Human rights alliance Karapatan called for the immediate “decriminalization” of cyberlibel after a regional trial court in Baguio City convicted a tribal leader of the crime on Thursday over comments on the dismantling of a monument dedicated to Cordillera martyr Macli-ing Dulag and two others.
“Such charges are meant to harass and intimidate human rights defenders and journalists to report on the facts and ferret out the truth, especially in cases of human rights violations or issues or on corruption allegation,” said Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general.
Sarah Dekdeken, secretary general of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance, was sued last year for linking the police to the Jan. 7, 2021, removal of the anti-Chico Dam heroes monument in the village of Bugnay in Tinglayan, Kalinga.
The activist was fined PhP250,000 and was directed to pay PhP10,000 in moral damages to retired Police Brig. Gen. R’win Pagkalinawan, who filed the case while he served as Cordillera police director.
Karapatan decried the guilty verdict, saying that the case is “proof that cyberlibel and libel laws in the Philippines are weaponized against those who uphold and defend human rights.”
“The thousands of cyber libel and libel charges against journalists, for example, discourage them from practicing their profession. It is indeed high time that the decriminalization of cyber libel and libel should be seriously considered and done,” said Palabay.
She said the outcome of the court case against Dekdeken is “as unfortunate as the case of Rappler’s Maria Ressa and Reynaldo Santos Jr., who were also given a guilty verdict by a lower court on the cyberlibel charges against them.”
Dekdeken is also among those who filed a petition of the writ of amparo and habeas data before the Court of Appeals.
Karapatan said that the threats against Dekdeken and that of many activists in the Cordillera region should have been taken into account by the Court of Appeals, along with the harassment suits filed against them.
“The pattern of threats, intimidation and judicial harassment against Dekdeken and other human rights defenders in the Cordillera is unmistakably similar to that of many other activists and dissenters in the country,” said Palabay in a statement.