To protect Filipinos from the perils of "fake news", libel must be decriminalized so the press would remain free and unrestrained to do their job of countering misinformation, two senatorial bets said Saturday.
Given the dominance of social media platforms, where the spread of false news is rampant, environmental activist David D'Angelo and labor leader Sonny Matula said actively countering such claims is important, which could be done if those trained to do so aren't threatened by the law being weaponized against them, as usually seen in cyberlibel cases.
"Decriminalize 'yung libel na nandiyan sa Cybercrime Prevention Act kasi ginagamit lang 'yan ng mga nababutthurt palagi na mga kapitalista at mga nasa gobyerno," D'Angelo said.
Matula, who is running endorsed by presidential candidate Leni Robredo, later agreed saying, "Napakaimportante 'yung pag-decriminalize ng libel para ['yung mga tao, sa kanilang] pamamahayag ay hindi takot at mas kinukuwestiyon nila, o nagpapahayag sila ng counter dun sa sinasabi ng gobyerno ay malaya, makapaabot ng mga impormasyon sa ating mga kababayan."
Instead of it being a criminal offense, "civil penalty" must be imposed against those who are proven to have abused their freedom of speech, he said. He also suggested appointing an "Ombudsman" attached to the Department of Information and Technology, so the public could formally file complaints against misinformation.
For D'Angelo, who is running with Presidential candidate Leody de Guzman, said "real" media agencies should be supported to boost their fact-checking initiatives.
He said government media should be "strengthened" by ensuring support in terms of equipment, as well as proper guidance in direction. "Hindi natin dapat gamitin itong government media para maging number one proliferator ng fake news," he added.
To really combat the problem of social media disinformation, D'Angelo says apart from partnering with them, big tech companies must be held accountable if proven complicit to the spread of fake news. Stakeholders and experts must be consulted if a law were to be made in response to this, he said.