Defamation Charges Smother Media’s Freedom of Speech in the Philippines

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has called again for defamation law reform in the Philippines, after the latest round of libel cases against journalists threaten to suffocate the country’s freedom of expression.

According to IFJ affiliate, the National Union of Philippines (NUJP), a libel suit worth PHP 30 million was filed by Filipino boxer and International Super Featherweight champion Manuel Pacquiao on July 30, against four staff of national daily the Manila Bulletin: sports writer Nick Giongco, publisher Hermogenes P. Pobre, editor-in-chief Crispulo J. Icban Jr., and sports editor Ding Marcelo, for allegedly attacking his “virtue and reputation.”

The article in dispute was written by Giongco, which refers to the alleged compulsive gambling of Pacquiao, an unsuccessful candidate for a congressional seat in South Cotabato's first district elections last May.

IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park says such allegations could be viewed as “blatant attempts to disarm the media of its role as an information provider to the public for the self-interest of particular individuals or organisations.”

The Manila Bulletin staff members who are being sued by Giongco could be facing a prison sentence as a result of libel in the Philippines still being classified as a criminal offence.

Furthermore, according to the NUJP, the Commission on Elections is threatening to file electoral sabotage against at least two unidentified media personalities, another criminal offence punishable by life imprisonment.

Commissioner Nicodemo Ferrer articulates his intention to “cleanse the (journalism) profession” in his allegations that the media is “spreading false news, false comment that diminish the credibility of Comelec”; a credibility that the NUJP believes to be already badly tarnished by the scandals of “Hello Gerci” and the democratic-endangering Lintang Bedol.

The NUJP perceives Comelec's threat as an attack on the media’s freedom of expression, a view supported by the IFJ’s Jacqueline Park.

“The IFJ views the threats as attempts to thwart the media’s role as an independent and critical estate, and therefore, the public’s right to know,” Park said.

“The libel laws in the Philippines currently dictate that any information revealed by journalists which is deemed to be damaging to an organisation or individual personally, is allowed to be legally convicted, at the same time restricting the public’s right to this information and the very function of the media in providing an invaluable and independent service to the public,” Park said.

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0919

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 114 countries