Journos may answer libel charges in nearest courts
The House committee on public information has approved House Bill 685 which seeks to provide a specific venue of action in libel cases against a community journalist, community publication, or community broadcast station.
Cebu City North District Representative Raul Del Mar, author of the bill, said there is no question that the right to one’s reputation and honor is as much a constitutional right as the passion for life, liberty and property.
In a statement released by the House of Representative information office, del Mar said the law and jurisprudence recognize and protect the value of such reputation and subject one who attacks it, by slanderous words of libelous publication, to the full criminal and civil sanctions.
“However, there is likewise the reality that libel, whether filed as a criminal or civil action, is likewise used as a convenient legal tool to harass journalists, especially the community newspaper and broadcast practitioners,” Del Mar said in a statement.
Del Mar explained this is because under the present rules, the complainant or offended party, if he is a public officer, can file the complaint in Manila if his office is in Manila or in the office outside Manila if his office is located there.
Del Mar further explained a newspaper or broadcast station in Aparri, Jolo, or Davao can be made to answer a complaint filed in Metro Manila where the complaint resides although the subject, the issue or the incident published – in law the cause of action – did not arise in Metro Manila.
He said the prevailing legal rules on venue thus place these community journalists and local broadcasters in a situation where they have to answer complaints or charges filed, rightly or wrongly, in remote or distant places, deliberately filed far away from their place of business or work.
“In this context, the element of oppression is there. The toll of inconvenience, financial or otherwise, is often more onerous and burdensome than the penalty or fine prescribed by the law. This may even lead to a miscarriage of justice in cases where the accused or defendant fails to appear because of the distance and travel constraints,” Del Mar said.
The Cebuano legislator said the criminal or civil action may eventually be thrown out by the court, but the damage has been done as it already punished the community journalist and his publication by the excessive cost of litigation and inconvenience outside the principal office of publication or business of the said journalist or publication.
“The community journalist and his organization, mostly financially handicapped and already afflicted with all sorts or pressures and threats, need immediate relief from the present rule venue of libel cases, whether criminal or civil, which create an opportunity for oppression," said Del Mar.
Del Mar's proposed bill seeks to provide the relief sought to correct the unfairness by closing the loophole that is often exploited or taken advantage of by offended parties.
The bill provides the criminal or civil action in cases of libel against a community journalist, publication or broadcast station shall be filed in the Regional Trial Court of the province or city where the principal office or place of business of the said community journalist, publication or broadcast station is located, provided the civil action shall be filed in the same court where the criminal action is filed.