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Tarlac newsman asks SC: nullify libel

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(BY: ATTY. BATAS MAURICIO) LIFE’S INSPIRATIONS: “… Your rulers are rebels, partners with thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow’s case does not come before them…” (Isaiah 1:23, the Holy Bible).

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TARLAC NEWSMAN ASKS SC TO NULLIFY LIBEL LAWS: A publisher-editor of a Tarlac weekly newspaper who is facing a string of libel cases is joining growing calls for the Supreme Court to nullify the existing libel law in the Philippines, saying libel is unconstitutional and a violation of international agreements entered into by the country on press freedom and freedom of expression.

Ray Constantine U. Abagat, publisher-editor of Tarlac Forum, filed a 19-page petition which is anchored on two main grounds: first, that libel contravenes the freedoms of the press and of speech guaranteed by the 1987 Constitution and, second, that it violates international treaties and agreements entered into by the Philippines pertaining to free press and freedom of expression.

The petition arose from six libel cases that were filed by Rey Christopher Fajardo, a municipal council or Mayantoc, Tarlac, against Abagat. The cases were assigned to Judge Vallo. After the prosecution finished presenting its evidence, Abagat moved to dismiss them, on the grounds cited here. Judge Vallo denied Abagat’s motion, prompting Abagat to file his petition with the Supreme Court.

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TIME TO REMOVE RESTRICTIONS ON MEDIA: Through the petition prepared by my firm, Abagat said there is now a need to remove restrictions on journalists and broadcasters posed by libel, on account of the need for a more aggressive and sustained fight against graft and corruption which has reached unprecedented heights in the country, where media is a great help and catalyst.

Here are some portions of that petition: “The objective here is no longer just the nullification of existing libel laws to favor journalists and media personalities facing libel suits across the land, but, the realization of a more important objective which even this Honorable Court in a way recognized no less in its nationally and internationally well-applauded and well-received decisions on the controversial pork barrel cases of Philippine lawmakers, and on the cases involving the disbursement acceleration program or DAP of the Aquino government.

“This more important objective is this: stopping the scourge of corruption in the wrongful disbursement and utilization of government funds, which basically come from the taxes of ordinary Filipinos who literally have to shed their blood, sweat, and tears, just to earn a few pesos. Corruption indeed bleeds the nation dry, economically, financially, morally and spiritually,” he added.

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MEDIA IN THE FOREFRONT OF FIGHT VS. PLUNDER: While it is the duty, province, and responsibility of the various agencies of government having something to do with law enforcement, prosecution, and trial of cases involving graft, to pursue everything they legally can to fight graft and corruption, it has become likewise the duty of each and every citizen, particularly the sector of media, to do their share in fighting all forms of wrongdoing anywhere and by anyone.

“This is best demonstrated by two recent examples. The first example pertains to the reporting undertaken by the Philippine Daily Inquirer on the abuse by members of the House of Representatives, of the Philippine Senate, and even of Malacanang, of billions and billions of government funds... The second example which comes to mind is the online reporting of a daring and very public assault by a group of heavily armed men of two hapless citizens right in the center of EDSA in Mandaluyong City…

“Yet, for this kind of a noble and highly necessary service to this country and for the rest of humanity in the fight against graft and corruption, media  unfortunately remains shackled by restrictions in performing its task, particularly by existing provisions of the Revised Penal Code on libel… Petitioner respectfully and humbly submits that, in view of prevailing conditions, these restrictions have to be removed now, and be declared unconstitutional…”

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For the complete petition, please go to the timeline of the Facebook account named “Melanio Lazo Mauricio Jr.” and search for “SC ASKED TO DECLARE LIBEL UNCONSTITUTIONAL”. -30-




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