Time to decriminalize libel

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The Altermidya Network expresses solidarity with colleagues in the mainstream media who are facing cyberlibel complaints filed by Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi and known Duterte ally and businessman Dennis Uy.

These complaints, all filed simultaneously involving seven news organizations, demonstrate a clear attack on press freedom. Throughout history, the filing of libel suits only serves to intimidate the press and bring about a chilling effect among media practitioners.

We stand by our colleagues who only reported on stories based on a graft suit filed against Sec. Cusi and Uy. The case, moreover, involves a public official and figure in a project funded by taxpayers.

It is an injustice to make the press answer for questions directed to oneself, more so to call the treatment of Cusi “inhumane” and the news report “malicious”, as he said in his statement.

The media is here to report and bring timely information and analysis to the public, not save face as too long expected by public officials implicated in anomalies.

We reiterate our call to decriminalize libel. The country should observe international human rights standards that do not advocate imprisonment as punishment for defamation. Libel in the Philippines has been called “excessive” and in violation of international civil and political rights.

As seen in each Philippine administration, even in colonial times, libel has been used to relinquish accountability and punish the press who report on wrongdoings. It goes against our right to a free press and free expression, and by extension, to our fundamental democratic rights.

The chilling effect of libel is aggravated by the controversial Anti-Terrorism Law, two draconian measures that could be used against journalists and critics of the administration. Both promote impunity and censorship, and are attacks to our fundamental rights and civil liberties.

It is time to heed the call to decriminalize libel. Our government, and all its agencies and branches, should uphold and protect the constitutional right of Filipinos to free speech and expression — not to hinder the full realization of these freedoms.

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