MindaNews/February 18, 2019 – The arrest of Rappler executive Maria Ressa for cyber libel charges has triggered a heated debate on whether the Philippine press is under attack under the present administration. Inevitably, it has revived discussions on the utility and place of libel in a supposedly liberal democracy such as ours. However, in the impassioned exchange of diatribes, it seems only a few have bothered to examine the technical intricacies involved.
A caveat: This piece isn’t a commentary on Ms Ressa’s libel case, but a layman’s take on the country’s existing libel laws.
One is Article 353 of the Revised Penal Code which 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.” Article 355 of the Code says it may be committed by means of “writing, printing, lithography, engraving, radio, phonograph, painting, theatrical exhibition, cinematographic exhibition, or any similar means…” [emphasis added]
Another law is Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act approved in September 2012. It punishes content-related offenses such as cyber libel as an act of libel committed through a computer system or “any similar means” as contemplated in Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code.
But while Section 4(c)(4) of RA No. 10175 includes cyber libel as one of the punishable content-related offenses, Section 8 (the penal provision) of the same law doesn’t provide for a penalty for it. This begs the question, “Can a person be accused of a crime for which there is no corresponding punishment?” An individual or an institution sues to see the offender punished and/or obtain other forms of restitution such as damages. It’s downright absurd to prosecute an offense for which the accused won’t get punished if found guilty, right?
Stated bluntly, there is no such crime as cyber libel under RA 10175 because the law doesn’t penalize it.
The recourse for persons who feel maligned on the internet is to sue for libel under the Revised Penal Code citing as basis the use of information and communications technologies under Section 6 of RA 10175.
So let me correct myself. Cyber libel exists but only in relation to the Revised Penal Code. Yet, like other laws it cannot be invoked for offenses that happened prior to its approval. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)