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A Study on Internet Libel in the Philippines

Posted by paladan on May 13, 2011 at 4:06 PM

Introduction Libel committed through the internet is still a novel issue in the Philippines. Unlike other highly industrialized countries such as the United States of America and the countries in Europe where the developments in technology has urged such countries to enact new laws in order to update existing laws, the Philippines has no law on internet libel. In 2000 however, the Philippine legislature enacted the Republic Act 8792, otherwise known as the E-Commerce Act which paved way to A.M. NO. 01-7-01-SC - RE: Rules on Electronic Evidence which was made applicable in the Revised Rules of Court. Although the E-Commerce Act did not specifically provide a provision on internet libel, it nonetheless provided for a the liability of the service providers in case the electronic data message or electronic document is unlawful and the service provider fall in any of the circumstance presented in Section 30(a) of Republic Act 8792. Jurisprudence on the issue of libel committed through the internet is not available. As of October 2009, there are no Jurisprudence as decided by the Supreme Court of the Philippines in such matter. There have been a number of cases filed in court involving libel committed through the internet but such cases which will be further discussed in this study have been discontinued after an amicable settlement or are still pending before the lower courts. Libel in the Philippines Libel in the Philippines is defined by Article 353 of the Revised Penal Code as A libel is a public and malicious imputation of the crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status or circumstance tending to cause the dishonour, discredit, or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead. Libel is a form of defamation or defamacion in the Spanish text of the Codigo Penal of which the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines originated from. It is that which tends to injure the reputation or to diminish the esteem, respect, good will or confidence in the plaintiff or to excite derogatory feelings or opinions about the plaintiff. (MVRS Pub. Inc. vs. Islamic Dawah Council of the Phils., Inc., 230 Phil. 241)

The protection of any person whether natural or juridical for any interference on his privacy or attacks on his honour or reputation is protected under the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights as provided in Article 12 thereof to wit: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks. The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights is an international law which binds the Philippines since the latter is a member thereof. Article 3 section 1 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution does not explicitly provide for the protection of the right to privacy nor that of honor or reputation. Article 3 however, is not the source of civil and political right but a limitation on behalf of the state. In a case decided by the Supreme Court of the Philippines, it held that the enjoyment of a private reputation is as much a constitutional right as the possession of life, liberty or property. The law recognizes the value of such reputation and imposes upon him who attacks it, by slanderous words or libelous publications, the liability to make full compensation for the damage done. (Worcester vs. Ocampo 22 Phil. 42) In order for libel to attach in Philippine Law, the following elements were enumerated in a Supreme Court decision: (Diaz vs. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 159787) 1.It must be defamatory 2.It must be malicious 3.It must be given publicly 4.The victim must be identifiable It was stressed by the Supreme Court in Diaz vs. Court of Appeals that all the four (4) elements of libel must be present, for an absence in any one of those previously enumerated, the case for libel will not prosper. Thus, in order to understand the elements of libel punishable under the Revised Penal Code, a discussion particular to each element must be conducted. The test of the defamatory character of the words used is that a.) It must be construed in their entirety and taken in their plain, natural and ordinary meaning, (Novicio vs. Aggabao, 463 Phil. 510, 516) and b.)The words are calculated to induce the hearers to suppose and understand that the person against whom they were uttered was guilty of certain offenses, or are sufficient to impeach the honesty, virtue, or reputation, or to hold him up to public ridicule. (U.S. vs. OConnell, 37 Phil. 767) As for the second element of malice, malice is presumed by law and thus the offender must prove that the act was done under any of the exceptions of Article 354 of the Revised Penal Code.

Article 354 of the Revised Penal Code which provides to wit: Every defamatory imputation is presumed to be malicious, even if it be true, if no good intention and justifiable motive for making it is shown, except in the following cases: 1.Private Communication made by any person to another in the performance of any legal, moral, or social duty; 2.A fair and true report, 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. Under Philippine law, in relation to the application of law in libel, truth is not a defense. What is punished under Philippine law is the actual act or commission of the offense. Unlike in the United States however, truth is an absolute defense. Paragraph 1 of Article 354 of the Revised Penal Code states the presumption of malice in defamation. I regardless of the truthfulness of the imputation, the presumption of malice still exists unless otherwise proven that it was performed in good and justifiable intention. The offended party need not produce proof of malice. Defamatory imputation may cover: a.) the imputation of a crime allegedly committed by the offended party, b.) a vice or defect, real or imaginary of the offended party, c.) any act, omission, status of, or circumstance relating to the offended party. In the third element, Article 354 of the Revised Penal Code provides for the Requirement for publicity. It is essential that the defamatory statement was given publicly. The mere composing of libel is not actionable as long as the same is not published. It was held by the Supreme Court that the communication of libellous materials to the person of the defamed alone does not constitute publication since that could not injure his reputation that others hold of him. (People vs. Atencio, CA-G.R. Nos. 11351-R to 11353-R) On the question of the meaning of publication and when the libellous matter is deemed published? It was held in previously cited case of People vs. Atencio that the communication of the defamatory matter to some third person or more persons is deemed to be a publication. However, the same defamatory matter must be read by the third person for such to constitute publications. Thus in a case where the defamatory matter was sealed in an envelope and sent through a messenger, the same does not constitute publication. (Lopez vs. Delgado, 8 Phil. 26) In light of the requirement of publication to at least a third person in libel cases, there is an exception to the liability of the offender. Article 354 provides for an exception when the libellous matter was committed in the purview of a privileged communication whether it was an absolute privileged communication or a conditional privileged communication. The members of congress in the discharge of their function are protected by absolute privileged communication and therefore not actionable regardless if its author acted in bad faith. There is a conditional privileged communication when the libellous matter was communicated in relation to

a legal, moral or social duty. The communication however must be addressed to the proper party of who has been charged with supervision over the person the libellous matter was committed against. It was held by the Supreme Court that when the third party communication which constituted publishing was the supervisor of the person of whom the libellous matter was against, it is deemed to be a private communication if predicated upon the fact of a legal, moral, or social duty. (U.S. vs. Galeza, 31 Phil. 365) In relation to libellous matter posted through an internet forum, message board, yahoo group, chat room, or any other similar means, the libellous communication is deemed to have been published when viewed by at least a third person as cited in People vs. Atencio. The matter posted in such internet platforms even when performed as a legal, moral, or social duty to bring to the knowledge of an official who has supervisory duty over the person of whom the libellous matter was against is still considered libellous for not being communicated privately. Thus, when the accused instead of communicating the matter to the official who is the proper authority, aired the same in a public meeting, it was held that the statements made where not privileged. (People vs. Jaring, C.A., 40 O.G. 3683) It however, should be noted that in the case of Yuchenco vs. Parents Enabling Parents Coalition, Inc. where the Yuchengcos filed a libel suit against the Parents Enabling Parents Coalition for allegedly posting in the latters website malicious articles against the former and their group of companies, the Court of Appeals has dismissed the case owing for the lack of endorsement by the Office of the Solicitor General, which should represent the government in the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals in all criminal proceedings as mandated under Presidential Decree 478. The Court of Appeals decision in the previously cited case added that any party may appeal a case before them without the conformity of the Office of the Solicitor General only in behalf of the civil liability claims. In the preliminary investigation of the libel suit in Yuchengco vs. Parents Enabling Parents Coalition, Inc. the City Prosecutor of Makati found probable cause to charge the members of the coalition with 13 counts of libel. The Regional Trial Court of Makati however dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction. This prompted the Yuchengcos to file an appeal without the endorsement of the Department of Justice. The issue involving internet libel in that case was ordered to be dismissed by the Department of Justice which ruled that there is no such thing as internet libel since Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code strictly provided for the means of which libel may be committed. Here in lies the question on what the means libel may be committed in light of Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code. Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code provides for the manner of which it may be committed and the penalty for its commission, to wit: A libel committed by means of writing, printing, lithography engraving, radio, phonograph, painting, theatrical exhibition, cinematographic exhibition, or any similar means, shall be punished by prision correctional in its minimum and medium periods or a fine ranging from 200 to 6,000 pesos, or both, in addition to the civil action which may be brought by the offended party. Since because of the novelty of internet libel in the Philippines there are no established Supreme Court jurisprudence as to the matter, it up to the bar to find existing jurisprudence of a similar

nature to persuade the courts. Internet libel may be presented as among those means enumerated in Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code under xxx or any other similar means, xxx. It was held in one Supreme Court decision that defamatory words having been made in a television program was considered to be libel as contemplated by Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code. While the medium of television is not expressly mentioned among the means specified in the law, it easily qualifies under the general provision or any other similar means. (People vs. Casten, C.A.-G.R. No. 07924-CR) The fourth element as enumerated by Diaz vs. Court of Appeals is that the victim of the libellous matter should be identifiable. The victim may be identified or identifiable based on the contents of the libellous article. It is not sufficient that the offended party recognizes himself as the person attacked or defamed; it must be shown that at least a third person could identify him as the object of the libellous publication. (Kunkle vs. Cablenews-American, 42 Phil. 757) In the still pending case of Belo vs. Guevarra, which as of October 2009 is still in the stage of preliminary investigation, in relation to libellous statements posted through the internet social networking site Facebook by Atty. Argee Guevarra in his Facebook profile page, there allegedly was a string of posts in the profile status on the website page which were malicious. Here in lies the question of whether or not libel published in different parts may be taken together to establish the identification of the offended party. According to one Supreme Court jurisprudence where in its facts there were two publications the first of which did not mention any names and the second of the two publication merely consists of a named cartoon of the person referred to in the first publication, the court considered the two publications together to establish the identity of the offended party. (U.S. vs. Sotto, 36 Phil. 389) Thus, in relation to U.S. vs. Sotto and Kunkle vs. Cablenews-American, if through the publication in different parts of the libellous articles the entirety of the material produces the effect of being identifiable at least to a third person, the third element for identification is complied with. The identification however must not be to a group or class except when the statement is so sweeping or all-embracing as to apply to every individual in that group or class. (Newsweek, Inc. vs. Intermediate Appellate Court, 142 SCRA 171) In view of all the elements of libel discussed, the attendance of any of those four (4) elements may be sufficient to hold any person who performs any act constituted in any of the following manner provided for under Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code in relation to Article 353 of the same article and communicates the same to at least a third party who may identify the person of whom the libellous article injures may be held liable for the crime of libel. May the service provider of the internet platform of which the libellous article was published be held accountable for libel solidarily or jointly with the author of such libellous material? Under the Republic Act 8792 or Electronic Commerce Act of 2000, generally, the Service Providers may not be held liable for the possible offenses committed by person who they are

providing their service unless there is an attendance of any of the exception provided for by Section 30 of the said act. Section 30 of Republic Act 8792 provides to wit: SEC. 30. Extent of Liability of a Service Provider. Except as otherwise provided in this Section, no person or party shall be subject to any civil or criminal liability in respect of the electronic data message or electronic document for which the person or party acting as a service provider as defined in Section 5 merely provides access if such liability is founded on a.xxx b.The making, publication, dissemination or distribution of such material or any statement made in such material, including possible infringement of any right subsisting in or in relation to such material: Provided, That: i.The service provider does not have actual knowledge xxx ii.The service provider does not knowingly receive a financial benefit directly attributable to the unlawful or infringing activity; and iii.The service provider does not directly commit any infringement or other unlawful act xxx: Provided, further, That nothing in this Section shall affect a.Any obligation founded on contract; b.The obligation of a service provider as such under a licensing or other regulatory regime established under written law; or c.Any obligation imposed under any written law; d.The civil liability of any party to the extent that such liability forms the basis for injunctive relief issued by a court under any law requiring that the service provider take or refrain from actions necessary to remove, block or deny access to any material, or to preserve evidence of a violation of law. One complaint involving libel published through a blog was brought to the City Prosecutor of Pasig, Metro Manila, involving the question of the liability of the service provider. The complaint of Aquino vs. RP Nuclei Solutions and Olandres has been dismissed by the City Prosecutor. The RP Nuclei Solutions was the alleged server or host of the website greedyolddumbass.com, an internet forum where the alleged libellous comments had been made. RP Nuclei Solutions is owned by a company called Ploghost which in turn is owned by Olandres. The Prosecutor noted that the RP Nuclei Solutions could not be held for libel because as a server it cannot vary or change the contents of the websites it is servicing. The service provider may only discontinue the service if the user violates the Terms of Service as agreed upon by their registration with the provider. Furthermore, the Prosecutor stated that With

worldwide web concerned, the traditional concept of publishers of a newspaper or periodical cannot apply insofar as liability for libel in the setting up, ownership, management and supervision of an Internet site, web log [blog] or forum is concerned. Hence, any liability for libellous statements or remarks that may be coursed through or communicated through the websites that it is hosting will solely devolve on the part of the authors. Jurisdiction The jurisdiction of the Philippine law as regards acts or omission punishable under the revised penal code are only those committed within the territory of the Philippines unless falling under any of the circumstance enumerated in Article 2 of the Revised Penal Code. The Philippine courts in order to validly try the case must have valid jurisdiction over the, a.) territory, b.) subject matter, and c.) the person. In the 2007 controversy in the Philippines involving an Australian, Brian Gorrell, and Filipino, Montano, regarding the libellous articles posted by Gorrell in his blog while he was in Australia against Montano for allegedly swindling him of money amounting to seventy thousand dollars ($70,000), it raised the issue of jurisdiction if ever the complaint will be filed by Montano in the Philippine court. A case may be filed in the trial court of the Philippines in the territorial jurisdiction of the court where the offense has been committed or the place of residence of any of the parties involved. It must be noted of the existence of the principle in Private International Law of Lex loci delicti commissi. Lex loci delicti commsi means law of the place where the tort was committed. The principle applies when the two contending parties are domiciled in different countries. Under Philippine law as regards jurisdiction, the case may be filed in the place where the act was committed or the place of residence of either parties. Thus in international law, abiding by the principle of lex loci delicti commssi, the laws of the place where the tort was committed shall govern, and the same acquires proper jurisdiction. In a case decided by the High Court of Australia involving defamation committed through the internet, it ruled that: The appellants submission that publication occurs, or should henceforth be held to occur relevantly at one place, the place where the matter is provided, or first published, cannot withstand any reasonable test of certainty and fairness. If it were accepted, publishers would be free to manipulate the uploading and location of data so as to insulate themselves from liability in Australia[235], or elsewhere: for example, by using a web server in a defamation free jurisdiction or, one in which the defamation laws are tilted decidedly towards defendants.xxx (par.199, Dow Jones and Co. vs. Gutnick, 2002, HCA 56) In the previously cited case, it also decided that the place of publication is not the server where the defamatory statements were posted. Though jurisprudence of another state may be called upon and be used to persuade the Philippine courts. As provided for by Article 21 of the New Civil Code, Anyone who wilfully causes injury to another in a manner that is contrary to morals, good customs or public policy shall compensate the latter for the damage.

by Skylar Songcal source: http://techlaw.berneguerrero.com/2009/10/24/a-study-on-internet-libel-in-thephilippines/

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------References Calimag, M. (2009). Philippine Court Hears Facebook libel Case. Business Week. Retrieved from sources of the world wide web on October 10, 2009 from http://www.businessweek.com/globalbiz/content/sep2009/gb20090925_532132.htm Code of Commerce. Manila: Rex Book Store Inc. EdZee (2009). Suing An Internet User For Libel. Posted on Owning a Cafe. Retrieved from sources from the world wide web on October 10, 2009 from http://xicowner.jefmart.com/index.php/2009/09/23/suing-an-internet-user-for-libel/ Herrera, O. (2007). Remedial Law IV. Manila: Rex Book Store Inc. Langeveld, M. (2009). Noonan v. Staples: The most dangerous libel decision in decades. Nieman Journalism Lab. Retrieved from sources from the world wide web on October 10, 2009 from http://www.niemanlab.org/2009/02/the-most-dangerous-libel-decision-in-decades/ Olivia, E. (2007). Libel case vs. Local blogger dismissed. Inquirer.net. Retrieved from sources from the world wide web on October 10, 2009 from http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/breakingnews/infotech/view/2007052968456/Libel_case_vs._local_blogger_dismissed Philippine Star, The (2009). Facebook user welcomes Belo libel suit. ABS-CBN News. Retrieved from sources from the world wide web on October 10, 2009 from http://www.abscbnnews.com/technology/09/21/09/facebook-user-welcomes-belo-libel-suit Republic Act 8792: E-Commerce Act of 2000. Retrieved from sources from the world wide web on October 10, 2009 from http://www.chanrobles.com/republicactno8792.htm Reyes, L. (2009). The Revised Penal Code: Book Two. Manila: Rex Book Store Inc. Revised Penal Code of the Philippines. Manila: Rex Book Store Inc. San Juan, J. (2009). CA dismisses Yuchengcos libel case vs. PEP Coalition members. Business Mirror Online Space. Retrieved from sources from the world wide web on October 10, 2009

from http://www.businessmirror.com.ph/home/nation/16837-ca-dismisses-yuchengcos-libelcase-vs-pep-coalition-members.html The 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines. Manila: Rex Book Store Inc. United Nations (1948). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Retrieved from sources from the world wide web on October 10, 2009 from http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/ Unlawyer. Libel and Bambee De la Paz: Updated. Posted on Unlawyer Website. Retrieved from sources from the world wide web on October 10, 2009 from http://www.unlawyer.net/?p=1599 Unlawyer. Libel and Brian Gorrell. Posted on Unlawyer Website. Retrieved from sources from the world wide web on October 10, 2009 from http://www.unlawyer.net/?p=1109

The vast reach and infinite potential of the internet is beyond dispute. Indeed, the easy transfer of information over the internet on real time basis and through territorial jurisdictions has opened great possibilities, both in terms of opportunities and problems. If you consider the huge amount of content written about almost everyone in the internet, it will not be long before someone gets really pissed and files a case for libel. In fact, there are already pending cases. There are many interesting issues with respect to e-libel or internet libel. For instance, in Dow Jones vs. Gutnick (an Australian case), one of the issues is the definition of publication in cyberspace: whether material is published when it is uploaded onto computer servers, or when it is downloaded by readers. The distinction is important because it helps determine which country or states libel laws should apply to the published material. (Also refer to E-Legal: Online Defamation Its a Small World After All or Australian Court Ruling Could Extend Reach of Libel Law) In the Philippines, the multiple publication rule applies. It means that if a single defamatory statement is published several times, it gives rise to as many offenses as there are publications. In the days to come, we will be exploring the significance of these issues in relation to Philippine laws. At this juncture, however, lets discuss the basic concept of libel. What is libel? Libel is 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. (Art. 353, RPC) See also Brillante vs. Court of Appeals (G.R. Nos. 118757 & 121571), a 2004 case decided by the Supreme Court.

In Philippine jurisdiction, the truth is not always a defense. While something is true, if the purpose is to besmirch, then liability still exists. To be liable for libel, the following elements must be shown to exist: (1) the allegation of a discreditable act or condition concerning another; (2) publication of the charge; (3) identity of the person defamed; and (4) existence of malice. As a rule, every defamatory imputation is presumed to be malicious, even if true, if no good intention and justifiable motive is shown (Art. 354, RPC). As an exception, the presumption of malice does not apply in privileged communication, which may be absolute or conditional. Absolutely privileged communications is one wherein no liability, even if its author acted in bad faith. This class includes statements made by members of Congress in the discharge of their functions as such, official communications made by public officers in the performance of their duties, and allegations or statements made by the parties or their counsel in their pleadings or motions or during the hearing of judicial proceedings, as well as the answers given by witnesses in reply to questions propounded to them, in the course of said proceedings, provided that said allegations or statements are relevant to the issues, and the answers are responsive or pertinent to the questions propounded to said witnesses. Conditionally or qualifiedly privileged communications are those which, although containing defamatory imputations, would not be actionable unless made with malice or bad faith. Conditionally or qualifiedly privileged communications are those mentioned in Article 354 of the RPC: 1. A private communication made by a person to another in the performance of any legal, moral, or social duty. The following requisites, however, must exist: (a) the person who made the communication had a legal, moral, or social duty to make the communication, or at least, had an interest to protect, which interest may either be his own or of the one to whom it is made; (b) the communication is addressed to an officer or a board, or superior, having some interest or duty in the matter, and who has the power to furnish the protection sought; and (c) the statements in the communication are made in good faith and without malice. 2. A fair and true report, 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 act performed by public officers in the exercise of their functions. The fact that a communication is privileged does not mean that it is not actionable; the privileged character of the communication simply does away with the presumption of malice, and the plaintiff has to prove the fact of malice in such case. Philippine cases When this article was first posted, I tried to trace a criminal complaint that was filed in Lapulapu City in connection with an alleged libelous matter in an e-mail. According to a newspaper report [SunStar Cebu - "Cabaero: e-Libel"], the complaint was dismissed by the investigating fiscal because electronic evidence, like an e-mail, cannot be used for criminal action. I wanted

to check the entire resolution of the fiscal just to see how an email could NOT be used in a criminal case for libel. Unfortunately, when I got in touch with the reporter (Ms. Nini Cabaero, who graciously replied to my email), she told me that she can no longer retrieve the details of the case. I thought it would be a while before another e-libel case comes along. Then I heard the President of Parents Enabling Parents Coalition (see the links at PCIJ) being interviewed by Compacheros Baja and Taberna. Multiple libel cases which stemmed from the allegedly libelous comments on PEPs blog were already filed in court. (We cannot, of course, comment on the merits because of the pendency of the case. Nevertheless, I would presume that among the potential issues is whether a blog author is considered the publisher of libelous comments posted in his or her blog.) Only recently, we were able to successfully defend an internet libel case (read Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV and Part V of that discussion). * See also the article of Dave Llorito: End of Pinoy bloggers age of innocence? Note the statement that bloggers are still safe and the ruling discussed in Part III. Bloggers are not really safe from libel and we shall discuss why in another article.

First, the disclaimer. This is not intended as lawyerly advice. Neither does it refer a specific case or circumstance. Much less can this be considered as an offer to provide legal services or to advocate anything. Its just one persons opinion on a matter of increasing interest to bloggers and other denizens of cyberspace: what constitutes internet libel in the context of Philippine laws. How is libel defined under Philippine laws ? Article 353 of the Revised Penal Code 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. For an imputation then to be libelous, the following requisites must concur: (a) it must be defamatory; (b) it must be malicious; (c) it must be given publicity; and (d) the victim must be identifiable. If you call someone a scum-sucking, slimeball, swindling pimp, even if this is fairly accurate, and post it online, you may be sued for making libelous statements. Defamatory words are those calculated to induce the hearers or readers to suppose and understand that that the person or persons against whom they were uttered were guilty of certain offenses, or are sufficient to impeach their honesty, virtue or reputation, or to hold the person or persons up to public ridicule. Philippine law also presumes every defamatory imputation to be malicious, even if true, if no good intention and justifiable motive for making it is shown (Article

254 of the RevisedPenal Code). Malice exists when there is an intentional doing of a wrongful act without just cause. The libel must be given publicity, circulated or publicized. Postings in a forum, message board or blog can certainly be considered as publication. Lastly, the victim or offended party must be identifiable. Continue Libel on the Internet Under Philippine Law Part 2 Technorati Tags: internet libel, libel, Philippine laws

Libel only if printed ZDNet Asia spoke with a lawyer, specializing in intellectual property, who expressed doubt that the case would even advance past the preliminary stage conducted by the city prosecutor of Taytay in Rizal province. There is no law on Internet libel in the Philippines, where libel suits must involve defamatory statements that are made in print, said the lawyer, who declined to be named. "In a criminal case such as libel, the law is normally skewed toward the accused who, in this case, has the legal maxim of reasonable doubt on his side," he explained. Bautista also scoffed at the libel suit. "[It] needs a serious facelift before it could even be dignified in any court of law. The pleading itself reads and looks like a failed surgery on the laws of libel," he said, in the media statement. He noted that libelous statements were also printed and published by Belo's own general manager. "[This] should make said general manager a co-respondent of Guevarra. In effect, Dr. Belo should be suing her own general manager." The lawyer also noted that an analogous libel case involving another blog had been dismissed by the Department of Justice, which ruled Internet-based libel does not exist. Guevarra, an activist lawyer and former newspaper columnist, said he is seeking to defend himself all the way to the Supreme Court in order to elicit jurisprudence regarding Internet-based libels. In response to the libel suit, he posted another update on his Facebook profile which stated: "A wannabe mortician masquerading as a cosmetic surgeon will never be able to stitch up the difference between formalin or botox, between free speech or slander when suing for libel a Facebook user for his shout outs and status updates. Such surgical stupidity results in mistaking Facebook for Erasebook."

Melvin G. Calimag is a freelance IT writer based in the Philippines.

Philippine internet libel law one can commit libel or defamation on Facebook
October 7, 2009 in Commentaries, Information technology law ZDNet Asia has an article that says that Philippine courts are unlikely to recognize internet libel on Facebook. I understand where the writer is coming from but I have a different position. Speaking about internet libel and defamation in general, I think a criminal case involving libelous/defamatory statements on Facebook could prosper in the Philippines. If electronic documents are equivalent to paper-based documents, produce legal effects and are admissible in evidence in court under the Philippine E-Commerce Act and the Supreme Court Rules on Electronic Evidence, it makes sense that something written or said online can also lead to either libel or defamation (depending on whether the statement is considered in writing or oral). In a recent UK decision, the court said that certain defamatory online statements were akin to oral speech so the crime was defamation rather than libel. I understand that there is a principle that criminal laws are construed restrictively, but it doesnt mean that criminal laws should only be interpreted to apply to criminal acts that are carried out using the technology existing at the time the law took effect. For example, the article in the Philippine Revised Penal Code on murder will still apply and doesnt have to be updated when, in the future, a person kills someone with a lightsaber. A similar rationale applies to libel and defamation committed online. The fact that one has a private group on Facebook doesnt substantially change matters. One can still defame a third party when you maliciously speak ill of him or her privately with your group of friends, and the third party subsequently finds out about it. Gone are the days when the internet was considered an unregulable place separate from the real world. In the case of online libel or defamation, the internet is just another communications medium. MANILA, Philippines A lawmaker is questioning the inclusion of online libel in the proposed cybercrime bill set to be taken up by the House of Representatives on second reading, insisting that Congress needs to tackle the decriminalization of libel instead. According to Kabataan Partylist Rep. Raymond Palatino, the killer insertion of measures penalizing online libel in the Cybercrime bill is prone to abuse and could be used to censor online content or to harass critics of the government. House Bill No. 5808 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 seeks to penalize, among others, content-related offenses carried out online such as cyber threats which constitutes any acts threatening the life, security or property of another individual and cyber defamation or the maligning or besmirching the name or reputation of another person. Such acts, under the bill, are punishable with a fine of at least P500,000 but not exceeding P1,000,000.

While Palatino conceded the need for a law that would protect the civil liberties of Filipino Internet users, the youth solon protested against the inclusion of the online libel provision which, he said, was not present in previous versions of the bill. The bill threatens the free and democratic conversations of online Filipinos, Palatino stressed. Indeed, there are hate speeches and malicious statements circulating on the web. But I prefer that we address these issues by educating the public, especially young people, about the need for responsible or ethical behavior while surfing the Web. Because the bill includes provisions that would penalize those who committed the offense using an assumed name, Palatino said this would not bode well for critics and dissidents who feel the need to hide their identities online to protect themselves. The bill, if passed into law can be a weapon of abusive politicians and corrupt corporate bosses against netizens who wanted to expose the truth about their illegal activities, he added. Instead of expanding the scope of libel, the lawmaker proposed that what Congress needs to discuss is the proposal to decriminalize libel. The cybercrime measure, deemed a priority bill by the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, is authored by Sigfrido Tinga, Roilo Golez, Susan Yap, Juan Edgardo Angara and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, among others. The Senate counterpart of the bill, authored by Senator Edgardo Angara, has been passed in third reading last February.

egal precedents on 'Internet libel' Guevarra, meanwhile, said he is preparing a medical malpractice and a malicious prosecution suit against Belo as his next steps. Backgrounder of Belo-Guevarra tussle Belo and Guevarra were embroiled in a much publicized tussle in 2009 after Guevarra posted alleged malicious remarks on his Facebook wall, referring to Belo as "Reyna ng Kaplastikan, Reyna ng Kapalpakan." Guevarra's statements originated from and were in reference to the case of his client, Josephine Norcio, who claimed that she nearly died after a botched butt augmentation procedure under the direct supervision of Belo.

The status updates were read by Agnes Ballesteros, general manager of BMGI and a friend of Guevarra on Facebook, who then informed her superiors. BMGI then decided to sue Guevarra for libel through Ballesteros.

Decriminalizing Libel in the Philippines


By

Atty. Fred
September 22, 2010Posted in: Criminal Law, Discuss-a-Bill 0diggsdigg

There are a number of proposals in Congress to decriminalize libel. Weve previously noted a similar bill in 2004. The explanation remains the same the removal of imprisonment is more in keeping with the protection of the right of individuals to freedom of speech and expression. None of these bills became law. Its just like the divorce bill which gets resurrected and refiled but never passed, except I havent heard of any group that actively opposes the bills on libel. Which side of the fence one stands may determine ones view on libel. Journalists, bloggers even, those who are predisposed to freely speak their minds, those who find tsismis a passion, or those who have been sued, may say that libel should be decriminalized. Those who have been subject of unfair or untrue reporting, victims of character assassination, or erring officials who dont want to be talked about, would probably say that the criminal nature of libel be maintained. Those who are in between, and that probably constitute a huge majority, most likely dont care. And that is why this issue has not gained traction even in Congress. As the law now stands, libel carries both civil and criminal liabilities. The civil liability is the payment of damages. The criminal liability is imprisonment, fine or both. The existing bills in Congress, as well as the similar bills that were previously filed, seek to remove the criminal liability (or limit it to fines, without imprisonment). Its a tough balancing act. We cannot make a single pronouncement decriminalize libel without distinctions, especially when jurisprudence makes distinctions. Even the set of guidelines issued by the Supreme Court makes room for the peculiar circumstances of each case. Should we decriminalize libel? I realized this is probably not the best way to phrase the question. The usual discussion is undertaken on a higher level, with concepts like free speech, free press, and chilling effect. The usual argument is that decriminalizing libel is consistent with, and strengthens, the Constitutional protection on free speech and free press.

At the other end of the spectrum is the right of privacy, the right to be left alone, to maintain and defend ones honor and reputation. Libelous statements are characterized as unprotected expression. These libelous or scurrilous statements fall outside the protection of free speech and press freedom. Freedom of speech, right to privacy, unprotected expression, and chilling effect. Big words. Important concepts, yes, but lets take the issue to the street level. People go to great lengths to protect their reputation. People kill to defend their honor. A popular means to vindicate ones honor in the past is dueling, even if illegal. It is true that we should not be tied to the past, but we cannot say that the compulsion to defend ones honor is lesser today or in the future. This is particularly true if we consider that technology makes it easier to commit libel on an unprecedented scale. Post a libelous matter on facebook and most probably your friends will get to know about it. Indeed, with social networks, the whole world can read about the libelous matter with a click of the mouse. Protecting ones honor and reputation is very important, so much so that civil liability is not enough. At least thats how the law stands today. In the end, the question is personal: Would you be satisfied with a civil liability to vindicate your honor and reputation?