The Anatomy of a Blog Libel
Ever since I wrote my story on surviving a libel case about two years ago, there were a couple other people who asked recommendations for legal counsel (apparently, encountering the same situation I had).
Back then, news about online libel are very few and far between; the only other case I knew of was the TRO against PCIJ’s blog in 2005 (now there’s your precedent). Those who are not familiar with my case can read thru my lawyer’s explanation here.
Facing such a criminal lawsuit is no laughing matter. True, very few get convicted of libel — the only one that I knew of was the 6-month prison term for a guilty verdict against The Daily Tribune publisher and editor-in-chief Ninez Cacho-Olivares in June of last year.
Unfortunately, the problem starts even before the case goes to court. Libel is about power, influence and money, the latter carrying the most weight. The time and money you spent just to get representation and appear in the fiscal’s office on a subpoena costs a fortune. Elevating it to the sala of a judge, which could drag on for years, may spell bankruptcy to the less fortunate. It’s like getting a life sentence before the final verdict has been passed.
Today, libel on the internet seems too common and we hear/read a lot of lawsuits being filed left and right. (I won’t enumerate them here anymore as those issues have been debated way too much, IMO.)
What’s more ironic is that “free speech or freedom of expression”, which is supposed to be literally free, isn’t cheap when confronted with a libel suit.
The guy who sued me 2 years ago may have successfully sued dozens, maybe more, individuals and companies. The latest victim is i.PH, the local blog service provider. I got a call from them months ago asking for info/advise as we both have the same complainant. I urged them to stand their ground and fight this libel suit. They are now looking for more evidence and testimonies to help them defend their case.
I am no lawyer (though my experience has sparked much interest into going to law school) but I think there must be something that needs to be done with Libel Laws in the Philippines. They’re outdated, unreasonsable and extreme.
Maybe we should already decriminalize libel. If people wants to sue, they go to the civil court. There’s a filing fee of 2% (if you sue for Php1M, you pay a fee of Php20,000) so people just don’t claim outrageous amounts in moral/punitive damages. By decriminalizing it, you remove the fear of imprisonment (that’s a 6-year jail term).