Thursday, October 04, 2012

Decriminalizing Libel: An Antidote to the Chilling Effect on Press Freedom

While Senator Edgardo Angara had yesterday made suggestion that the entire regime of libel laws should be abolished, thereupon decriminalizing libel, Senator Chiz Escudero had swiftly filed an amendatory bill that would repeal the libel clause in R.A. 10175, otherwise known as the Philippine Cybercrime Law.

In July of 2010, Senator Escudero had actually filed a bill aiming to decriminalize libel, but of course it did not take flight.

"It is submitted that any form of libel is a form of abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, of press," the senator said.

"With today's modern technology, the crime of libel does not only prove antiquated but to the contrary even overarching as a state tool to restrain freedom of speech," he added.

So how outmoded libel law is in actuality? 

In March, Business World Vergel Santos had made statement how " libel slows down civilization" in a forum held by media practitioners and advocates that had then been intensifying the call for the abolition of the libel law.

In October of 2011, the United Nations through the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) had declared how the libel laws of the Philippines and the sanctions involved thereat are "excessive" and highly contrary to the provisions to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which the Philippines is a signatory.

In America for example, there is no federal law that criminalizes libel, where only actions for civil damages are allowed; although 17 states there remains to penalize written defamation by criminal punishment.

In most countries in Asia and Europe, such as South Korea, China, Belgium and Austria, specific provisions against the written form of defamation, as in libel, does not exist.

How did "Libel" begun? 

In history, the root of this misconduct is in the act of shouting. The Praetorian Edict circa 130 AD had made the act of cursive public pronouncement, through shouting, to be gravely punishable. The code had declared: "qui, advesus bonos mores convicium cui fecisse cuiusve opera factum esse dicitur, quo adversus bonos mores convicium Weret, in eum iudicium dabo. " That is, shouting words and invectives contrary to public morals shall be punishable.

In modern times, outstanding cases of libel involved a luckless individual named William Prynn, an English writer who had written a book criticizing the Queen of England and was imprisoned in 1637 for life for his own undoing.

In the 1735, a landmark case involved publisher John Peter Zenger who was charged with Seditious Libel for his fervent criticism of William Cosby in the paper New York Weekly Journal, who then the British Governor of New York, when America was still under the hold of colonial rule.

It was ruled in the said case that the defense of truth, when allegations made were proven to be factual, and without any malice, should render the defendant without guilt. In previous libel cases heard in America, libel charges had prospered whether the malefaction involved were of truth or of falsity.

The Zenger case thereon had laid the standard for succeeding decisions on libel cases and had virtually shaped the form of modern libel laws.

The main problem with the libel laws in the Philippines is that they become such a great impediment to freedom of expression as it becomes punishable by a grave penalty of prision correccional which involves imprisonment of up to six years, merely for having written defamatory words.

Oral pronouncements could actually become libelous even if not written or published, in so long as it was communicated to third persons, with positive identification.

As the modern world is ensconced upon the daily embrace of media, millions of words are published every day, which raises the probability of libel exponentially that libel suits are undertaken upon spuriously half of the time, without proper basis, ultimately for harassment purposes, thereupon clogging our courts to no end.

Libel had been deemed to have a chilling effect on publishers and writers alike as they continually face the threat of lawsuit for the content they write and publish.

The crime of libel, as inscribed in our Revised penal Code does become too constricting to freedom of speech and of the press and often abused by moneyed and powerful individuals to harass and annoy, thereby stifling one's capability for opinion and expression of views. It would the right time for our lawmakers to entirely repeal libel in our penal laws.

In lieu, defamation should be upgraded and be formed in such a way that any slanderous comment, whether orally pronounced or made in written form, should altogether be punishable, for indeed, such slanderous remarks becomes malicious in its form, regardless of how it is communicated or channeled through.

And it becomes even more worthwhile if defamatory acts in general should be categorized into the realms of civil actions, where every act of vicious slander becomes answerable, and the defamer does not becomes altogether scot-free but be obliged to compensate for his or her grave misdeed.

Publishers and writers often produced great amount of written content on a daily basis that the probability of "libelous" remarks is very high, even when made in the course of their duty to express the truth and uncover social misdeeds and even when malicious intent does not pertain.


  1. Libel is very hard to prove with the malice element always judgmental. I think we should just allow freedom of speech and just be stronger against detractors.

    1. That's what legal experts say about this malediction; it's easy to bring to court but difficult to prosecute through its many vague nuances, like the uncertainty of motive and the instance of malice.

  2. Just like what Franc said, let us just allow freedom of speech but let us not abuse it by also thinking before we express our opinion.

  3. Yes Angie, there are so many safeguards against abuse of freedom of speech and press, we don't need more suppression through the cybercrime law...

  4. way back on year 2011, my roommate is a law student and he thought me what is "libel" as we discussed about "libel" he said that many people abuse this law because it will give you a big money or you gain profit. I was worried and very cautious of my words and "libel" really took away my freedom of speech...

    1. Yes, often it is instituted merely for personal gain and interest. It is not good thing :-)

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