Philippines: Cyber libel cases against journalists dismissed

The Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Benguet province has dismissed cyber libel cases against two journalists filed by a former police chief due to insufficient evidence. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), in welcoming the dismissal of the cases.

Former police chief, R’win Pagkalinawan, filed cyber libel charges against two Northern Dispatch journalists. Credit: JJ Landingin / Northern Dispatch

The charges against Kimberlie Quitasol and Khim Abalos, editor-in-chief and volunteer correspondent respectively for the Northern Dispatch, an online, alternative media outlet based in Northern Luzon, were dismissed by Judge Jennifer Humiding, who stated that the court found the evidence insufficient to establish the offense of cyber libel against the pair.

The charges were filed by former Cordillera Police Regional Office Director Brigadier General Rwin Pagkalinawan, who accused the journalists of “deliberately omitting” a section of his statement in an article published in April 2020.

The article focused on the public condemnation of Pagkalinawan’s statement to have snipers target communists organising protests during the island-wide lockdown in Luzon, at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. The RTC established that the journalists’ article was truthful and accurately reflected Pagkalinawa’s statement.

The NUJP welcomed the case’s dismissal and commended the two journalists for standing firm against harassment complaints intended to silence and intimidate them. The NUJP, together with other press freedom and freedom of expression advocates, have long called for the decriminalisation of libel, also known as written defamation.

In August 2021, a Manila court similarly dismissed cyber-libel charges against Rappler CEO and founder, Maria Ressa.

The NUJP said, “We also commend Judge Jennifer Humiding for upholding press freedom and free expression. The decision is like a balm to the wound, especially in these trying times.

The IFJ said: “The IFJ welcomes the court’s decision to dismiss the cyber libel cases against Kimberlie Quitasol and Khim Abalos. Legal harassment of journalists in the Philippines must cease to ensure journalists can report freely without the threat of arrest or prosecution.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on ifj@ifj-asia.org

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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