2022 Philippine Elections

Comelec’s Bulay hits reports he threatened critics, says headlines libelous

Dwight de Leon
Comelec’s Bulay hits reports he threatened critics, says headlines libelous

BRIEFING. Comelec Commissioner Rey Bulay speaks in a press conference of the poll body on Friday, April 22, 2022.

Rappler

(2nd UPDATE) 'Pasok ba sa libel? Sa tingin ko, pasok,' says Commission on Elections Commissioner Rey Bulay

MANILA, Philippines – A high-ranking poll official pushed back after recent news stories reported on his threat to arrest critics of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), insisting what he said was only a “warning.”

Commission on Elections (Comelec) Commissioner Rey Bulay, during a press conference on Monday, April 25, even went a step further and claimed that publications who used the word “threat” may be held liable for libel.

Pamilyar kayo sa libel, media kayo ‘di ba? Kunwari ang headline mo sa akin, ‘Comelec exec threatens to jail critics,’ ano elements ng libel under the Revised Penal Code? Number one, defamatory imputation,” he said. “Number two, mayroon bang malisya? Mayroon. Bakit mo i-i-spin nang ganoon? E alam mo namang hindi naman ganoon ang sinabi.”

(Are you familiar with libel, you are from the media, right? For example, if the headline about me is ‘Comelec exec threatens to jail critics,’ what are the elements of libel under the Revised Penal Code? Number one, defamatory imputation. Number two, is there malice? There is. Why would you spin it that way? That was not what was said.)

Comelec’s Bulay hits reports he threatened critics, says headlines libelous

Bulay also claimed that the elements of publication and identifiability were present in that headline, and lamented that he might be more conscious making public statements out of fear of being criticized on social media.

Pasok ba sa libel? Sa tingin ko, pasok (Is that headline libelous? I think it is),” he added.

Bulay resented that multiple publications used the word “threaten” to describe his statement on Friday, April 22, that he would not hesitate to use the military to deal with or even arrest those who threaten to undermine the election process.

What he said was: “Iyon pong nagko-comment ng public opinion na ang Comelec ay may sina-side-an, may kinakampihan, at mandadaya, ako po ay nagwawarning sa inyo, we will not hesitate to call upon the Armed Forces of the Philippines na sa panahong ito ay nasa ilalim ng control ng Comelec para patulan at ipahuli at ipakulong kayo.” 

(To those commenting that the Comelec is siding with anyone, or committing election cheating, I warn you, we will not hesitate to call upon the AFP which at this time is under Comelec control to arrest you.)

Comelec’s Bulay hits reports he threatened critics, says headlines libelous

Bulay also took offense over the use of the word “critics” to refer to those who were on the receiving end of his statement.

Malayo iyon sa salita ko. Hindi ko binanggit iyong ‘kritiko’ at ‘threat,’ (That’s far from what I said. I did not mention the words ‘critics’ and ‘threat’),” he added.

Bulay also insisted he only made a “warning” because “election offenses are decreed as criminal.”

In a more deliberate manner, Monday, Bulay said: “Ang sinabi ko (What I said was), to those who will comment lawless violence with respect to the results of this election, you will be met with the full force of the law. It’s not a threat, it’s the truth. I am actually warning people to obey the laws kung sakaling hindi nila alam (in case they do not know). Nowhere in the whole video did I ever mention the word ‘threat.'”

In Philippine libel law a wrong article is not enough to claim there is malice. It needs to be proven that there was reckless disregard for the truth – for example a journalist knew that the article being written was false.

There’s also an extent of protection for journalists if the disputed article is about a public official.

In 2021, the Supreme Court acquitted Raffy Tulfo over provocative columns because the Court said: “Our libel laws must not be broadly construed as to deter comments on public affairs and the conduct of public officials. Such comments are made in the exercise of the fundamental right to freedom of expression and the press.”

Bulay’s statement on Friday raised eyebrows online, and drew backlash from some lawmakers.

In a statement on Monday, the group Movement Against Disinformation said Bulay’s “personal warning” is a grave concern.

“We call upon the Comelec to observe civility and restraint in dealing with the public it serves and to remain mindful of the modesty and decorum that go hand-in-hand with the power it wields,” it said. – with a report from Lian Buan/Rappler.com

Dwight de Leon

Dwight de Leon is a multimedia reporter who covers local government units and the Commission on Elections for Rappler.