PH online libel law: A retrogression to 1887

REPUBLIC Act No. 10175, known as the Philippine Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, is caught in a time warp.

Its provisions on cybercrime offenses in Chapter 11 are copied from current cybercrime laws of the United States (United States Code), but its provisions on online libel (Section 4(c)(4) and Section 6) date back to 1932, the effectivity date of the Philippine Revised Penal Code, which is a  mere revision of the old Penal Code of 1887.

Indeed, Section 4(c)(4) of the Philippine Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 criminalizes online “libel as defined in Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, committed through a computer system or any other similar means which may be devised in the future”.

Penalty increased by one degree

Worse, under Article 355, libel is punishable by prisión correccional (six months and one day to six years) in its minimum and medium periods; while under Section 6 of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, “all crimes defined and penalized by the Revised Penal Code, as amended, and special laws (is penalized)” one (1) degree higher than that provided for by the Revised Penal Code, as amended, and special laws, as the case may be.”

Thus, online libel in the Philippines is punishable by one degree higher or prisión mayor from six years and one day to twelve years; while libel is not a crime under the cybercrime laws of the United States.

Philippine Supreme Court declares online libel constitutional

Signed into law by Pres. Benigno S. Aquino III on September 12, 2012, the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 was suspended by the Philippine Supreme Court about a month after its approval until February 18, 2014, when it upheld as constitutional most provisions thereof, including online libel subject to one exception.

That exception is:  online libel covers only the original author, not recipients thereof who merely react thereto without adding libelous statement.

Moreover, the crimes of aiding or abetting as well as attempt in the commission of online libel under Section 5 of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 were declared unconstitutional by the Philippine Supreme Court.

Lastly, Section 7 thereof which states that: “A prosecution under this Act shall be without prejudice to any liability for violation of any provision of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, or special laws”, was struck down as unconstitutional as pertaining to online libel and child pornography, as violative of the constitutional guarantee against double jeopardy, that is, being punished more than once for the same offense.

Libel under The Philippine Revised Penal Code

The Philippine Revised Penal Code has several sources, among which are the Spanish Penal Code of 1870, Del Pan’s Correctional Code of 1916, as well as American law on malversation, brigandage, libel, sedition, and treason.

The definition of libel in Section 353 of the Philippine Revised Penal Code is a definition   of defamation: “a public and malicious imputation of 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.”

Indeed, defamation (oral or slander and written or libel) can be committed against a dead person under the Revised Penal Code and online libel under Republic Act No. 10175.

Article 355 of the Philippine Revised Penal Code states the means by which libel is committed…” by means of writing, printing, lithography, engraving, radio, phonograph, painting, theatrical exhibition, cinematographic exhibition or any similar means…”

And under Section 360 thereof, the criminal case and civil action for damages in cases of written defamation (libel) can be filed simultaneously or separately with the Regional Trial Court of the province or city where the libelous article was printed or first published or where any offended party actually resides at the commission of the offense.

California Law on Libel

Section 45 of the California Civil Code, effective January 1, 1873, defines libel as “ a false and unprivileged publication by writing, printing, picture, effigy, or other fixed representation to the eye, which exposes any person to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or obloquy, or which causes him to be shunned or avoided, or which has a tendency to injure him in his occupation.

Libel in California is an actionable civil action for damages; it is not criminalized under its Penal Code.

Philippine online libel law should be repealed; and libel should be decriminalized in the Philippines.

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The Author, Roman P. Mosqueda, has litigated libel in the Philippines as defense counsel in criminal cases, and in California as plaintiff’s counsel, as well as defendant’s counsel in different libel civil actions for damages. Send comments to [email protected] or call (213) 252-9481 for free consultation appointment. Visit Mosquedalaw.com and EzineArticles.com to read his other articles.

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