MMDA spokesperson Celina Pialago became the subject of social media posts as users slammed her for saying that government will “not let” the those who held the transport strike win.
MMDA Spokesperson Celine Pialago Facebook page
It's protected speech, MMDA's Pialago told as satire account gets serious
Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - October 10, 2019 - 2:22pm

MANILA, Philippines — In the face of a libel complaint by a government official, the administrator of satirical Twitter account Barurot News stressed satire is part of freedom of expression and is protected speech.

On Wednesday, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority spokesperson Celine Pialago filed cyberlibel suits against the administrators of Facebook page "Pinoy Laugh Page" and twitter account Barurot News.

"The said malicious post contains a picture of myself with a statement allegedly declared by me, to wit: ‘MMDA sa commuters: Kung nahihirapan sumakay, ‘wag na lang pumasok,’" her complaint-affidavit read.

Pialago said that the posts "discredit her reputation and credibility as MMDA spokesperson.”

The person behind Twitter account Barurot News asserted that it posts satirical content and that no less than the Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that "satire is protected speech."

The statement was attributed to "Chief Justice Lyca Garainod," who is, of course, not an actual chief justice, or even a justice.

Diocese of Bacold v Comelec

Central to the plea is the campaign material listed candidates for the 2013 elections as either “Team Buhay” or “Team Patay.” The tarpaulin was made in the middle of heated discussions on the Reproductive Health law.

The Diocese of Bacolod assailed the Commission on Elections notice to remove tarpaulins that bore the heading “Conscience Vote.”

The SC, in a ruling penned by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, voted 9-5 and declared as unconstitutional the Comelec order to dismantle the tarpaulins.

'Satire...derides prevailing vices or follies'

The ruling, citing a 1989 law journal entry from Yale, defined satire as “a literary form that employs such devices as sarcasm, irony and ridicule to deride prevailing vices or follies.”

The SC noted that satire may target anyone in society, whether in the private sector or in the government, as it "seeks to effectively communicate a greater purpose, often used for ‘political and social criticism because it tears down facades, deflates stuffed shirts and unmasks hypocrisy.’"

It noted that "satire frequently uses exaggeration, analogy and other rhetorical devices." 

"This court’s construction of the guarantee of freedom of expression has always been wary of censorship or subsequent punishment that entails evaluation of the speaker’s viewpoint or the content of one’s speech. This is especially true when the expression involved has political consequences," it said. 

The tribunal said that while the tarpaulins "may be viewed as a caricature of those who are running for public office," and may thus be “not agreeable to some,” it is still protected speech.

The ruling added:

Embedded in the tarpaulin, however, are opinions expressed by petitioners. It is a specie of expression protected by our fundamental law. It is an expression designed to invite attention, cause debate, and hopefully, persuade. It may be motivated by the interpretation of petitioners of their ecclesiastical duty, but their parishioner’s actions will have very real secular consequences. Certainly, provocative messages do matter for the elections.

Freedom of speech advocates: ‘Comment on officials should be unfettered’

In a 2017 Philstar.com report, lawyer Marnie Tonson of Philippine Internet Freedom Alliance said: “Whether for or against the administration or the opposition, comment on public officials and public figures should be unfettered. That is the essence of the right to free speech.”

Tonson was asked to comment on two senators plan to file libel suits against bloggers.

READ: Suits by 'sensitive' senators threaten free speech

Senate President Vicente Sotto III’s then said he would sue Edward Angelo Dayao of “Silent No More PH” Facebook page over online “name-calling,” while former Sen. Antonio Trillanes filed libel raps against Thinking Pinoy blogger Rey Joseph Nieto.

Tonson added: "Of course there will be unjust accusations, but in the free market of ideas the answer to false accusations cannot be less speech but more speech that leads to the truth. Prior restraint on public comment is the anathema of a democratic society.”

RELATED: ‘Malicious use of my image’: Panelo cries foul over a meme

Pialago’s complaint vs satirical Twitter account

In its statement, Barurot News stressed that its profile photo, biography and header stated that it posts fake news, and it is a satirical twitter account “that releases commentary on officials and different issues through news reporting via tweets.”

It added, in Filipino, that like all satirical content, its posts are made up. "All these are in response to issues that we face and response to statements of our officials that are sometimes insensitive."

Barurot News said that Pialago "is not special," as it posts commentary on personalities from different ends of the political spectrum. "This is the style of criticism that 13,000 netizens liked," the statement further read.

The account closed its statement with: “This, too, shall pass away.”

The remark is a nod to Pialago’s interview on TV Patrol where she mistakenly said her fellow Miss Earth candidate "passed away" when what she really meant was her roommate "passed out."

LIBEL MMDA SUPREME COURT
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