Unless reversed by a higher court, the conviction for cyber libel of Rappler’s Maria Ressa and its former researcher Reynaldo Santos, Jr. will further shrink not only the democratic space for free expression and press freedom but also the people’s right to be informed on matters relevant to their lives as citizens and as human beings.
THE FEBRUARY 18 decision of the Supreme Court is at best only a partial victory for free expression.
The Court declared the provisions of the Cyber Crime Prevention Act of 2012 (RA10175) on unsolicited commercial communications (Section 4c3), real-time collection of traffic data (Section 12), and blocking access to computer sites found in violation of the Act unconstitutional. These were among the key provisions the petitioners against the Act had identified as unconstitutional and infringing on several rights including the right to free expression.
THE administration of Benigno Aquino III must review Philippine libel law, decriminalize libel, and compensate a Filipino journalist for the time he was imprisoned for libel. These are the recommendations of the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC), which has expressed the view that the country’s libel law is at odds with Section 2 Article XIX of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which the Philippines ratified in 1986.
The ICCPR is part of the International Bill of Rights. Section 2 of Article XIX states that “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”
In 1987, a libel suit filed by then President Corazon Aquino against Philippine Star columnist Luis Beltran alarmed press freedom groups. In a column on the failed 1987 coup, Beltran had playfully (and inaccurately) described Mrs. Aquino as the first commander-in-chief in the country’s history to hide under a bed during the attempted assault on Malacanang by Gringo Honasan’s putschist gang.