Legislators see SLAPP stifling freedoms

California state legislators are sponsoring a bill against SLAPP which they say is used to deprive citizens of the right to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances. –DB

Business Mirror
May 10, 2009
By Fernan Marasigan

MILITANT legislators have filed a bill seeking to prohibit the filing of lawsuits against them and their groups to “protect their right to freedom of assembly, speech and of the press.”

Party-list Rep. Satur Ocampo of Bayan Muna, one of the authors of House Bill 5840, or the Anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) Act of 2009, said the past years saw the proliferation of a special kind of harassment under SLAPP.

According to Ocampo, SLAPP is a powerful mechanism for stifling the right of the people to peaceably assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.

The bill seeks to achieve the promotion and protection of the constitutional rights to freedom of speech, of the press, and to peacefully assemble and prevent any abuse of the judicial process that shall curtail such participation.

It also aims to prohibit the filing of SLAPP cases and provide the accused the right to recover damages, litigation costs, attorney’s fees and other relief by filing a SLAPP back action against the complainant.

Besides Ocampo, the bill was co-authored by Party-list Reps. Teodoro Casiño of Bayan Muna, Rafael Mariano of Anakpawis and Liza Maza and Luzviminda Ilagan of Gabriela.

Ocampo said harassment suits are initiated by influential entities such as corporations, politicians, landlords or employers against peasants, community residents, members of the press, students or even ordinary citizens to prevent them from fully exercising their right to participate in matters of public concern.

“SLAPP has since been defined more broadly to include suits arising from speech on any public issue,” he said.

Ocampo said SLAPP is designed and intended to intimidate and silence certain public constituencies by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their advocacies and concerns.

“The goal of the plaintiff or complainant is not to win the lawsuit. Their objective is accomplished if the respondent or accused succumbs to fear, intimidation or mounting legal costs or exhaustion and thereby abandons the public advocacy,” Ocampo said.

He said the poor who have become the usual victims of SLAPP find it difficult to continue their work or pursue their livelihood, engage in demonstrations and assert their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights as they are being threatened by SLAPP.

Copyright 2009 Business Mirror