(Cyber) libel prescription period is one year only – Supreme Court

By Francis Allan Angelo

This is good news for journalists (the conscientious and responsible ones) in a time when the law is used to intimidate truth seekers and tellers (not the foul mouths breathing the mephitic fumes of stupidity)

The Supreme Court effectively threw away the 15-year prescriptive period for “cyberlibel” cases based on its latest ruling in the case of Ferdinand Hernandez against lawyer Berteni Causing.

The high court decision – promulgated on October 14, 2023 but released on January 19, 2024 – ruled that a cyberlibel case must be filed within one year from the discovery of the crime.

The prescription period refers to the period “up to when a legal action may be filed or instituted; otherwise, after the said period, the cause of action is barred forever.” (Laborlaw.ph)

Cyberlibel is penalized by Republic Act No. 10175, or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.

To note, the Hernandez vs Causing case was an altogether different case but the SC took the chance of reviewing a particular case law called the “Tolentino Doctrine.”

This doctrine is a First Division ruling of the high court dated Aug. 6, 2018, which indicated that under Article 90 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC), the crime of libel in relation to RA 10175, prescribes in 15 years.

The court previously held that a criminal complaint for cyberlibel filed in 2017 based on a Facebook post in 2015, or more than two years from publication, was filed within the prescriptive period, “because RA 10175 made the penalty for cyberlibel afflictive, making the crime prescribe in 15 years.”

But in the Hernandez vs Causing case, the SC now agreed with the argument that Section 4(c )( 4) of RA 10175 “did not create any new crime but merely recognized a computer system as another means of committing libel,” thus it should instead be defined and penalized under Articles 353 and 355 of the RPC.

Causing argued that paragraph 4, Article 9018 of the RPC should be applied to determine the prescriptive period of cyberlibel, as it states that the “crime of libel or other similar offenses shall prescribe in one year.”

“The Court rules in favor of Causing … in determining the prescriptive period of Cyberlibel, the RPC, not Act No. 3326, should be applied,” the Supreme Court said.

The high court also pointed out that in the case of Disini vs Secretary of Justice, the Supreme Court reiterated that cyberlibel was not a new crime for it is “essentially the old crime of libel found in the 1930 Revised Penal Code and transposed to operate in the cyberspace.”

The SC also emphasized that prescription “must be counted from the day on which the crime is discovered by the offended party, the authorities, or their agents … because they could hardly be expected to institute criminal proceedings for Libel without prior knowledge of the same.”

This ruling now has implications on the cyberlibel cases filed against Maria Ressa and researcher-writer Reynaldo Santos Jr. by a businessman.

Ressa’s case was controversial because the Cybercrime Prevention Act was not enacted until September 2012, or four months after the article was published.

The prosecution, however, claimed that the story was republished in February 2014 due to a correction, making it punishable under the Cybercrime Law.

The Manila RTC ruled that the crime had not prescribed because the prescriptive period for cyberlibel was 12 years.


I am currently in Metro Manila to represent Daily Guardian to a meeting called by UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, Irene Khan.

Ms. Khan is in the country to examine the situation of the rights to freedom of opinion and expression in the country. At the end of her visit, the Special Rapporteur will present her preliminary findings to the government and the general public. A full report on the visit will be presented to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The meeting will aim to bring together a few civil society representatives and journalists to participate in an interactive, confidential and informal discussion with the Special Rapporteur. Among others, it will provide participants with an opportunity to share information and views on:

-Good practices and challenges relating to the exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, including with regard to media freedom, both in law and in practice.

-Potential recommendations to be considered by the Special Rapporteur in the context of her visit.

Ms. Irene Khan (Bangladesh), was appointed UN Special Rapporteur in August 2020. Ms Khan is the first woman to be appointed as UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression.

She was Secretary General of Amnesty International from 2001 to 2009 and Director General of the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) from 2012 to 2019. An internationally recognized advocate for human rights, gender equality and social justice, she is Distinguished Fellow at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. (With information from https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1891841/prescription-period-for-cyberlibel-is-1-year-supreme-court)