STATEMENT OF THE FREEDOM FUND FOR FILIPINO JOURNALISTS (FFFJ) ON THE UNITED NATIONS HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE’S VIEW THAT THE PHILIPPINE LIBEL LAW IS INCOMPATIBLE WITH THE INTERNATIONAL COVENANT ON CIVIL AND POLITICAL RIGHTS (ICCPR)
THE Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ) hails as a triumph for free expression and press freedom the declaration by the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC), which was adopted during the 103rd session of the United Nations, that the provisions of the Philippines’ Revised Penal Code (RPC) penalizing libel as a criminal offense is “incompatible with Article 19, paragraph three of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)” to which the Philippines is a signatory.
Recalling its General Comment No. 34 that “state parties should consider the decriminalization of defamation” the UNHRC also recommended the decriminalization of libel in the Philippines, as the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) has been urging for nearly two decades. It also recommended the review of the libel law, and urged the Philippine government to compensate Adonis for time served in prison.
Under the provisions of the RPC, libel is punishable with imprisonment, although some of those convicted of the offense have also been subjected to exorbitant fines running into millions of pesos. The possibility of being arrested and imprisoned even before conviction for libel has been used to silence critical journalists. Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s husband Jose Miguel Arroyo, for example, filed 11 libel suits against 46 journalists starting in 2006 in an attempt to stop press reporting on and criticism of his wife.
The UNHRC issued the declaration in response to a 2008 complaint filed by Davao City broadcaster Alex Adonis protesting his conviction and subsequent imprisonment for supposedly libeling then House Speaker Prospero Nograles when he reported over his radio program in 2006 that Nograles had run out of a hotel room without his clothes on when the husband of the woman he had supposedly spent the night with showed up. Adonis was convicted and sentenced to a prison term of five months to four years, but questioned the decision after he had served two years. Lawyer Harry Roque filed the complaint, with the CMFR and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) as Adonis’ co-signatories.
It is now up to the Philippine government to take the steps necessary to decriminalize libel and prevent similar occurrences, to cause the immediate dismissal of all pending cases of criminal libel, as well as to compensate Adonis and every other journalist who has been imprisoned under the provisions of the Philippine libel law. To hurry the process along, the FFFJ calls on all journalists’ and media advocacy groups as well as civil society organizations to campaign for the immediate adoption of the UNCHR recommendations, including the dropping of all pending criminal libel charges against journalists.
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