January 31 marked a milestone for the campaign for freedom of expression as the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) released a resolution declaring the country’s libel law discordant with the provision in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that upholds free expression as a right.
The Philippine is the lone signatory of the international protocol in Southeast Asia.
The Committee holds the country’s dated and draconian criminal libel law “incompatible with Aritle 19, paragraph 3 of the ICCPR” or freedom of expression.
The UNHRC, in light of a complaint filed by Davao-based broadcaster Alex Adonis, upheld that defamation laws “should not…stifle freedom of expression”.
Adonis argued that criminal libel is not a reasonable restriction because under the Revised Penal Code, truth is not a complete defense. He also argued that the penalty is not proportional to the aim which the law professes possess – the protection of the privacy of private individuals — since there is an alternative sanction in the form of civil libel.
“I am strong than ever,” said the former hard-hitting anchor of Bombo Radyo Davao. “In prison, I slept with all kinds of hoodlums you can think of and the harsh reality also is that all prisoners are guilty of the crimes they (supposedly) committed.” Adonis said he will always stand by his commitment as a journalist.
UNHRC also ordered the government to provide compensation for the wrongful detention of Adonis, who has been in jail for more than two years now after being convicted on a libel case filed by former House Speaker Prospero Nograles on the alleged ‘Burlesk King’ incident. Adonis served 4 years imprisonment at the Davao Penal Colony in 2008. He was granted parole on his last two years.
In its views adopted on October 26, 2011, following its 103rd session on October 17 to November 4 2011, the Committee ordered the Philippine Government to provide Adonis with “an effective remedy including adequate compensation for the time served in prison.”
The UN Body also declared that the Philippines is also under the obligation to take steps to prevent similar violations in the future (including) by reviewing the relevant libel laws.
The Philippines has been given 180 days since receipt of the Communication No. 1815/2008 from the United Nations Human Rights Committee to make the necessary response.
The PPI joins National Union of Journalism of the Philippines (NUJP) and other media organizations in urging the Philippine government to prevent libel laws from being abused by preventing such violations to happen again.
“There is no other way to do so but to review and amend our draconian libel law and push for its decriminalization,” Rowena Paraan, NUJP secretary-general, said.
In a roundtable discussion (RTD) on February 17, 2012 at the UP College of Law, legal experts led by Prof. Harry Roque and representatives from media organizations, including the PPI, discussed the implications of the UNHRC resolution and its impact on Philippine media, given that fellow journalists continue to be vulnerable to intimidation through criminal libel.
“Criminal libel is incompatible with freedom of expression,” Roque said. It, according to Adonis’s legal counsel, has no place in a democratic society. He also urged media practitioners to lobby for the decriminalization of libel in the Philippines.
In an informal meeting after the forum, the group composed of NUJP, KBP, PPI, PCIJ, VERA FILES and CMFR plans to create a technical working group to review the Revised Penal Code (RPP) and the libel law to come up with its own ‘version’ that will be submitted to the House of Representatives and the Senate for consideration.
“We hope to re-launch the campaign to decriminalize libel in the Philippines and plan our initial actions,” Paraan said. (By Ariel Sebellino with reports from NUJP)
See Also: UN Communications on Libel (PDF).