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SOME writers in social media called Sen. Vicente “Tito” Sotto III “plagiarist” and “rapist” before: the first over alleged copying of huge portions of at least three Senate speeches in August 2012 from blogs; the second for his alleged cover-up in the rape of bold star Pepsi Paloma in ther 1980s to get his two brothers off the hook.
Sotto rejected the labels and endured tons of adverse press but didn’t sue. If he did, the public didn’t know what happened to it. And he got elected despite all that, earning his fourth Senate term in 2016.
Last Nov. 20 though, Sotto filed before the Pasay City prosecutor’s office a complaint for libel under Revised Penal Code and Anti-Cyber Crime Law against blogger Eduardo Angelo Dayao, a.k.a. Coco Dayao who last September wrote the the blog #SilentNoMore-PH.
Dayao allegedly called Sotto a “plagiarist” and “rapist” -- and this: one of the seven “Malacañang Dogs,” all identified with the ruling party.
The new label pinned by Dayao on Tito and six colleagues in the Senate was for their refusal to sign a resolution circulated by the Senate minority condemning the killings in the campaign against illegal drugs. Dayao erred. They didn’t sign because it was not presented to them. Ultimately, the Senate passed a similar resolution with every senator’s signature in it.
The senators initially called Dayao’s blog “stupid and silly.” And they didn’t press the plan to sue. Only Sotto chose to litigate.
Sotto said the other six senators by Dayao are with him on the lawsuit: maybe in spirit as only he signed the complaint. He advised Dayao and other bloggers “not to be judgmental,” which must make them wonder how they could write “click-bait” pieces without passing judgment on the people they blog about.
Obviously, Sotto is hopping mad. And it must not just be their being compared to dogs. Or is it? Dayao didn’t use “lapdogs” or “tuta,” which would mean the same thing, persons influenced or controlled by another, but definitely more familiar and maybe less abrasive. Lawmakers are easily nettled but usually they don’t go to the prosecutor or the court. Their being elective officials, who must not appear “onion-skinned” to the public, may be a reason. Another explanation is that they can hit back within Congress itself.
The senators turned the tables on bloggers when they grilled Mocha Uson and other controversial website writers during a committee hearing on fake news. Legislators can use that form of reprisal, along with the threat of contempt on hostile or uncooperative witnesses. But Dayao, acting shrewd or scared, was a no-show at the Senate.
Sotto apparently is not content with legislative bullying. And he rejects any offer of apology. He wants the blogger punished.
Cyber libel is virgin territory in criminal law jurisprudence. With Sotto’s complaint, let’s see how the limits on free speech and free press in traditional media will work on the generally licentious behavior in social media.
Is “dogs of Malacañang” defamatory? A House committee probing Supreme Court Chief Justice Sereno’s impeachment merely deemed as disrespectful “the dog and pony show” tag made by her lawyers. The Senate Blue Ribbon committee just thought the Trillanes name for it, “comite de absuelto,” was unethical.
Senator Sotto, to be sure, is not under-reacting here.