Friday, July 13, 2007


Senator Mar Roxas wants to strike off from the statute books all criminal liabilities attached to libel and guarantee public access to information to advance the freedom of the press and democratic governance, respectively.

He urged President GMA to certify his bills decriminalizing libel (SB 110) and his Free Information Act (SB 109) to substantiate her avowed commitment to human rights.

"The libel law has been used to inflict fear on journalists already saddled with the threat of physical harm when reporting events to the ire of the high and mighty."

Civil damages are enough penalty for, and deterrence of libel, he added, considering that it is difficult to prove malice because this issue goes straight to personal motives of the journalist.

He said it is ironic that the Philippines, while claiming to be a beacon of democracy in Asia, suffers from vicious shootings of reporters.

SB 110 also limits the venue for filing libel suits to the regional trial court where the media office or address of the charged journalist is located.

"Presently, one can file a libel suit virtually anywhere and leave a reporter without legal or financial means twisting in the wind, to the whim of the powerful and influential."

At the same time, Roxas said information on matters of public interest must be readily made available to the people under pain of sanctions against errant government officials and employees illegally hiding secrets from Juan dela Cruz.

He cited the present controversy surrounding the government's questionable $330-million broadband deal with China's ZTE Corp. as an example, tying this to the Constitutional guarantee of free access for the people to official information, except when the disclosure of such would harm the privacy of individuals, trade secrets, national security, public order and safety, and foreign diplomatic relations.

"As much as a broadband network is a matter of national security concern, I don't see how details of the ZTE deal or any contract on the matter can be withheld from public scrutiny under these Constitutional exceptions it does not impinge upon national security, high diplomacy or anyone's privacy," Roxas said.

"While I welcome the government's assurance that the broadband deal is under review, the people still have a right to see the actual or proposed contract and its conditions."

"Free access to information is not only a Constitutional right but a practical tool to improve the economy. The nation's development and progress must be founded on trust and dialogue between the people and the State fueled by the free flow of information."

SB 109 requires government agencies to respond to all written requests for information within two days, unless proper justification is given by the government body, subject only to the payment of reasonable fees for the viewing or reproduction of such information.

Penalties are levied against officials or employees who knowingly and unjustly refuse to provide access to information, or who consciously release false or misleading information.

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