Saturday, January 26, 2008

SC Take On Libel Unconstitutional?

How many members of the 4th Estate have spent sleepless nights in and out of jail thinking about their existing libel case, their libel conviction or their libel cases just sleeping in court?

Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynaldo Puno issued a circular yesterday reminding judges of the higher court's preference for the imposition of fines in libel cases instead of imprisonment. However, chief legal counsel Sergio Apostol said it is unconstitutional as the circular would in effect amend the libel law. Under the separation of powers principle, it is Congress that has the authority to amend laws unless it refers to the Rules of Court which falls under the jurisdiction of the SC.

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales however said it is not illegal because the SC did not impinge on Congress' rights to amend the Revised Penal Code as the circular did not change the provision of Article 355 (Crime of Libel) of the RPC.

But whether the circular is constitutional or not, who would declare it unconstitutional? Only the SC has the final say and from what I learned in Law School, it will never declare its own circular unconstitutional.

There are pending bills in Congress that seeks to decriminalize libel. In fact, this was one of the concerns of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte when he was still 1st District Congressman.

While the executive and the judicial branches of the government argue their points, the media is left with their palms empty and their long-time request of decriminalizing libel still gathering dust in Congress.

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