Senator Risa Hontiveros filed a bill aiming to decriminalize libel amid the cyber libel conviction of veteran journalist Frank Cimatu.

Hontiveros filed Senate Bill 1593 or the Decriminalization of Libel Act which aims to repeal Articles 353, 354, 355, 356, 357, 360, 361, and 362 of the Revised Penal Code and Section 4(c) 4, Chapter 2 of Republic Act 10175 otherwise known as the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.

In her explanatory note, Hontiveros said that the rise and prevalence of social media as a primary medium of communication has resulted in weaponization of libel laws. 

“Our libel laws have been weaponized to stifle very basic fundamental rights. These laws have been used to constantly attack many of our freedoms, particularly the freedom of the press. We need to decriminalize libel if we are to truly defend press freedom,” she said.

Hontiveros said that libel is being used to stifle journalists who are only doing their jobs among whom is Nobel Peace laureate and Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, and her former colleague Reynaldo Santos were both convicted of cyber libel in 2020.

“These journalists have wasted years of their lives facing charges for basically doing their jobs. Gamit na gamit na ang cyber libel para patahimikin ang ating mga mamamahayag. Kung hindi natin maiwasto ito, patuloy na gagamitin ang libel para kitilin ang ating kalayaan,” said Hontiveros.

“Trabaho ng mga reporter ang magbahagi ng mga impormasyon para sa kaalaman ng publiko. We need the press to vet information and continue to be the safekeepers of facts. Sa pagbaha ng fake news sa social media, mas lalong kailangan nating maprotektahan ang propesyon nila. If we fail to do so, if we allow our laws to punish rather than protect the press, we chip away at our Constitutional rights. This will cost us our democracy,” she added.

On that same day Hontiveros filed the bill, Cimatu was found guilty of cyber libel by Judge Evangeline Cabochan-Santos of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 93 over a Facebook post involving former Agriculture secretary Emmanuel “Manny” Piñol.

Cimatu was sentenced to a minimum imprisonment of six months and one day and a maximum imprisonment of five years, five months, and eleven days. He was also ordered to pay Piñol P300,000 as moral damages.


Ronald Espartinez