1st cyberLIBEL CASE:  DOJ CORRECTS BOO-BOOS IN CYBER-PERLING'S CASE


APARRI, CAGAYAN, OCTOBER 29, 2012 (INQUIRER) By Melvin Gascon Inquirer Northern Luzon - Prosecutors of the Department of Justice (DOJ) here on Thursday moved for the correction of the charges filed against Esperlita Garcia, the antimining activist who was arrested on October 19 for posting an allegedly defamatory note on Facebook.

Assistant Provincial Prosecutor Edward Javier filed an amendment to the criminal information that indicted Garcia for grave oral defamation. The change was approved by Provincial Prosecutor Amador Arao.

Garcia was charged based on a complaint filed in May 2011 by Gonzaga Mayor Carlito Pentecostes Jr., who claimed that he was “maligned and discredited” in a note she posted on Facebook about the magnetite mining controversy in their town.

Amendments

Javier sought to make what he termed as “substantial amendments” or those that change the nature of the crime originally charged to the November 14, 2011, information that he filed in the regional trial court (RTC) here. That information served as basis for Judge Conrado Tabaco of RTC Branch 9 here to issue on October 9 an arrest warrant against Garcia.

In law, an information is filed by DOJ prosecutors who recommend the filing of criminal charges in court against a respondent who stands to face trial as he may be probably liable for the crime charged.

Garcia, 62, was arrested and detained overnight by the National Bureau of Investigation on October 19, in circumstances that drew public condemnation over how a statement made online was considered a criminal offense.

The information said Garcia was being charged with grave oral defamation, supposedly under Article 258 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC).

Lawyer Mila Acacio, the handling prosecutor, declined to comment, for ethical reasons. She said the case was raffled off to her only after the criminal information was issued, and that her engagement would start only when she appears as prosecutor during an arraignment on October 31.

Libel, not defamation

In the amended information, Javier said Garcia was instead being charged with libel under Articles 353 and 355 of the RPC. Article 258 covers the crime of abortion.

“We admit that we commit mistakes at times, and this is why we are correcting them now, which is allowed under the law,” Javier said, adding that the inclusion of Article 258 was a mere “typographical error.”

Javier also said Garcia was charged under the RPC, and not Republic Act No. 10175 or the anticybercrime law.

“Posting statements on Facebook is also considered writing [as provided for in the RPC],” Javier said, declining to comment on a Supreme Court ruling which declared that statements made online did not constitute publication, one of the elements of libel.

He lamented that Garcia had been airing her complaints on his handling of the case in the media, instead of resorting to legal remedies.

The story narrates that “ the leader of an anti-mining group in Cagayan was arrested Thursday [October 18], despite a temporary restraining order on the implementation of the Cybercrime Prevention Act or RA 10175, for posting an allegedly libelous account about a mining issue on Facebook. The said post criticized a mayor in Cagayan province in May last year.”

This is dubbed as the first arrest triggered by an online libel complaint. (Manila Times & ManilaStandardToday)

PDI News issued the following statements on their headline news:

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya - Environmentalists and Internet users have rallied behind Esperlita “Perling” Garcia, an antimining advocate who was arrested on Thursday on libel charges for a purported critical post on Facebook in spite of the Supreme Court’s suspension of the cybercrime law.

Garcia was charged with libel by Gonzaga Mayor Carlito Pentecostes Jr. for the note she posted on Facebook in April 2011, or 18 months before the enactment of RA 10175, which punishes online libel with up to 12 years imprisonment. (PDI news)

Bayan Secretary General Renato Reyes said Penetescoste’s libel suit was based on a Facebook article posted by Garcia who claimed that an anti-mining rally was canceled last year because the mayor harassed the activists.

Reyes said that Garcia was arrested Thursday and was freed on Friday when she posted bail of P10,000.

Facebook post - that's a fact. But why Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda has a very unclear position regarding the arrest of Cyber-Perling?

Malacañang clarified on Monday that the arrest of an anti-mining group leader in Cagayan was not in any way connected to the Cybercrime Prevention Law. (ABS-CBN news)

Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda (photo) said the arrest of the 62-year-old Garcia, was prompted by a violation of the Revised Penal Code.

Lacierda denied the claim of the militant youth group Anakbayan that Garcia was arrested for violation of the harsher electronic, or e-, libel law.

He said that the arrest order against Garcia was based on a libel suit under Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code. “If you notice, the bail posted was P10,000. The penalty for online libel is prision mayor, which is higher than the penalty imposed under the Revised Penal Code. So this is not a case of e-libel,” Lacierda said. “Let me be clear, let me also inform our good friends from Anakbayan and I hope they don’t ride on this issue but apparently they already rode on it, but they’re claiming that this is the start of e-martial law. Let me tell Anakbayan, please don’t be ignorant of the issues. First, you’re entitled to your opinion but you are not entitled to your facts,” Lacierda said.

Oh very nice and highly professional statement Lacierda! You sound too defensive boy!

People in the Philippines let me quote the following statement from GMA news.

However, Lacierda admitted puzzlement on why the arrest was ordered despite the fact that the article was posted online, noting the temporary restraining order issued by the Supreme Court on the implementation of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.

“Ang cause kasi nito galing sa Facebook. Kaya nagtataka rin kami bakit… may Supreme Court decision na on the issue of publication pagdating sa cyberspace, bakit ito natuloy pa,” Lacierda said.

Lacierda said only the judge could answer questions surrounding the arrest of Garcia, president of the Gonzaga Alliance for Environmental Protection and Preservation.

“As to why it was able to pass and the judge was able to issue a warrant of arrest in spite of a Supreme Court decision and the issue of publication when it comes to libel online, that’s something that the courts and also the fiscal would have to answer to."

Lacierda also added that Esperlita Garcia has several options open to her. “May motion for reconsideration before the fiscal, or merong petition for review before the [Department of Justice] proper dito sa Manila, or pwede siyang mag-file ng motion for judicial determination of probable cause. There are still redress of grievances, but may remedies pa rin ‘yung akusado.”

Anakbayan's president, Vencer Crisostomo, insisted that Garcia was arrested on the basis of a libel suit filed by Mayor Carlito Penetescoste Jr. of Gonzaga, Cagayan.

The mayor denied the allegation of Cyber-Perling and filed a libel suit against Garcia.

It was the second known case of an alleged cybercrime since 16 nurses were sacked in August for having “liked” criticism on Facebook against the Taguig-Pateros District Hospital.

In the previous month, Crisostomo said the 11-year-old son of an anti-mining leader of the Subanen tribe in Zamboanga was killed in an assassination attempt.

On March 5, paramilitary troops under the Armed Forces murdered an anti-mining Lumad leader in Bukidnon, he added.

Philippines: Anti-Mining Activist Arrested over Facebook Post First Post:2012-10-2523:15 By: Karlo Mikhail Mongaya Source: Global Voices Online

The arrest of a 62-year old anti-mining activist in the Philippines for a Facebook post spawned fears of a clampdown on dissenters through the recently enacted anti-cybercrime legislation.

Critics of the cybercrime legislation won a tactical victory when the Philippine Supreme Court issued a 120-day Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against the law as it deliberates on at least 15 petitions calling for the junking of the law.

However, they claim that the case of Esperlita “Perling” Garcia is a preview of how the law could be used to suppress the people's freedom of expression and right to expose and criticize government abuses online.

Garcia is President of the Gonzaga Alliance for Environmental Protection and Preservation which is opposed to magnetite mining operations in Gonzaga town in Cagayan Province. The Cagayan provincial government authorized mining by Chinese and Taiwanese corporations in the area.

Gonzaga Mayor Carlito Pentecostes Jr. charged Garcia with libel for a Facebook note posted last April 2011. The note condemned Pentecostes for harassing community leaders planning an anti-mining demonstration.

Environmentalists and internet freedom advocates has setup the“Cyber-Perling” Facebook page to draw attention to Garcia's plight. The page has gathered more than 800 likes as of this writing.

A factsheet on her October 18 arrest can be read on the said page. ‘Cyber-Perling' was released on bail last October 19 after a day in detention.

Activist youth group Anakbayan warned that the incident is a strong indication of an impending E-Martial Law once the cybercrime law becomes effective:

“This is a preview of what to expect once the TRO lapses: the Cybercrime Law will be unleashed by the Aquino regime against its countless critics and opponents” said Vencer Crisostomo, national chairperson of Anakbayan.

He said it was not surprising that an anti-mining activist is the first victim of ‘e-Martial Law’, considering the intensifying resistance nationwide against foreign, large-scale, destructive mining operations, and President Noynoy Aquino’s bias in favor of those.

Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, however, insisted that the arrest did not in any way arise from the Cybercrime Prevention Act:

"This is not a Cybercrime case. This is a case of libel filed. In fact, if you notice, the bail posted was P10,000. The penalty for online libel is prision mayor, which is higher than the penalty imposed under the Revised Penal Code. Obviously, this is a case filed under Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code. So this is not a case of e-libel.

The youth activists answered Lacierda by pointing out that Facebook, blogs, and social networking sites are not included in the Revised Penal Code, which limits libel to printed and broadcasted materials.

"Lacierda has now morphed into an e-Martial Law spokesman who is also lawyering for those who want to stifle internet freedom and free speech. He knows very well that libel under the law currently only applies to print and TV, making the case vs Perlie baseless, and yet he twists and spins to justify repressive and fascist acts.

They reiterated that it is “a preview of how rights will be curtailed once the Cybercrime Law is passed.” Lawyers also reaffirmed this observation. Atty. JJ Disini points out in a Facebook post:

“Well, someone should tell Atty. Lacierda the fact that this is not even a proper case of libel because public officials, as a rule, are not allowed to sue for criminal libel. This is clear from the landmark [United States Supreme Court] case of New York Times v. Sullivan cited with approval by our Supreme Court in the recent case [decided in 2005] of Guingging v. Court of Appeals.”

PITIK-B(u)LOG said the case is a wakeup call for everyone to take action against the cybercrime law.

"Ilang ESPERLITA GARCIA pa ba ang dapat hulihin para maniwala ang sambayanan na ang R.A. 10175 ay inilalagay sa panganib ang ating freedom of expression? Kailan natin maiintindihan na sa ating pagsasawalang-kibo ay unti-unti rin nating kinakatay ang ating mga karapatang pangtao? Hindi lang ang R.A. 10175 ang dapat sisihin sa pagkitil sa ating freedom of speech, kasama na dito ang mga taong nagkibit ng balikat at nagsawalang-kibo. Apathy kills.

How many more Esperilta Garcia should be arrested before the people believe that R.A. 10175 will put our freedom of expression in danger? When will we understand that our indifference is slowly killing our human rights? R.A. 10175 is not the only thing that should be blamed for the curtailment of our freedom of speech, alongside this are the people who stay on the sidelines and do not care. Apathy kills.

Originally posted on Global Voices Online. It is published here under Creative Commons license. Thumbnail image: Cyber-Perling facebook page


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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