained above. Worse, it increases the fines for libel without attempting to lower the penalty of imprisonment.

In view of the foregoing, we deem it best to withdraw our authorship of HB 5760.

Also signing the letter were Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casino, Gabriela Reps. Liza Maza and Luz Ilagan, and Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano. Together with Ocampo, they were the principal authors of HB 3535 which was later consolidated to HB 5760.

Compare the Ocampo bill and the consolidated bill below:

HB 3535

Consolidated Bill