WHILE many believe that criminalizing libel is detrimental and contrary to the exercise of freedom, keeping it a criminal offense could, on the other hand, help save the lives of journalists amid the wave of media killings in the country, according to Sen. Aquilino Pimentel 3rd.
Pimentel, head of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, on Sunday said keeping libel a crime would provide those who felt aggrieved and maligned with a legal option, instead of resorting to violent means like killing journalists.
He added that although his committee is studying several proposed measures seeking to decriminalize libel, he is in favor of retaining it as a criminal offense because he would rather see journalists defend themselves in court rather than see them dead.
Those who have been subjects of unfavorable news reports or columns, Pimentel said, should take advantage of the existing libel law to sue media practitioners whom they believe have maligned them.
Several lawmakers have filed proposed measures seeking to decriminalize libel, noting that such move could provide greater protection to freedom of speech and expression.
Senators Francis Escudero and Ralph Recto filed their respective proposals seeking to repeal Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code to decriminalize libel committed by writing, printing, airing on radio or any similar means.
“The Philippines, as a country deemed democratic and developing, cannot rest on its antiquated laws that run detrimental and contrary to the exercise of freedom,” Escudero earlier said.
There are also suggestions to impose heavier penalties against those found guilty of killing media practitioners.
But Pimentel said increasing fines and penalties will not stop media-related murders in the country because of the failure of the police to arrest those responsible for the killings.
The senator added that unless the culprits are immediately brought to justice, the public’s faith in the country’s criminal justice system will not be restored.
According to Pimentel, authorities must exert civic-spirited promptness in taking action to identify, arrest and eventually prosecute suspects behind media killings, including the recent murders of three local journalists in Sorsogon, Davao and Misamis Occidental.
“It is unfortunate that such tragedies have befallen these local journalists. The first step in obtaining justice is solving the crime and arresting the suspects,” he said.