Cyberlibel charge vs. satire sites display government desperation to curtail free speech – Karapatan

Human rights alliance Karapatan expressed grave concern over the cyberlibel charge filed by Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) spokesperson Pircelyn Pialago against satirical social media pages Barurot News and Pinoy Laugh Page in what is clearly “a display of the government’s increasing desperation to silence any form of criticism and its continuing attacks on the basic right to freedom of expression.”

“It could be easy for us to laugh this off and let it pass away, but the cyberlibel case filed by Pialago against satire pages Pinoy Laugh Page and Barurot News demands serious condemnation. It is an attack on the basic right to freedom of expression, and it shows the government’s increasing desperation to clamp down on its critics. Even forms of political satire are targeted by government officials who refuse to take criticism and root out people’s discontent,” Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay said.

Palabay further said that for someone like Pialago, who holds a master’s degree in journalism, satire should be a “no-brainer,” and that “it’s laughable how she’s suddenly sensitive to being satirized while being arrogantly callous to the plights of commuters and jeepney drivers.”

“Pialago, as a public official, is not immune to public scrutiny, criticism, and ridicule especially if the ridicule is warranted. A cyberlibel case like this may be deemed initially ridiculous, but it sends a chilling effect in the greater context of the government’s organized and systematic attacks on press freedom and infringement of the right to free expression. Just to remind her and the government, the case of Diocese of Bacolod vs. the Commission on Elections states that satire, as a literary form that employs sarcasm and irony to ridicule individuals as well as private and government groups alike, is protected speech under law,” she continued.

The Karapatan official also reminded that “cyberlibel—or any libel case in general—has been an instrument used by state forces and individuals to silence and threaten journalists” such as presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo’s libel threats against and Rappler, as well as the cyberlibel charges filed against Rappler chief executive officer Maria Ressa.

As Barurot News’ statement rightfully says, the blurring of the line between satire and reality only shows the absurdity of the conditions we face under this regime. We won’t let this pass away; we call on the public to condemn this brazen attack on free speech,” Palabay ended.