Filipino journalists

Baguio groups rally behind Cimatu on cyber libel conviction

Sherwin de Vera
Baguio groups rally behind Cimatu on cyber libel conviction

CAMPAIGN FOR JUSTICE. Frank Cimatu, shown here calling for justice for the victims of the Ampatuan Massacre during its annual commemoration in November 2019, now finds himself at the center of the campaign for the decriminalization of libel and a safer space for journalists following his cyberlibel conviction on December 13.

Sherwin de Vera

'The fight to protect journalists from undue harm and harassment resonates stronger with colleagues bearing the brunt of the backlash of political issues,' says the National Union of Journalists (NUJP) Baguio -Benguet 

BAGUIO CITY — Media and writers’ organizations in Baguio City closed ranks in support of journalist and book author Frank Cimatu after a Quezon City court convicted him for cyber libel on December 13.

The ruling, which came just days after a Benguet court found activist Sarah Dekdeken guilty of the same offense, further solidified calls for the decriminalization of libel among the Baguio media.

Cimatu’s conviction dampens the earlier victory of Baguio City journalists when the La Trinidad Regional Trial Court dismissed on May 16 the cyber libel charges filed by former Cordillera Police Regional Director Brigadier General Rwin Pagkalinawan. against Northern Dispatch (Nordis) editor-in-chief Kimberlie Quitasol and volunteer-correspondent Khim Abalos.

“The fight to protect journalists from undue harm and harassment resonates stronger with colleagues bearing the brunt of the backlash of political issues,” the National Union of Journalists (NUJP) Baguio -Benguet said.

The group echoed its national directorate’s call to decriminalize libel. They also urged the government to ensure a safe space for journalists to practice freedom of expression.

The Baguio Correspondents and Broadcasters Club (BCBC), the Kordilyera Media-Citizens Council (KMCC), and the Baguio Writers Group (BWG) made similar demands in their statements.

In a joint statement, BCBC and Kordilyera Media-Citizens Council called the ruling “unfortunate” and “a temporary setback” for press freedom in the country.

“Cimatu’s conviction over a Facebook post does not only adversely impact on journalists, but also on the public who air critical views on issues affecting society,” the statement said.

“No citizen of the free world should be threatened from expressing their views; more so if these are done pursuant to their roles as watchdog of the government,” the groups added.

BWG condemned the decision, saying it “does not stand in isolation but is part of an ever-increasing trend to intimidate and constrict the space afforded to free public expression and association.”

“(T)he rights to press freedom, free expression and free public discourse, including through social media, as fundamental to the civic life of the nation. It is especially vital that it should be defended when exercised in relation to public officials,” the group stated.

Meanwhile, Northern Dispatch (Nordis) said the decision “is another blow to the country’s already ailing press freedom and shrinking democratic space.”

“It also highlights the need for the press and the people to unite and commit to speaking truth to power as efforts to silence dissent and discredit critical media continue to grow,” the outfit added.

In May, Nordis scored a victory against cyber libel after the court acquitted its editor and reporter from the charges filed by Pagkalinawan.

Cimatu is a multi-awarded poet and essayist. He is currently the chair of NUJP Baguio-Benguet, the chief editor of Baguio Chronicle, and a member of the Northern Dispatch Board of Directors. He also served as president for BCBC and BWG and is one of the conveners of KMCC. –

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