“Under Article 353 of the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines, libel is defined as a public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status or circumstance tending to discredit or cause the dishonor or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead. Thus, the elements of libel are: (a) imputation of a discreditable act or condition to another; (b) publication of the imputation; (c) identity of the person defamed; and, (d) existence of malice. [Daez v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 47971, 31 October 1990, 191 SCRA 61, 67]”
Those in the media profession are the most vulnerable since their universe and persuasion borders on anything controversial. Those at the vortex of controversy have the laws on libel as their sanctuary and means to get back at their tormentors.
In a celebrated case where a media broadcaster was penalized to serve time for almost 5 years of imprisonment, a complaint was filed addressed to the High Commission of United Nations Human Rights Committee questioning the wisdom of libel laws in the country.
The Committee on Justice and Human Rights of Senate immediately convened jointly with the Committees on Public Information and Mass Media, Constitutional Amendments and Revision of Codes and Finance for a Joint Hearing last May 14, 2014 at the Senate.
The Secretary of Justice was invited to appreciate a Senate Resolution (PSR 571) “directing the Committee on Justice and Human Rights and other proper senate committees to conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, on the alleged due process violations against Davao Journalist Alexander “Alexis” Adonis, with the end in view of reviewing our current laws on libel and of enacting measures that will strengthen our system of Free Legal Services for indigent litigants and the probation and parole system.” It was filed by Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel, III.
The resolution was a result of various inputs mainly from the camp of aggrieved party represented by imprisoned journalist Alexander Adonis. Several gray areas in the application of justice on the case of Adonis sprung out as a consequence requiring the attention of the Secretary of Justice on whose offices proper services could have been offered. Hence, if Adonis is indigent to secure the services of a lawyer, the Public Attorney’s Office could have assisted him in court. Instead, without such representation, he was tried in absentia and sentenced accordingly.
Furthermore, when pro bono lawyers from private firms came to advocate and worked on his pending case, a release order was secured but accordingly, was never reckoned by Davao Prison Superintendent and thereupon refused to release Adonis. (A review of documents would yield that lawyers of Adonis after securing the provisional release order for a pending case (CC# 48, 719-2001) could use the same in securing the same effect on a case (CC# 48, 679-2001) which has been decided already. The court order never even considered such consideration.)
The Secretary of Justice promptly acted on the resolution by requiring officers from the Regional Director of the Regional Prosecution Office (Reg. 11), Board of Pardons and Parole Chairperson, Director of Corrections and Chief Public Attorney’s Office.
The Senate Resolution was hurriedly prepared and dubiously considered allegations made by representatives of journalist Alexander Adonis. It was definitely in response to a clamour by media for legislators to address that which at times, if not most of the time, used to harassed media in their profession for public information. The real issue actually is to “review the current laws on libel and of enacting measures that will strengthen the system of free legal services for indigent litigants and the probation and parole system.”
The main issue has been spliced into several issues which do not correspond to libel. And while there was instant attention given on laws on libels, the discussion literally was hamstrung with a number of side issues pushing the main point into an ambiguous angle.
This early and at the rate the libel issue is studied, the point of decriminalizing libel is more of a pie in the sky than a pie on the table.