By Francis Allan L. Angelo
Cebu City 1st District Rep. Cutie Del Mar filed House Bill No. 6750 which will set the prescription period for libel and cyber-libel offenses to one year only, not 12-15 years as the courts have lately been ruling.
Prescription period in legal parlance refers to the length of time one can file a case.
In this case, Section 90 of the Revised Penal Code sets the prescription period for libel cases to 1 year.
But Section 90 is silent on cyber-libel cases as defined in Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012. Even RA 10175 does not specify the prescription period for cyber libel.
In its explanatory note, HB 6750 cited that RA 10175 is silent on the prescription period of the crime cyber-libel.
“The Revised Penal Code (in Article 90), however, provides that libel has a prescriptive period of only one year. The Cybercrime Prevention Act’s silence has caused confusion among judges, lawyers and litigants as well as media and the general public, many of whom risk lawsuits when they comment on social media or otherwise publish through the internet,” it added.
The bill cited the Manila Regional Trial Court in its June 2020 ruling on the case involving Maria Ressa of the news site Rappler saying that “the prescription period for violations penalized by special laws, like the cybercrime law, which do not provide for their own prescription period, shall prescribe in 12 years if the offense is punishable by imprisonment of at least six years.”
The Court of Appeals, in its ruling on the same case, said the penalty for cyber-libel became afflictive and shall prescribe in 15 years.
“Against those court rulings, the Revised Penal Code provides that libel shall prescribe in one year. Congress could not have intended the leap from one-year prescription to 15-year prescription,” HB 6750 added.
The bill said that other legal luminary perspectives cited the 2014 case of Disini vs. Secretary of Justice stating that cyber-libel “is not a new crime since Article 353 of the penal code, in relation to Article 355, already punishes it.”
Libel under Art. 355 is committed “by means of writing, printing, xxx or any similar means” and online defamation constitutes “similar means of committing libel.” Thus, the prescriptive period of one year in the penal code applies to cyber-libel since it is defined and punished in the penal code.
The bill proposed to amend Article 90 of the RPC to specify that “the crime of libel, INCLUDING CYBER-LIBEL AS DEFINED IN R.A. NO. 10175, OTHERWISE KNOWN AS THE CYBERCRIME PREVENTION ACT OF 2012, or other similar offenses shall prescribe in one year RECKONING FROM THE FIRST OR ORIGINAL POSTING OR PUBLICATION.”
“This bill seeks to eliminate the conflicting interpretation of the applicable laws by expressly providing for the prescriptive period on cyber-libel offenses.”
The Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 (Republic Act #20175) is silent on the prescription period of the crime cyber-libel. The Revised Penal Code (in Article 90), however, provides that libel has a prescriptive period of only one year.
“Providing for the prescription of cyber-libel offense amending for ten purpose section 90 of the Revised Penal Code.” Said provision will be amended to include cyber libel along ordinary libel among offenses that prescribe in one year (and not 12-15 years as the courts have lately been ruling).