By Mario Casayuran
One of the country’s legal eagles said Tuesday the government should maintain libel as a crime to deter those with malicious motives from maligning the reputation of others.
Former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile issued the statement amid calls for the decriminalization of libel following the arrest of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa last month.
“I would rather maintain [libel as a crime] because there are people whose reputations will be destroyed by some other motives, not really for public service, but for selfish interests,” the four-term Senator said in a recently held round-table discussion with the country’s foremost political bloggers.
When asked on the libel case filed against Ressa, Enrile cited that she is entitled to go to court to defend her case.
“If she committed libel against anybody, why should she be immune from charge? If you commit libel several times, those are several behavioral acts subject to sanctions,” the veteran lawmaker said.
“Everything is possible under speculation, but if there is evidence, she is entitled to present the counter-evidence,” he added.
The 95-year-old lawmaker also cited that, in his decades of experience handling legal cases including those involved with libel, media men were “ready to go to court” to defend their actions.
“I have handled many libel cases. I used to handle Manila Bulletin, Manila Times and Mirror, Philippine Herald, all the Roces publications. Many of the newspapermen at that time were my clients. We used to defend them in libel cases,” Enrile recalled.
“There was never any instance where people will say, ‘I am persecuted because I am a member of the press.’ Reporters and editors and publishers at that time were ready to go to court,” he said.
On February 13, Ressa was arrested for a cyber libel case filed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) in connection to a story published in May 2012 involving an allegation against businessman Wilfredo Keng.
Ressa was subsequently granted bail.