NUJP urges Tolentino to drop raps vs Failon, asks Congress to decriminalize libel

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MANILA, Philippines — The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines threw its support behind broadcaster Ted Failon and members of his staff who have been sued for libel by now presidential political adviser Francis Tolentino as it renewed its call for Congress to decriminalize defamation.

Failon and three of his staff posted bail Tuesday after they were ordered arrested by the Tagaytay City court where the case has been filed.

The case stems from the allegedly irregular purchase by the Metro Manila Development Authority, which Tolentino used to chair, of secondhand motorcycles for Pope Francis’ 2014 visit, an issue that Failon tackled on his ABS-CBN program “Failon Ngayon.”

“Regardless of the merits of the case, there can be no doubt Failon had taken on a subject of public interest and significance and sought accountability from a government official sworn to uphold the law and promote the general welfare,” the NUJP said in a statement.

Saying the case “again underscores how onion-skinned government officials wield the antediluvian criminal libel law as a bludgeon in their vain hope to cow critical journalism into silence,” the group said it “stands squarely with Ted Failon and his colleagues and call on Mr. Tolentino to drop his misbegotten suit against them.”

“Mr. Tolentino claims his reputation was tarnished. But seeking to jail journalists instead of squarely responding to the valid issues they raised can only taint his image even more,” it said.

“Filing a criminal libel suit instead of responding to an issue honestly smacks of vindictiveness and goes against the very principle of public office being a public trust,” it pointed out.

“We also reiterate our long-standing demand for Congress to swiftly legislate the decriminalization of libel and bar its use by public servants to quell legitimate inquiries and criticism of their actions,” the NUJP said.