What is libel?

PEOPLE are curious and have recently asked me what libel is or why R.A. 10175 (Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012) is deemed oppressive and anti-democratic?

Libel is an act punishable under the Revised Penal Code. It is an old law copied from the Spanish Penal Code and adopted in our own penal code in 1930 during the American colonial period to silence nationalist elements and other critics of the colonial government. Since we are no longer under U.S. political and judicial jurisdiction, this outdated law is now primarily used by the powers that be to intimidate if not totally silence media practitioners and other critics.

Article 353 of the RPC defines libel as 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.”

According to numerous decisions of the Supreme Court, there are four elements needed to commit the crime of libel. These are:

Allegation – There should be an imputation of a discreditable act or condition to another

Publication – There should be publication of the imputation

Identification – The identity of the person defamed is known or clearly identifiable

Malice – There should be malice in the imputation

Libel under the RPC is punishable with a fine or a 6 months and 1 day to 6 years imprisonment or both depending on the court’s discretion. It is a probationary offense hence a felon who was convicted for the first time of a crime (not necessarily libel) punishable with imprisonment of 6 years or below will be conditionally freed.

However, the controversial Chapter 4 (c)(4) and Section 6 of R.A. 10175 not only broadened the scope of libel to include articles or comments posted in the internet, it also imposed harsher penalties. Libel committed under this law is now punishable with a lengthened prison term of 6 years and 1 day as minimum to a maximum incarceration of 12 years. It also increased the amount of fine to levels that is already beyond the reach of ordinary media practitioners.

Since libel under R.A. 10175 is punished with more than six years of imprisonment, it is now a non-probationary offense.

Anyone found guilty of violating this law immediately goes to jail.

Take note that libel under the RPC and as adopted in R.A. 10175 is the only crime where the presumption of innocence does not apply. Article 354 of the RPC  states that “every defamatory imputation is presumed to be malicious, even if it be true, if no good intention and justifiable motive for making it is shown,…”

Chapter 4 (c)(4), Section 6 of R.A. 10175, which were both unscrupulously inserted, were clearly meant to suppress the freedom of expression particularly in cyberspace.

It is unfortunate that despite the call of the United Nations Human Rights Committee last year to decriminalize libel in our country, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, of all people, choose to strengthen it.

Instead of doing the right thing like heeding the growing clamor here and abroad to decriminalize libel and push for the passage of the Freedom of Information, President B.S. Aquino did the opposite. Instead of widening the political space created by the EDSA Revolution, the president just constricted it.

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