Today's Punto
Today's Punto
Editorial
Not to seek redress but to harass

Oct 03, 2017

THE TWO-PRONGED “cyber libel” case of Agriculture Sec. Manny Piñol against Baguio journalist Frank Cimatu over a Facebook post, the criminal aspect of which he filed in Quezon City Wednesday, September 28, and the civil aspect of which he has announced he will file in Kidapawan City in Cotabato province next week, perfectly illustrates how the law can and is often used by those with the means and power not so much to seek redress as to harass their perceived foes, and why the offense should be decriminalized.

It is doubly unfortunate that Piñol, who makes much of the fact that he is a former journalist, should even think of unreasonably punishing a former colleague by filing a complaint in a venue on the opposite side of the country as Cimatu, an onerous practice that is actually proscribed by the law, specifically 1965’s Republic Act No. 4363, which amended Article 360 of the Revised Penal Code which provides that:

“The criminal and civil action for damages in cases of written defamations as provided for in this chapter, shall be filed simultaneously or separately with the court of first instance of the province or city where the libelous article is printed and first published or where any of the off ended parties actually resides at the time of the commission of the offense;

“Provided, however, that where one of the off ended parties is a public officer whose office is in the City of Manila at the time of the commission of the offense, the action shall be filed in the Court of First Instance of the City of Manila or of the city or province where the libelous article is printed and first published, and in case such public officer does not hold office in the City of Manila, the action shall be filed in the Court of First Instance of the province or city where he held office at the time of the commission of the offense or where the libelous article is printed and first published [...]”

As explained by the Supreme Court in Bonifacio vs. RTC of Makati, G.R. 18480: “Experience had shown that under that old rule the off ended party could harass the accused in a libel case by laying the venue of the criminal action in a remote or distant place.

“Thus, in connection with an article published in the Daily Mirror and the Philippine Free Press, Pio Pedrosa, Manuel V. Villareal and Joaquin Roces were charged with libel in the justice of the peace court of San Fabian, Pangasinan (Amansec v. De Guzman, 93 Phil. 933).

“To forestall such harassment, Republic Act No. 4363 was enacted. It lays down specific rules as to the venue of the criminal action so as to prevent the off ended party in written defamation cases from inconveniencing the accused by means of out-of-town libel suits, meaning complaints filed in remote municipal courts (Explanatory Note for the bill which became Republic Act No. 4363, Congressional Record of May 20, 1965, pp. 424-5; Time, Inc. v. Reyes, L-28882, May 31, 1971, 39 SCRA 303, 311).”

It seems evident that a ranking government official who seeks to compel a journalist from Baguio City to travel all the way to Kidapawan is engaged not in an attempt to seek redress but to inflict a punishment that is way too cruel and excessive for the perceived offense, which is yet, we stress, to be proven in court that it could well enter into a gross abuse of the powers of his position.

(Statement of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines signed by acting chair Atty. Jo Clemente, October 2, 2017)



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