Lawmaker urges passage of decriminalization of libel bill

BAYAN MUNA Rep. Neri Colmenares urged yesterday the speedy approval of HB 1009 filed by Bayan Muna on July 28, 2010 which seeks to decriminalize libel by repealing Articles 353 to 362 of the Revised Penal Code.

“Other than HB 1009, the only other bill decriminalizing libel is HB 2979 filed by the late Rep. Sonny Escudero.  Considering that HB 1009 was filed more than two years ago, it should be prioritized by the House leadership together with HB 2979 and the recently filed bills amending the cybercrime law” Rep. Colmenares said.

“HB 1009 seeks to delete libel from the Revised Penal Code together with its penalty of imprisonment and fines.  The remedy should be a civil case for damages under the Civil Code.  Although a person who commits libel should still be held liable, no one should go to prison for the exercise of the constitutional right to freedom of expression or categorized as an ‘ex-convict’ for such act.  The remedy should be a civil case under Article 19 of the Civil Code”.

“There are currently 6 other House bills on libel, including the bill filed by Rep. Sonny Angara,  which, although it provided for the elimination of imprisonment for libel, maintained it as a criminal offense in the Revised Penal Code punishable by fines.  Another bill, HB 4031 authored by Rep. Romeo Acop, swings to the other side as it seeks to specifically define and penalize internet libel.

“We also urge the immediate passage of bills amending the cyber crime law.  While HB 1009 will repeal libel laws, whether committed through the internet or any other medium, it should be complemented by the repeal of the other draconian provisions in the current cybercrime law” he added.

Review of rules in bicameral meeting: Transparency demanded

Colmenares also proposed making bicameral committee hearings transparent and the ratification of bills approved by the bicameral committee subject to deliberation in cases were a provision not found in the House version was inserted.

“This deliberation will guide House members in deciding whether to ratify the bill and make sure that unwanted insertions are deleted.  If the bill approved by the bicam committee is antagonistic or substantially different from that previously approved by the House, then we have the option to say no to that bill.  The House should not be subservient to the bicameral committee” Colmenares said.

“The recent outrage over insertions in the cybercrime law shows that there is a need for the bicameral committee hearings, including those on the budget, to be transparent.   Its scheduled meetings should be published and opened to the public.  The media should be allowed to cover these meetings and given access to the minutes of the proceedings in these bicameral committee meetings, even those meetings of both Houses finalizing the budget bills.”

“The cybercrime bill approved by the House did not contain the questionable provisions found in the Senate version and the law. The House version did not contain the ‘electronic libel’ provision found in Section 4(c) 4 of the law.  There was no mention at all of the DOJ’s ‘blocking access’ power found in Section 19 of the law.  Section 4(b)4 (cc) of the House Bill did not contain the phrase “provided that the penalty to be imposed shall be one degree higher than that provided by the Revised Penal Code, and Special Laws”.

While Section 9 of the House version allowed ‘real time collection of computer data’ it requires the need to “secure a court warrant’.  The Senate version, found in Section 12 of the law, deleted this very important warrant requirement” said Colmenares.

“While there are still many concerns on the issue of cybercrime law sanctions, including those in the House version, the Senate version, which was the worst version practically trampled on the House’ during the bicameral committee hearing.  Worse, the House allowed itself to be trampled upon, easily giving up on its version by ratifying the Senate version in the House.  We are equal to the Senate in terms of wisdom and intellect and must assert our version during these bicams.”

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