LEGISLATORS pushing the decriminalization of libel are just correcting “a historical flaw” that has remained in the statute books for eight decades and made “a mockery” of the concepts of democracy and freedom of expression.

In a statement read by Malou Mangahas, executive director of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, during a joint hearing on the decriminalization of libel by the Senate committees on justice and human rights and mass media on Thursday, Mangahas pointed out that Philippine libel is defined by the 84-year old Revised Penal Code, which was enacted during the American colonial period.

PCIJ’s Mangahas briefs the committee on the context of today’s libel laws

Because of this, Mangahas said, the concept of Philippine libel is still tied to the idea of stamping out criticism and dissent. “Libel in our history, in the Philippine context, has always been a political tool of the powerful, and very often politicians,” she told the committee.

Mangahas was one of several resource persons of the committees that made a strong pitch for the decriminalization of libel, arguing that the criminal nature of Philippine libel laws force the state protect or shield people who are in positions of influence from criticisms.

“The state should not be taking the side of people who are being accused of wrongdoing,” Mangahas said. “Criminal libel puts journalists and netizens under the thumb of the state – which files criminal libel suits on behalf of the supposed injured parties, typically politicians and the powerful, who also dominate and control the state.”

resource persons from media organizations exchange views with committee members on the decriminalization of libel

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