MANILA – Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Thursday asked Senate President Vicente Sotto III to decriminalize libel.
In a reply to a tweet of a law professor about Rappler CEO Maria Ressa's cyber libel case, the DFA chief called on the Senate President to craft a law that would fine erring journalists instead of jailing them.
"Let's decriminalize libel, Senate President Sotto. The money damages alone are far, far, far, far more painful," said Locsin, a former journalist.
"Bankruptcy hurts more," he said.
Sotto replied to Locsin, saying: "I wish it were that easy."
"Grandpa was the author of the 1946 Press Freedom Law. Unfortunately, lying (libel) is found in the Ten Commandments," he said referring to his grandfather and namesake former Sen. Vicente Sotto Sr.
In a text message to Senate reporters, Sotto said it would be hard to decriminalize libel because "bearing false witness against thy neighbor is a higher law from God than any other law of man."
"Ten Commandments cannot be amended," he said when asked to clarify his tweet to Locsin.
"Lying in court is perjury. Lying in Congressional investigations can lead to detention. Otherwise, what will happen? Even a bouncing check is a kind of lying that can mean imprisonment. Do we decriminalze all these?" the Senate President said.
Earlier this week, Sotto tweeted a bible verse about lying shortly after Ressa and former Rappler writer-researcher Reynaldo Santos were convicted and sentenced to up to 6 years in jail for cyber libel for tagging businessman Wilfredo Keng in alleged illegal activities.
They were also ordered to pay P200,000 in moral damages and P200,000 in exemplary damages.
On Wednesday, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said that the media itself can "redress the grievances of people" who have been "hurt by inaccurate reporting."
"Democracy thrives when truth can be spoken to power freely and without fear," Recto said in a statement.
"A nation can withstand an occasional reckless press, but it cannot survive with a repressed one," he said.