Michael Sy Lim, the blogger behind the popular website FashionPulis.com, could face a minimum of 36 years in prison if found guilty in the online libel case slapped against him by stylist Liz Uy.
Under the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, the penalty for online libel is increased by one degree, Uy’s lawyer Lorna Kapunan explained.
For example, one count of libel under the Revised Penal Code is punishable by six months to six years imprisonment. This is what usually applies to cases where traditional media like newspapers are involved.
“But since online libel is considered one degree higher, the penalty is also raised. This is six to 10 years per count of libel,” Kapunan told Inquirer Lifestyle in a phone interview.
Uy has filed four counts of online libel against Lim for claiming on two occasions each, on both his Twitter account and his FashionPulis.com website, that the stylist made rising star Maine Mendoza, aka Yaya Dub, wear a “second-hand” pink gown created by Francis Libiran during the historic “Tamang Panahon” episode of noontime variety TV show “Eat Bulaga” on Oct. 24.
The two other counts of online libel stem from Lim’s more recent Twitter and blogpost stating that Uy “makes Maine Mendoza wear the same jacket she wore weeks ago in a Preview photo shoot.”
Preview, a monthly fashion magazine, put Mendoza and “Eat Bulaga” co-star Alden Richards on the cover of its November issue.
The slander case, meanwhile, stems from an incident in which Uy’s close friend Isabelle Daza and at least one other witness allegedly heard Lim utter to dinner companions at the Peninsula Manila on Oct. 28 that Uy made Mendoza wear a “hand-me-down” jacket that Uy herself wore, as seen in an entry posted in the stylist’s social media account weeks earlier.
Uy is asking for P11 million in damages.
Lim’s posts, said lawyers of the Kapunan Garcia and Castillo Law Offices, not only “angered fans and made them hate” Uy. The posts were also “untrue, malicious, irresponsible and made in bad faith,” and were meant to erode Uy’s credibility as a fashion stylist, they added.
Observers note that Uy vs Lim is probably the most prominent case of online libel to date.
If Lim is found guilty, a conviction would send a strong message to bloggers who flaunt their constitutionally protected freedom of expression, they added.
“Madidisiplina ang bloggers,” Kapunan stressed over the phone. “This should be a test case. This is not about freedom of expression or censorship. There is freedom of expression, but it cannot be unbridled. And it does not include the freedom to destroy other people’s reputations.”
In a solicited e-mail statement, the law office’s senior partner, Irene Joy J. Besido-Garcia, said that both the Revised Penal Code and the Cybercrime Prevention Act do not distinguish between bloggers and journalists employed by legitimate media entities.
Whether a person writes a news report or a blogpost, once a statement is conveyed as a fact, the statement must be truthful and not malicious, Besido-Garcia insists.
“In other words, even a blogger… is covered by, and may be held liable under the Revised Penal Code and the Cybercrime Prevention Act. A blogger, therefore, is not allowed to state any false and malicious imputation,” she added.
The trouble with Lim’s posts, the lawyer said, was that they were statements, not opinions or sentiments, “made as if they were stating something factual. But (Lim) in fact did not do any fact-checking before he posted his statements.”
A press statement issued by the law firm indicated that Uy was not involved at all in the photo shoot where Mendoza wore the jacket that the stylist previously wore as part of her job as a “social media influencer” of Stores Specialists Inc. (SSI).
Worse, after designer Libiran and Preview issued clarificatory statements about the clothes, Lim “did not correct his posts immediately, nor did he take down his posts,” Besido-Garcia claimed.
When other persons made comments on his blogpost that Uy was never involved in the Preview photo shoot, Lim “simply replied, ‘deadma.’ There was obviously malice,” the senior partner noted.
Reached through text, Lim referred this reporter to an entry he posted in FashionPulis.com.
“Is it a crime for ordinary people, bloggers, show-biz writers and journalists to point out valid observations about those in the public eye?” he asked.
“Other bloggers, writers, journalists and I should not be cowered by the filing of cases just to suppress the freedom to express and of the press,” he added.
Lim also decried that “a public figure such as Liz Uy decided to file a case against me. Her feelings of being wronged by my post were based on a common truthful observation about her body of work relative to Maine Mendoza of AlDub (the portmanteau referring to Mendoza and Richards’ love team) which many people other than me also pointed out.”
Lim’s sympathizers volunteered that the backlash against Uy was not triggered by his blogposts per se, but by comments from followers who noted Uy’s close ties with TV hosts Vice Ganda (Jose Marie Viceral in real life) and Anne Curtis.
Viceral and Curtis are hosts of “It’s Showtime,” the noontime television program pitted by a rival station against “Eat Bulaga.”
In her e-mailed statement, Besido-Garcia pointed out the “distinction between writing news reports and writing opinions.”
“Essentially the same distinction applies to online news reporting and blogging. However, once a blogger makes a statement of fact—and not an opinion—that is actually not true and made in a malicious manner… then that blogger can be held accountable for online libel,” she explained.
“A person cannot hide behind the job description ‘blogger’ in order to justify defamatory posts and damage people’s reputations,” the lawyer added.
Besido-Garcia and Kapunan separately noted the importance of Uy’s online case.
“Hopefully, this case will make bloggers more conscious of their responsibility to be careful with what they post… Libel is not protected by freedom of speech and expression. The case will remind everyone, not just bloggers, that the right of free speech is not absolute at all times and under all circumstances,” Besido-Garcia said.
Kapunan in turn believes, “May laban si Liz. We are in the right here. This is not just her fight. This is also a crusade for others Lim has maligned. You cannot let this just pass.”
Lim, on the other hand, insists he had no malicious intent when he posted those entries. “I will fight this case with courage because I have no malicious intent. My lawyer is also studying the filing of counter charges for malicious prosecution and damages for this suppression of our freedom of the press and expression,” he said.