MANILA, Philippines — The House committee on Public information chaired by Rep. Bernadette Herrera-Dy (Party-list, Bagong Henerasyon) this week approved House Bill 685 seeking to make the libel case hearings more accessible to community journalists and broadcasters.
The approved bill provides the venue for the criminal and civil action in libel cases against community journalists, publications or broadcast stations.
The bill authored by Rep. Raul del Mar (1st District, Cebu) provides that the criminal or civil action 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.
Likewise, the civil action shall be filed in the same court where the criminal action is lodged.
The bill defines community journalist, publication, or broadcast station as “a journalist or news medium that operates within a limited area of circulation or broadcast in a city, province, or region, as defined by existing laws.”
Del Mar said libel whether filed as a criminal or civil action is undeniably being used as a convenient legal tool to harass journalists, especially the community newspaper and broadcast practitioners. This is so 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.
If the complainant is a private person, the venue is his place of residence at the time of commission of offense.
“Thus, a newspaper or broadcast station for example in Aparri or Jolo, Cebu or Davao can be made to answer a complaint filed in Metro Manila where the complainant resides, although the subject, issue or the incident published – in law the cause of action – did not arise in Metro Manila,”said Del Mar.
Del Mar said the prevailing rules on venue thus place community journalist 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 work or business.
“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,” said Del Mar.
The lawmaker said the community journalist and his organization, mostly financially handicapped and already afflicted with all sorts of pressures and threats, need immediate relief from the present venue rule of libel cases whether criminal or civil, which create an opportunity for oppression.
Rep. Joselitoto Atienza (Party-list, Buhay) expressed support for the passage of the bill, saying requiring the one sued to travel far is burdensome and prejudicial.
“It’s about time we adjust the ways that libel can be filed against any media personality or media station. This is to make the libel case more accessible,” said Atienza.