By Czarina Nicole Ong Ki
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has expressed “serious concern” over the cyber libel conviction of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and former writer Reynaldo Santos. It is calling for a review of the laws that criminalize libel because these are “incompatible” with freedom of expression.
Ressa and Santos were convicted on Monday on account of an article published online by Rappler on May 29, 2012. According to the article, then Chief Justice Renato Corona used a vehicle that is owned by Filipino-Chinese businessman Wilfredo Keng, who has “suspected links” to illegal drugs and human trafficking.
In a statement, the CHR stressed that the Manila trial court’s decision against Ressa and Santos sends a “chilling effect” on the work of journalists and other people who “dare speak the truth.”
The CHR said that journalists are “crucial vehicles of timely and truthful information,” since they help people develop sound opinions about public and political issues. In doing so, citizens get to have genuine participation in governance and other aspects of public life.
However, the CHR said that current legal provisions on defamation and criminal libel have become a threat to journalists. “Time and again, journalists have been at the receiving end of such abuse of laws,” the Commission lamented.
The CHR noted that freedom of expression is not absolute, and people should adhere to the standards of necessity and proportionality. However, the Commission strongly believes that statements concerning public interests should be given greater protection, while public figures and politicians should have “greater tolerance” to criticisms “by virtue of their choice to be in public service.”
The United Nations Human Rights Committee earlier said that the Philippines’ criminalization of libel, both in the Revised Penal Code and the Cybercrime Prevention Act, is “incompatible” with freedom of expression.
“It is high time for the government to revisit these laws and its applications in favor of how the people can best enjoy their rights – not limit them – particularly on freedom of opinion and expression. Under a democracy, a balance between criticism and truth must be in place,” the CHR said.