MindaNews / 20 Feb 2019 – Article 90 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by RA 4661, provides that libel shall prescribe in one year. This means a complaint for libel must be filed within a year since the publication of the alleged libelous material.
There are those who assert though that libel must be treated as a continuing crime if the libelous article or statement is published through the internet. The contention is the prescription doesn’t apply because such articles continue to be accessible to the public unless they’re taken down. If the court affirms this argument, it’s good as saying that libel has no prescription, that any citizen who feels defamed through a published article may seek legal address regardless of when such article appeared online.
In effect, this would render useless the requirement that criminal actions must be done within a specific timeframe. Moreover, if supposedly libelous articles that are published online have to be taken down so they may not be used as bases for filing libel complaints, would the same rule apply to articles printed in newspapers and magazines? Will the court order the burning or shredding of all remaining printed copies and the removal of the subject articles from manual and digital archives so the public can be denied access to them?
This issue may be resolved by going back to the fact that the Cybercrime Prevention Act or RA 10175 fails to provide for a penalty for cyber libel, thus making the Revised Penal Code the fulcrum of prosecuting such offense. Since the Revised Penal Code, as amended by RA 4661, specifies a one-year prescription for libel, it should be the basis not just of the penalty to be imposed in case of a guilty verdict but also of prescription.
RA 10175 is a special law, and according to the rules, a special law prevails over a general law, in this instance the Revised Penal Code. However, its failure to impose a penalty for cyber libel should make this norm inapplicable to the prosecution of this offense. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)