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A public official, more especially an elected one, should not be onion skinned. Strict personal discipline is expected of an occupant of a public office because a public official is a property of the public. He is looked upon to set the example how public officials should correctly conduct themselves even in the face of extreme provocation. Always he is expected to act and serve with the highest degree of responsibility, integrity, loyalty and efficiency and shall remain accountable for his conduct to the people.” (Yabut vs. Doran, G.R. No. 111304 June 17, 1994).
The prolonged restriction on our activities specially on travel is probably putting much toll on our thinking. While many turned creative during their stay at home others have become more toxic and irritable. We now have become “dual citizens” because we are not just citizens of our great republic, we have also become “netizens” on social media. Now, virtually everyone has the power to voice out opinion against or for policies, laws, and even officials or even private individuals who are public personalities. This seemingly unlimited and unregulated power has caused conflict between people and sometimes between people and the officials they elected.
For the past months, there were news reports on the arrest of individuals who announced on facebook that they will give reward to anyone who can kill the president. Just recently, another high-ranking elected officials made headlines and drew the ire of netizens after he allegedly filed a case or asked the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to investigate the alleged defamatory posts or remarks against him. The phrase “onion skinned” surfaced once again which was used to describe this high ranking elected official.
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Can the high ranking elected official file a case of libel or defamation against anyone who has defamed him? Is the law on libel not applicable to elected officials? In fairness to the high ranking elected official, there is no prohibition against his filing of libel case against those whom he believed have defamed him. The late former president Corazon Aquino filed a libel case against a columnist for his article saying that the president hid under her bed during one of the coup attempts against her government. Our Revised Penal Code defines Libel as follows: “Art. 353. Definition of libel. – A libel is a public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status, or circumstance tending to cause the dishonor, discredit, or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead.”
The only problem with the filling of libel cases by an elected official is the fact that with the nature of his office, he might spend much of his time prosecuting those who he believes has dishonored him, distracting him in the performance of his functions as a public official. It is a matter of good judgment on the part of the elected official to file cases or not. This however, might show to the people that elected him, his intolerance towards criticisms or negative comments being hurled towards him. On the other side, those who intend to run for public office such as the one being occupied by this high ranking elected official will have to know and accept the fact that running for public office opens even their personal lives to scrutiny by the public. If one wants to keep his privacy, he must keep himself out of public service.
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