There was a movement during the passage of the anti-Cybercrime law back in 2012 calling for the decriminalization of libel. They probably shout that again with the recent arrest of Rappler head honcho Maria Ressa. I didn’t pay much attention to it then, but now that I think about it, I prefer that libel stay a criminal offense. Or, at least, defamation should stay something that deserves serious punishment. This is because defamation is still a serious kind of bullying and harassment.
Libel as I know it assumes that malice is found in the act of badmouthing or ruining someone, and most often the communication made is a lie. But sometimes, the badmouthing can also be mentioning some truth in a way that tries to paint another person badly. The malice as I see it runs this way: first they try to make make someone look bad, even if that someone doesn’t do anything bad. Second, they try to turn other people against him. This may lead to some threatening the life of the target person, the person being unable to get a job or go out in public safely. Life becomes difficult for them and they suffer. They could die from stress- or poverty-related causes, or even commit suicide. Worst of all, someone who was among those stirred up to hate the person may even kill him.
Thus, in a way, defaming someone tries to kill them slowly. One article titles it nicely: slander (or defamation thereof) is murder with words.
I maintain that penalties for defaming someone verbally or by writing should remain severe. It should match the severity of the intention to make the life of the target miserable. It should also keep that libeler from making more communications that could potentially be used to harm others as well (I guess you could call it a gag order, but only for destructive communications). I also agree with adding a right to reply law to aid people in fighting defamers. If any changes need to be made to libel and slander laws, one suggestion is to combine them and make a clearer definition of what constitutes defamation, verbal or written, online or offline.
When talking about cases like the Marcoses, who people believe are already guilty (or are convicted and yet not being picked up), what will continuous ranting against hem do? It will make them look like the victim. The “advocates” throwing insults look the bullies, and this would cause others to sympathize and rush in to protect the one being attacked. It would actually have the reverse effect of helping the target escape accountability.
Defamation also seems to be a sign of desperation. You can’t do anything – which means you don’t know what to do. So you claw at someone and attack. It’s not a useful action, but a tantrum.
Rappler head honcho Maria Ressa is undergoing a libel charge because she dragged the name of a private citizen into the mud by implying that he had illegal drug connections, and the citizens consistently denied this. It is also hypocrisy because she just attacked someone associated with her target (then-Chief Justice Corona), but ignoring other cases with more apparent signs of corruption under the BS Aquino III administration. That’s what makes it even more libelous is selectively attacking people, and private citizens, not just politicians, based on politics, not on truth.
That attack against James Deakin simply for having Bongbong Marcos with him for a certain event is yet another of these instances. Then it turns out much of these were paid troll attacks. It justifies the need for a libel or defamation law.
And so what if someone is a supporter of Marcos or Duterte, or even Hitler? Being so is not a crime, even if they seem terrible to you. Do not try to jail or even attack people because of (what you assume are) their thoughts. That is disrespect of human rights.
Repeatedly going on tirades against certain people doesn’t help fight corruption. In a way, it is a form of corruption in itself. It is not criticism, but harassment. Posting hate messages against people, such as that “eff you Marcos” sign during the Libingan ng mga Bayani burial, are not sincere efforts to make a solution. They are mostly attempts at trying to appear cool. But they are actually uncool, because they are accomplishing nothing. And it even implies that such people are spoiled and have a lot of time to waste on useless endeavors (insulting a dead body certainly won’t produce any sort of justice). Or, it can be proof that these so called “defenders of freedom” are really political operators.
Attacking people outside of the legal system also betrays desire for lawlessness. They say the legal system is broken in this country. However, I have heard of cases where they got justice from the cases they filed. Perhaps you need due diligence in filing evidence, not just hearsay or tsismis. But it seems to me, they actually hate the law. They prefer that their suspicions about someone immediately be acted upon – like the shotgun-toting father when told that someone had sex with his daughter, he goes out and shoots the guy without trying to confirm the story. People inciting violence against President Duterte or other perceived right-wingers and alt-rightists are like this.
And the revelation of Pinoy Ako Blog as being a paid troll page brings to mind what Singaporean icon Lee Kuan Yew said about Filipino journalism: “reporters (or even bloggers) can be bought.” This runs counter to the impression that journalists are the only ones actively seeking truth. And it ignores that even private investigators, police, scientists and even other bloggers are also seeking truth.
In the case of my colleague Paul Farol who wrote against Mayor Richard Gomez of Ormoc, it isn’t libel if he’s got the truth. Paul did his series of articles based on his connections with real journalists, and didn’t transfix on it for too long, unlike anti-Marcos “activists.” And a case is in the Ombudsman against Goma.
I’ve been told that the more you repeat or use words with malice towards others, it can make you more malicious yourself, or it reveals the malice you actually have. Resorting to badmouthing even the “bad guys” doesn’t make you the good guy. It could actually mean that the bad guys have gotten to you. They’ve affected you, corrupted you, and in that sense, they won against you. It is better to keep your peace and not let them win over you, and you even help the world by keeping your own good behavior in a world of bad. You show that you’ve won that way. Indeed, the likes of Pinoy Ako Blog people proved that they are losers in such a way, as did Rappler when Eurasia Future owner Adam Garrie debunked their claims and demanded an apology (apply water to massively burnt area, lol). Their “I’d like to teach the world to badmouth” attitude does not help change the world, but instead keeps it the same.