Groups assail conviction of Baguio journalist Frank Cimatu for cyber-libel

“Frank Cimatu’s case is proof of how government officials use libel as a weapon to harass and intimidate journalists.”


MANILA – A Quezon City court convicted journalist Frank Cimatu over cyberlibel charges today, Dec. 13.

In a 19-page decision, Judge Evangeline Cabochan-Santos of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 93 ruled that Cimatu, Baguio Chronicle editor and Rappler correspondent, is “guilty beyond reasonable doubt” of cyber-libel charges filed by former Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol. 

Under Section 4(c)(4) of the Republic Act No. 10175, known as the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, Cimatu will face a penalty of imprisonment from a minimum of six months and one day up to five years, 11 days at maximum. Aside from this, the court also ordered Cimatu to pay P300,000 ($5,370) for exemplary damages. 

The court said that Cimatu’s 2017 Facebook post stating that the former agriculture secretary, who was part of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s cabinet, “got rich by 21 million in 6 months” is “defamatory” and “tends to injure Piñol’s reputation, credit, and value.”

The court added that since Cimatu’s post is in “public,” the element of publication is present. 

After the post had been made, Piñol left comments containing threats and derogatory remarks against the journalist, “Your post is very libelous. ano ibig mo sabihin sa “bird flu pa more?” kumita ako sa bird flu? napaka gago mo! magkita nga tayo para magkaalaman.” (Your post is very libelous. What do you mean “bird flu pa more?” I earned money because of bird flu? You’re stupid! Let’s meet for a fight.)

Online trolls also flooded Cimatu’s Facebook account. 

A weapon to intimidate journalists

Various media organizations condemned the use of cyber libel to attack journalists. 

“Cimatu’s case is proof of how government officials use libel as a weapon to harass and intimidate journalists,” said the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) in a statement.

The union of journalists reiterated how Piñol’s reaction is ironic in a supposed democratic country since the latter also issued derogatory remarks in the comment section.  

Since the Cybercrime Prevention Act’s passing in 2012, at least 3,809 cyber libel cases have been documented by the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Cybercrime Office. 

Under Ferdinand Marcos Jr. administration, the NUJP Safety Office has reported 36 cases of attacks on the PH media, eight of which are cyber libel charges. 

Because of these cases, NUJP reiterated its position that libel laws should be decriminalized, stating that the laws are “not compatible with the Bill of Rights stated in the Philippine Constitution and with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of which the Philippines is a state party.”

Read: What happened before: Cyber libel in the Philippines
Read: Fight vs cybercrime law not over’ — netizens

The network of independent and progressive media, Altermidya, also called for libel’s decriminalization, stating that its weaponization “promotes impunity and censorship, breeding a scenario where people expressing opinions are adjudged criminal.”

Nobel Laureate Rappler CEO Maria Ressa also expressed her support to Cimatu. “This is another example of the weaponization of the cybercrime law to harass and intimidate journalists. We stand behind Frank Cimatu, and together, we #HoldTheLine,” she said.

In 2020, Ressa and former researcher-writer Reynaldo Santos Jr. were convicted of cyber libel by a Manila court. In July this year, the Court of Appeals upheld the libel conviction of the two, adding additional eight months of imprisonment and fines amounting to P400,000 ($7163.20).

Read: As court finds Rappler guilty of cyber libel, Ressa vows to keep on fighting

The NUJP compared cyber libel to a “Damocles’ sword” hanging above journalists’ heads. A reference to Damocles, a Roman mythology character, which symbolizes that something bad can happen at any time.

The group added that Cimatu’s conviction reinforces a chilling effect on every Filipino journalist, especially that cyber libel cases are stiffer than ordinary libel since the former is punished with higher penalties. 

Hours after the conviction was released, Sen. Risa Hontiveros filed Senate bill 1593, seeking to decriminalize libel. According to Hontiveros, these laws have been used to attack many of the people’s freedoms, particularly freedom of the press. 

Cimatu plans to appeal the court’s decision. (JJE, RVO) (

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