Penal code, cybercrime law punish defamation

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Persida Acosta

Persida Acosta

Dear PAO,
My brother posted on Instagram a photo of his friend with a caption that really offended the latter. He demanded from my brother to take down the post and to make a public apology since a lot of their friends saw it. But my brother refused to do so because he thinks he did not do anything wrong. Now, his friend told him that he will file a case against him for libel and he would include me because I also made a comment on that particular post. Will this really prosper? Please advise.
Emma

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Dear Emma,
The crime of libel is committed when a person makes, against another, 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 353, Revised Penal Code).

When libel is committed by means of writing, printing, lithography, engraving, radio, phonograph, painting, theatrical exhibition, cinematographic exhibition or any similar means, the penalty imposed under the law is prision correccional in its minimum and medium periods or a fine ranging from 200 to 6,000 pesos, or both, in addition to the civil action that may be brought by the offended party. (Article 355, Ibid.)

To address the changing times as well as the advancement of technology, Republic Act (RA) 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 was passed into law. One of the salient parts of RA 10175 is Section 4 (c) (4), which renders unlawful or prohibited acts of libel those mentioned under Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, if such acts are committed through a computer system or any other similar means that may be devised in the future.

Accordingly, your brother’s friend may institute a complaint against him for libel if the photo and the caption that your brother posted on social media were publicly made and in such a manner that they maliciously impute a crime, or of a vice or defect, or any act, omission, condition, status or circumstance tending to cause the dishonor, discredit or contempt of his friend.

We wish to emphasize that there is a presumption of malice in every defamatory imputation made, notwithstanding whether the imputation made is true, as long as there is no good intention and justifiable motive for making it is shown. The only exceptions are: (1) private communications made by any person to another in the performance of any legal, moral or social duty; and (2) fair and true reports, made in good faith, without any comments or remarks, of any judicial, legislative or other official proceedings which are not of confidential nature, or of any statement, report or speech delivered in said proceedings, or of any other act performed by public officers in the exercise of their functions (Article 354, Id.).

Insofar as filing a complaint against you for the comment that you made on the same post of your brother, we take into account the ruling of the Supreme Court in the case of Jose Jesus M. Disini Jr. et al. vs. The Secretary of Justice et al. (G.R. No. 203335, February 11, 2014):

“x x x But the Court’s acquiescence goes only insofar as the cybercrime law penalizes the author of the libelous statement or article. Cyberlibel brings with it certain intricacies, unheard of when the penal code provisions on libel were enacted. The culture associated with Internet media is distinct from that of print. x x x

“Of course, if the ‘Comment’ does not merely react to the original posting but creates an altogether new defamatory story against Armand like ‘He beats his wife and children,’ then that should be considered an original posting published on the Internet. Both the penal code and the cybercrime law clearly punish authors of defamatory publications. Make no mistake, libel destroys reputations that society values. Allowed to cascade in the Internet, it will destroy relationships and, under certain circumstances, will generate enmity and tension between social or economic groups, races, or religions, exacerbating existing tension in their relationships. x x x”(underscoring supplied)

We hope that we were able to answer your queries. Please be reminded that this advice is based solely on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. Our opinion may vary when other facts are changed or elaborated.

Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to dearpao@manilatimes.net

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