Three online writers who may be most at risk of being sued for libel

Now that Republic Act 10175, also known as the Philippine Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, has been enacted to law, the question in most people’s minds now is “Who is gonna be sued first?” Here are three of them (or rather three classes of them) that immediately come to mind.

* * *

(1) The Professional Heckler

Considering Filipinos’ renowned cognitive challenges when it comes to getting satire, the “award”-winning political satirist known as “The Professional Heckler” who in his Twitter account describes himself as “A humor blogger from the Philippines” may be in trouble. For that matter, just being “from the Philippines” puts him squarely within the kill zone.

His In Memoriam article on the “demise” of Senator Tito Sotto’s “common sense” as expressed in the following mock epitaph which opens the article, may be funny. But some powerful folk may not be in the mood for a bit of a laugh…

The People of the Philippines deeply regret
to announce the not-so-shocking demise
of Senator Vicente ‘Tito’ Sotto III’s
COMMON SENSE last August 29.

On September 5, 2012, it died yet again making
it ‘double dead’ — botcha sotto speak.

The lawmaker’s common sense is survived by his
22 fellow senators who opted to keep mum
on the issue of plagiarism.

In lieu of flowers or prayers,
the public is requested to just remain
vigilant and critical.

Interment was never announced.
It just happened.

Considering how I was crowned “one of the most enthusiastic hecklers of the politically-passionate” by no less than the Noted One himself way back in September 2006, I sympathise with The Professional Heckler. His blog goes as far back as April, 2007 so I count him as one who wields equal claim to the title.

In any case, Professional Heckler may have other more pressing things to worry about. The embattled Senator Sotto reportedly said that “the new law against cybercrime may be used to penalize those who make defamatory statements online.”

(2) Raissa Robles

The self-described “investigative journalist” has quite a dossier of journalistic infamy in our archives. Robles was instrumental to the success of the whole trial-by-media fiasco that was the impeachment trial of former Chief Justice Renato Corona. Her “contribution” to this “noble” endeavour was a full-court-press on Corona and his wife Cristina Corona that stood upon three questionable premises:

(1) Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) made it a point to appoint Mrs Corona to the Board of Directors of John Hay Management Corporation (JHMC) in 2001.

(2) There was, supposedly, a “possible conflict of interest” in an SC justice being married to a Board member of the JHMC both of whom were appointed by GMA to those positions.

(3) Mr Corona sat in the SC as a justice courtesy of GMA’s “reward” and Mrs Corona enjoyed a plum Board position in the JHMC over the rest of the period of GMA’s cling-on presidency.

Robles also mounted a “crowdsourcing” effort to supposedly get to the bottom of the Coronas’ allegedly vast property holdings in the United States by encouraging her community of readers to post “evidence” to prove this allegation on the comment sections of her blog.

(3) Magtanggol de la Cruz and Carmela Fonbuena of Rappler.com

One of the cornerstones of the case against Corona during his impeachment trial was the existence of alleged foreign currency accounts to his name. On account of the Philippines’ bank secrecy laws, those accounts and the cash balances within them were at the time legally invisible to the media. Yet in a series of Rappler.com news “reports”, de la Cruz and Fonbuena revealed not only the amount of money kept in these accounts but also the account number of one of them.

Rappler.com itself has a track record of erroneous “news” reporting. The most recent instance of this sloppy journalism was highlighted by blogger Paul Farol who cited Voltaire Tupaz’s and Judy Pasimio’s reports on the gunning down of tribal leader Timuay Lucenio Manda’s son Jordan in early September. “Manda was ambushed and shot at by several men while he was riding a motorcycle with his son, who he was bringing to school in Bayog, Zamboanga del Sur. Manda survived the shooting, but his son was instantly killed.”

Not one but two Rappler.com “reports” erroneously cast Manda as harbouring an absolute “anti-mining” position — an allegation denied by Manda himself in a subsequent press statement.

* * *

Recall that for an allegation of libel to hold water, the following elements need to be present: “(a) imputation of a discreditable act or condition to another; (b) publication of the imputation; (c) identity of the person defamed; and, (d) existence of malice.” [Daez v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 47971, 31 October 1990, 191 SCRA 61, 67].

You be the judge.

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71 Comments on “Three online writers who may be most at risk of being sued for libel”

  1. I find your posts candid, insightful, and thought provoking.
    I find the same with professional heckler who i rate as the best satirist in the country by far – a class act in a sea of mediocrity -, and who is clearly too intellectual for the political class and too progressive for the political dinosaurs who have yet to even understand new technology ( just off-shore banking) , hence the fear of what you dont understand or cannot control,- reminiscent of private eye in uk in their early days,- and who has great integrity by ‘attacking/exposing’ all hypocricy, irrespective of political color. Would that we had such people/values in power.

    It would not only be sad if this administration tried to close down such debate, discussion, criticism from wherever, it would signal the death knell for innovation, exploration, education, and democracy, and the country would pay a high price in various ways, both nationally and internationally

    Let the administration show that their agenda is repression, media control, elitism, and to maintain the status quo at all costs. I suspect that it is.
    Would obama close down the dave letterman show!!

    We are so far from being a democracy it is a joke – but a bad one.
    The backlash would be swift and strong.

    Are they so scared of 1-2 bloggers in a population of 95 million! That sounds like panic or paranaioa.
    Are there not more important things for them to do.i could provide a long list of failed promises.

    I was at school and university with salman rushdie – in the free world – so i will use one of his quotes.
    “What is freedom of expression?
    Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.”
    ― Salman Rushdie

    We need more benignos and professional hecklers.

    We also desperately need to move towards a real democracy not a sham democracy where votes are bought, elections rigged and democratic voices suppressed.

    Put george orwell on the school reading lists, or it may just become the reality of the philippines

    p.s whilst anything can happen in philippine law/judgements, satire has a special position in uk, and i think us law.
    the key aspect is malice which invariably is not the prime or sole motivator in satire.
    more money for the lawyers.
    am sure any politically driven case will come up against a strong peoes lobby and fighting fund and usually make the plaintiff seem more if a fool.

  2. If we are going to say something about the performance of “public” officials in the Philippines, is that libel? I think it is our right to know about the people we are trusting to handle the government in the Philippines. I think if they don’t want their lives to be put into scrutiny as public servants, then, they should remain as ordinary citizens.

  3. Let us talk about nuances, glitches and exceptions to the rule. Please feel free to contribute your observations… The general rule of exception is that the real truth negates libel.

    1. Does biting, factual, critical political satire against anyone in power make the article libelous? What safeguards does the cyber-law offer in cases of abuse of political/state power and pure harassment? Does it offer compensation to victims in cases of abuse of such power?

    2. Who will “police” those who wield, use and abuse personal political or state power in even using the machinery of state to libel perceived enemies political or otherwise? Will the cyber-law be enforced and implemented equitably against those who hold such power? Will these same penalties be applied on those who abuse this from the government side of the fence? How about compensation to victims who were savaged by the machinery of state?

    3. The websites/blogs of the enemies of the state seem to have been omitted in the new cyber-law. How will the state enforce and implement the cyber-law on libel against the enemies of the state who also use agitation-propaganda and severe written attacks against personalities in the government? Does the government have the capability of “policing” the enemies of the state with the option of terminating their destructive website/blogs? How will the state go against the legal support fronts in “policing” their penchant for inciting against political personalities and/or libel?

    4. Suppose a minor uses my computer and expresses his/her mind on factual boo boos committed by persons in power… Am I to be made liable for libel? Shall they take my computer from me? What are the law’s parameters in safeguarding the rights of online users from abuse of political/state power?

    Just asking…

    1. Will state regulation of the internet promote free thought, legitimate dissent, freedom of speech and expression?

      On the other side of the coin and given the state of politics and culture in this country… will state regulation/control of the internet be used and abused to stifle, muzzle and restrain free thought?

      Prior restraint is not an option. The creators of the law cannot hope to implement and enforce the law beyond the territorial boundaries of the Republic of the Philippines. The internet is too big for one state (such as ours) to regulate and control fully.

      1. Since the state is a juridical entity, I cannot be subject to libel for criticizing it. 😀

        The state cannot regulate, control nor hope to impose selective censorship on its critics in the internet.

        Internet feedback may take awhile. Betcha it will happen as this goes viral.

  4. Philippine Constitution of 1987
    Article III Bill of Rights
    Sec.4- No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the Government for redress of grievances.

    “According to Judge Cooley, the following are the purposes of the freedom of speech and press:
    1. To protect the parties in the free publication of matters of public events and public measures;
    2. To enable every citizen at any time to bring the Government and all persons in authority to the bar of public opinion by any just criticism upon their conduct in the exercise of their authority conferred upon them by the people; and
    3. To guard against repressive measures by the several departments of the government.”

    “The freedom of speech and press covers–
    1. Freedom from previous restraint or censorship;
    2. Freedom to circulate opinions which may be done in picketing;
    3. Freedom from liability as in the case of privileged communications”

    1. The contents of the cyber-crime law should be examined by legal experts to determine if it passes the criteria under Article 3 Section 4 of the Constitution. How do we define the line between the government’s zeal in repressive measures, blanket state censorship of the internet and libel? Perhaps the opposition should consider a Special Civil Action to the Supreme Court. I may be wrong but it is an option.

  5. It’s a form of diversionary tactic, from Aquino. To cover the Puno multi-billion pesos scam….regarding the procurement of firearms…The Cybercrime law is to frighten the Avowed critics of Aquino and his cahoots. We know better….

    1. how many times will i have to tell you that Aquino ordered the lock down? come to think of it, no one had filed a case against Puno ever since this attacks to him started.

      1. How many times do we have to tell you fishball that nobody here will agree with what you are posting?
        Maybe you are just too stupid to realize that no one here will believe you.

  6. Who’s gonna be sued first for libel? I think it may take a while before somebody is sued for libel through cyberspace. Right now, what we’re having on the web are mere innuendos and whining from sour-grapes losers, biased opinions which are really worthless for they don’t make sense in the first place, and wayward and misguided ideas from usiseros passing off as legitimate critics.

    Really, the apprehension and the panic being felt by some here are really unfounded.

    1. Paul…and you knew what happened to my IPaidAbribe project which was handed to Rappler — it’s now dead because Lagay.Ph manuevering to take over.

  7. To counter this law, it might be a good idea to rally and encourage every Filipinos to file an immigration asylum applications to other countries. Any modern countries will consider this law as oppression by the government, therefore they should grant all asylum seekers to migrate in foreign lands. It would fall into political asylum – millions of political asylum immigration applications could potentially reverse this dumbass law.

  8. this website is in panic mode right now. you better change the way you address the current governmet which satisfies its citizens of its anti corruption reputation

    1. @fishball
      Completely missing the point yet again. You are gravely mistaken if this website is in panic mode. On the contrary, this website isn’t even afraid of your boss’s stupid law. You better change the way you think yellowtard coz one of these days, your president’s ass will be booted out.

    2. @fishball

      Trying to put the fear factor(terrorize) on the netizens? Why will we change the the way we address the current government (taken as a whole)? Isn’t the government considered a juridical entity? Are you saying corruption is no longer systemic in the government? Prove it! This corruption is public knowledge and we all know about it.

      If you are threatening state/political abuse of the libel part of the cyber-law it won’t work. Are you into harassment, prior restraint and censorship? Remember the netizens of the internet can resort to democratic means to protest your threats. Your tyranny shows.

      How about a cyber-revolution? Possible? Cyber-protests may break out in the internet. A cyber-civil disobedience movement? Is the government going to jail millions of netizens who protest state repression and curtailment of freedom?

      I do not agree to a cyber-war but if rebel groups in the internet are formed then this is also a distinct possibility. All events that happen will be the result of state control, regulation and censorship of cyberspace.

    3. Lies. This site is not in panic mode, as you claim it to be. Here’s from benign0’s other post:

      “Bottom line is that if you are a truly excellent writer, you need not worry about the Philippine Cybercime Prevention Act of 2012. Mediocre folk, posers, and wannabes on the other hand, beware.”

      And it describes people like YOU. Ha-ha. 😀

      1. Talaga lang na hindi tayo dapat matakot magsalita kung tayo ang nasa tama, wag lang sosobra. Kaya ngayon sigurado takot na takot na yung mga naninira kay Tito Sen.

  9. Can they “confiscate” system hardware and software without just compensation? What happens to the taken system components if it is damaged or lost or tampered? What if a system is hacked and evidence planted for the sake of hacking or harassment? Does the law have safeguards protecting online users?

    From wikipedia:

    “In a 2012 ruling on a complaint filed by a broadcaster who had been imprisoned for violating Philippine Libel Law, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights held that the criminalization of libel violates freedom of expression and is inconsistent with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

    The Philippines…”adopts the generally accepted principles of international law as part of the law of the land…” Article II section 2 Philippine Constitution

    The foregoing being true… Why was the cyber-crime law crafted to include criminal libel that is considered as violating the freedom of expression?

    Please see an interesting article below…

    http://www.tribune.net.ph/index.php/commentary/item/4473-noy-can‘t-stand-criticisms

  10. Now who is laughing? Those people complaining about the cybercrime bill is now being haunted by their own ghosts. Freedom of expression when used to destroy a person should not be permitted.

    1. tagapagtanggol sya ng mga mahihirap na hindi kayang pakinggang ng mga corrupt na pulitiko. Si Sen.Sotto lang naman ang gumagawa ng batas na iniisip ang kapakanan ng kanyang mamamayan.

  11. Check the date of the journal…January 24, 2012. So he inserted this even before the “hatchet job” was unleashed against him? Sad to know that some people only know how to find fault but will never accept correction or regulation

  12. Online responsibility is what this bill aims to achieve. If you think you have clean hands why complain? Mainstream media should be ashamed of what bloggers do…calling themselves media?

    1. Take off your rose-tinted glasses and see the world for what it is. This law gave more than ample ammunition for those who would stifle dissent or criticism, in any shape or internet form. Those who can use it, will use it.

  13. Ang kailangan lang ay maging responsable tayo at maingat sa kung ano ang sinasabi natin o sinusulat. Wala namang problema sa batas na to kung susundin lang yan. Galing talaga ni tito Sotto.

  14. Ang layo naman ng isyu lung ikakabit natin ang pangalan ni Sotto sa artikulong Ito. Iba ang plagiarism sa libelo.

    Sotto is now fighting for the victims of cyber bullying.

    Sotto should be fighting for the victims of plagiarism instead for people to believe in his honesty and sincerity.

  15. How about another scenario… Let us assume that an internet cafe has clients… some of whom are minors. They do their thing, ignore the law and do libelous statements. Will the owner of the internet cafe be liable? Will all his computers be “confiscated” without just compensation? So what are the parameters to protect the rights of businessmen who are into the internet business?

  16. Inquirer-dot shines the spotlight on PinoymONKEYpride, also.

    …The video from PinoyMonkeyPride also said the media, owned by oligarchs, just propagated the myth of people power and Cory magic so that the rich could stay in power. The video also criticized the supposedly poor work habits of President Aquino.

    Wow!! See that!!! Damage to reputation… PinoyMonkeyPride making mention of poor work habits.

    http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/275716/deped-sets-new-directions-on-teaching-martial-law-era

  17. look at some biased writers like Raissa Robles. i can’t help but to mention her name because i was so disappointed with her. i commented on one of her bolgs and to my surprise it was deleted or maybe not accepted. i wonder if she’s guilty of this law

  18. they were given a chance to express their opinion but they abused it so it’s time protect victims of libelous statements

  19. that’s very an insightful article. even I was disturbed when I was reading some articles of the said writers. hope they’ll learn their lessons,not just them but all of internet users who are guilty of CyberCrime Law

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