BY JOEL CALAMBA ESCOL, Managing Editor
MDNN Philippines (December 13) — Facebook users beware of posting libelous matters, or else you will face cyber libel!
This, after the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 93 has convicted a journalist of cyber libel for posting commentaries against a government official.
Frank Cimatu, a Journalist from Baguio City, was convicted of Cyber Libel by the Quezon Regional Trial Court for posting on Facebook allegedly libelous commentaries against then Department of Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel “Manny” Piñol.
Cimatu was sentenced by the court to be imprisoned for five years, five months, and 11 days. He was also ordered by the court to pay for moral damages amounting to P300,000.
The court’s verdict said the journalist from Baguio City was “guilty beyond reasonable doubt” of cyber libel charges filed by Secretary Piñol. The verdict was based on the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, it was learned.
Based on the 19-page decision issued on December 12, 2022, and penned down by Judge Evangeline Cabochan-Santos, the jounalist’s post said ““Agri Sec got rich by 21 M in 6 months. Bird flu pa more!” has the intention of maligning the reputation, credit and virtue of the Department of Agriculture’s former Secretary Manny Piñol.
The court said Secretary Piñol was “exposed to public hatred, discredit, contempt and ridicule” because of Cimatu’s posts on social media, particularly Facebook.
The judge added in the decision that Cimatu’s post “made it appear” that the DA Secretary, during the time of President Rodrigo Duterte, pocketed P21 Million in a span of only six months, and has reportedly “committed corrupt acts.”
“Taking into consideration the words used by Cimatu and the subject Facebook post which appears to be an imputation of a crime, the same is defamatory and thus, satisfy the first element of the crime of Cyberlibel,” Judge Santos explained.
Meanwhile, the Journalist argued that he posted privately on Facebook as it can only be seen by his friends. But the court said it was immaterial and that the post was initially published publicly.
The judge further ruled in the decision that the Journalist has failed to show proof his post was only done in good faith. According to the court, the former DA Secretary read the post on Facebook and left a comment explaining his side of the story. However, Cimatu did not relent. Instead, he continued his defamation against the private complainant
The decision further said: “Despite this, Cimatu did not relent in his actions, but went on to continue defaming the private complainant. This is a clear indication of the intention of accused to malign Piñol, no matter the cost, and is clearly proof of malice,
Meanwhile, in an interview with CNN, Cimatu said : “As a journalist, I believe that we have to decriminalize libel especially when the law is weaponized on us.” We hope to craft our appeal before the year ends.”
Cimatu told the media that he will consult his lawyers and they will study their appeal to the Supreme Court.
“A threat to press freedom is a threat to democracy. An attack on one is an attack on all. No one should be silenced for being critical on the most pressing issues,” Rappler’s statements said.
Cimatu is a contributor of Rappler and the said online news organization is calling the government to decriminalize libel.
“This is another example of the weaponization of the cybercrime law to harass and intimidate journalists. We stand behind Frank Cimatu, and together, we #HoldTheLine,” Rappler’s Maria Ressa said.