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Journalist Frank Cimatu convicted of cyber libel over Piñol post

A Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) has convicted Baguio-based journalist Frank Cimatu with up to five years of imprisonment in connection with his Facebook post about former Agriculture secretary Emmanuel "Manny" Piñol.

In a 19-page decision, the QC RTC Branch 93 found Cimatu guilty beyond reasonable doubt of cyber libel under the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.

He is sentenced to a minimum imprisonment of six months and one day and a maximum imprisonment of five years, five months, and eleven days.

The Court also ordered Cimatu to pay Piñol P300,000 as moral damages.

In a message to GMA News Online, Cimatu said he will talk to his lawyers regarding his appeal. He expressed hope the appeal can be crafted before the holidays.

“I was surprised with the decision. I will be talking to my lawyers on how to make our appeal. As a journalist, I stand for the decriminalization of cyber libel,” he said.

GMA News Online has also sought comment from Piñol but has yet to receive a reply as of posting time.

The case stemmed from a post Cimatu uploaded on Facebook.

Cimatu argued that the post was made private since it was only published to be seen by his Facebook friends. However, the Court said this was immaterial as the post was made using the “public” setting.

According to the Court, Cimatu also failed to show that the post was done in good faith.

The Court also said Piñol had read the post and commented on the thread to explain his side of the story.

“Despite this, Cimatu did not relent in his actions, but went on to continue defaming the private complainant. This is a clear indication of the intention of accused to malign Piñol, no matter the cost, and is clearly proof of malice,” it said.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) meanwhile expressed support for Cimatu's plan to file an appeal.

"NUJP supports Cimatu's plan to appeal the court's decision, asserting it sees no malice in Cimatu's Facebook post on September 24, 2017," it said in a statement issued on Tuesday.

"With due respect to the local court's decision, NUJP maintains that the right to free expression and press freedom is paramount especially when exercised in relation to public officials. A powerful politician such as Piñol crying foul over a Facebook post of a community journalist is ironic in a supposed democratic country. Under the comments on the same post, Piñol himself issued threats and derogatory remarks against Cimatu. Online trolls flooded Cimatu's Facebook account with vitriol," NUJP added. —KG, GMA Integrated News