The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) is petitioning Congress to repeal the law on libel, calling it “an outdated law that has been used not so much to protect the innocent as to shield the guilty.”
The move came following the revelation that Jose Miguel Arroyo, husband of Philippine president Gloria Arroyo, has filed libel cases against 42 reporters, columnists, editors and publishers of various publications.
The NUJP’s petition has found support from local media organisations, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, Bandillo ng Palawan and Sorsogon Organization of News writers, Announcers and Reporters (SONAR), as well as international journalist organisations, including the International Federation of Journalists and Reporters Without Borders.
“The record number of cases Mr. Arroyo has filed highlights how the powerful in this benighted land regularly abuse libel laws to curtail the democratic right of the press to delve into the truth behind matters of public interest and the people’s right to know,” said NUJP in the petition that has also received the endorsement of more than 200 journalists within and outside the country.
“We demand that Congress immediately work to repeal the law on libel, to strike it off the book of criminal statutes, as part of its sworn duty to strengthen our badly eroded and still beleaguered democracy,” said NUJP.
The NUJP acknowledged that the law was meant to protect private citizens, but noted that it has mostly been used by Philippine public officials “to cow an independent press.”
They also demanded that Jose Miguel Arroyo stop “this clear abuse of his power and influence” and challenged him to address his critics by engaging them in the “free and democratic discourse”.