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OFWs warned on libelous FB posts, pyramids, other issues

17 July 2016

Deputy Consul General Kit de Jesus (center), himself a lawyer, joins the visiting legal experts in a group picture at the end of the UBP3 forum at the Consulate on July 3.

By Vir B. Lumicao

Beware of what you post, like or comment on Facebook and other social media that tend to discredit or cause dishonor or contempt of a person, or tarnish the memory of the dead, as you could be liable for libel.
This warning came a group of lawyers from the Integrated Bar of the Philippines Bulacan Chapter who spoke on July 3 at the “Idulog Mo sa IBP3” legal forum at the Consulate’s conference hall.
The lawyers dealt with legal issues commonly affecting overseas Filipino workers, such as annulment, cybercrime, pyramid scams, and debt.
One of them, Tricia Santos, focused on online libel because, she said, OFWs communicated mainly on Facebook and mobile phones, two forms of media through which they can easily get in touch with or bash people
She stressed that libel, as defined under Article 353 of the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines, “is a public and malicious imputation of a crime, a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act … that tends to discredit or cause dishonor or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead.
She said there are many libelous posts made on Facebook, as people might be thinking that they can say anything there because it’s very accessible
“Doon pa lang makikita mo na ang hangarin. Public and malicious. Kung ang hangarin mo ay manira, medyo malundo ang tayo ninyo,” she said.
The lawyer said that even though the Cybercrime Prevention Act has not yet been implemented in the Philippines because of a temporary restraining order against it, there are recourses for victims of libel under the Revised Penal Code.
She advised them to preserve online evidence such as posts, emails and pictures and give these to a lawyer who can file a case against the culprit
Defamatory posts on Facebook, even if true, are presumed malicious if no good intention and justifiable motive for making them are shown, Santos said.
“Sa mata ng batas, hindi porke totoo ang sinabi nyo ay ibig sabihin ligtas na kayo,” she said.
She added that even people who like, comment on, and share libelous posts can be held liable.
Another speaker, Jennifer Santos, said that in the two-day consultation by OFWs with the IBP lawyers, the no. 1 topic again was marriage annulment.
“Ang unang subject po natin ay patok na patok nga raw, kasi yung pinagkonsultahan nila, about 80% ng tinatanong ay tungkol diyan, ang paghihiwalay, problema sa asawa,”she said.
In all, 147 OFWs consulted the IBP team on the issue.
Citing statistics, Santos said that in 2014, “one out of five sa mga kasal ay nagpa-file ng annulment. Araw-araw daw, 28 na tao ang nagpa-file ng annulment sa ating bansa. Na ang ibig sabihin ay marami ang hindi masaya sa kanilang pagsasama”.
Santos discussed the ways by which marriages could be terminated, such as through a declaration of presumptive death; annulment; declaration of nullity; and divorce by foreign judgment.
Pyramid scams was also a favorite topic during the consultations, said another speaker, Robert Cruz.
“Sa consultation kaninang umaga, pangalawa sa hottest topic saconsultation ang pyramid scam,” he said. This was apparently due to the recent losses suffered by many OFWs in Hong Kong who invested in the Emgoldex scam.
Cruz explained that the pyramid scam is today’s version of the Ponzi scheme started by Boston scoundrel Carl Ponzi in 1919. The only difference was that Ponzi had total control of the money flow while in pyramids, money moved layer by layer
He said pyramids are scams whereby people are lured to join a program by paying a membership fee, or by buying products or services from another person who convinces them to recruit other people in order that their investments earn and grow fast.
Cruz the signs of a pyramid scam are: 1) no product is sold and if there is, it’s too expensive; 2) promises of big earnings in a short period; 3) promises that you will earn even as you lie idle; 4) there are no documents to show, such as financial reports; 5) investors need to pay a huge fee; and 6) the necessity of recruiting new members
The lawyer said that to avoid becoming a victim, check whether the company is a registered corporation with the Securities and Exchange Commission of Department of Trade. People also need to look at its papers, track record and which product it is selling.
Then, one should check the company's financial statement to see whether their operation is making really money
“Huwag kayong magpadalus-dalos sa pagsali sa mga ganyang operasyon,” he advised
The topic on debt was discussed by Roberto Ultado Jr, whose advice to loan borrowers was to pay attention to the terms and conditions of the loan agreement.
Ultado said debt is a contract between two individuals. “Bago pumasok sa pautang ay nagkakasundo ang dalawang tao sa mga dapat sundin tungkol sa utang,” he said
Thus it is important to have a contract of loan in which the terms and conditions lay down what both parties should follow, the lawyer said.
In the Philippines, for example, lenders can’t charge fees that are not stated in the contract of loan. Banks are also required to show the borrower all fees that he will have to pay. In addition, the mode and schedule of payment should be stated on the contract of loans.
“Doon sa obligasyon mong magbayad, kung paano mo babayaran ang inutang mo ay dapat nakalagay doon sa kontrata ng utang mo,” Ultado said.
In case the borrower defaults, the loan becomes due and collectible and the lender will charge additional fees and compute the interest based on the contract of loan.
The lender can sue for repayment, but since this entails more costs, the lender often resorts to collection agents who harass the borrower to force him to pay up.
To avoid pesky collection agents, pay your debt, Ultado said.
But his foremost advice is: “Do not borrow if you know you won’t be able to repay your debt.”
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