Press Release
July 7, 2007


Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. (PDP-Laban) today underscored anew the need to protect people who are unduly criticized or maliciously maligned over print, radio and television by granting them the right to reply.

This proposal is embodied in a Senate Bill which Pimentel has refilled with the Senate.

He observed that some members of the media, intentionally or not, slander people and hurt the sensibilities and damage the names and reputations of people.

"The main idea behind the bill is to make it a legal obligation of newspapers, radio and television stations to print or broadcast the replies of individuals who are on the receiving end of their tirades," the minority leader said in his sponsorship speech entitled Right to Reply: An Exercise of Free Speech.

"It is thought that by imposing on them the legal duty to make public the replies of the injured parties, we lessen the possibility of the latter's resorting to violence."

Under the Pimentel bill, the reply of the aggrieved person should be published in the same space of the newspapers where the offending item or verbal abuse took place.

Pimentel bewailed that in recent times, the Philippines has acquired the unsavory reputation as a country where journalists are most unsafe. Data from the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines showed that 87 journalists had been slain from 1986 to July 18, 2006. About 50 media killings have been reported since 2001.

In citing these data, he said this is not to say that the extra-judicial killings or the wanton murders of journalists in this country are necessarily the evil results of the vengeful acts of the people they might have libeled.

"We cite the figures to underscore the thesis that, perhaps, if people who are maligned can demand as a matter of right that the newspapers, radio or television concerned publish their side of any publicized controversy, conceivably there could be an easing of tensions," he said.

"And that development could lead to the harmonization of the conflicting views between them and their critics in mass media. Hopefully, the deadly game of shooting journalists would thus be minimized."

Pimentel addressed the concerns expressed by some respected media practitioners that the bill could be an infringement on the rights of free speech and of the press that are embodied in the Constitution.

In crafting the bill, he said it is farthest from his mind to initiate, much less endorse any move to curtail free speech and free press in the country.

"To be immodest about it, I did get arrested four times or get thrown out of public elective offices twice during the martial law years fighting for the fundamental freedoms of our people. I did not go through these ordeals only to undermine those same rights now that we have been rid of the martial dictatorship. I would never do that. Not for any personal gain or base motives," Pimentel said.

In fact, he said he has submitted a proposal to decriminalize libel so that the powerful may not have any legal excuses to curtail free speech and press freedom in the country. Unfortunately, he said that bill has been unacted upon by the committee to which it was referred.

To balance things out when persons are unduly targeted by mass media, Pimentel said they should have the right to reply. Some journalists, he observed, seem to relish hurling brickbats against the objects of their ire.

"But when the targets of their venomous invectives so much as take exception to their diatribes, they feel offended and raise the hue and cry against what they perceive are brazen attempts to curtail their rights to free speech and of the press."

Pimentel said the enactment of this legislation will work wonders to rationalize the exercise of the rights of free speech and free press.

He expressed the hope that the bill, once it becomes a law, will help raise the level of the public discussions of public issues from base considerations to the nobler aspirations of the Filipino people.

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