Bill offers remedy to cyber libel prescription conundrum

Published June 18, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

By Ellson Quismorio

A lawyer-congressman wants to settle the question on what the prescription period of cyber libel should be following the confusion arising from Rappler Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Maria Ressa’s conviction from the crime.

Cagayan de Oro City 2nd district Rep. Rufus Rodriguez proposed in House Bill (HB) No.7010 that the prescription period for cyber libel should only be one year, the same as ordinary cases of libel.

Cagayan de Oro City 2nd District Representative Rufus Rodriguez (Rufus Rodriguez official Facebook / MANILA BULLETIN)
Cagayan de Oro City 2nd District Representative Rufus Rodriguez (Rufus Rodriguez official Facebook / FILE PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

The bill seeks to amend Republic Act (RA) No. 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.

Rodriguez filed the measure after a Manila regional trial court (RTC) convicted on Monday Ressa and former writer-researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr. of cyber libel. A businessman filed the complaint against the two.

In his bill, he noted the two media practitioners were found guilty of violating Section 4(c)(4) of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.

He said the law penalizes “acts of libel as defined in Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, committed through a computer system or any other similar means which may be devised in the future.”

He said after the conviction of Ressa and Santos, retired Supreme Court (SC) associate justice Antonio Carpio commented that the 12-year prescription period of cyber libel cited by the RTC Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa was the “overriding issue” in the case.

“RA No. 10175 did not provide for any prescription for punishable acts in said law. The Department of Justice used in court RA No. 3326, which provides that for any other offenses punishable by imprisonment for six years or more, the prescription period is 12 years,” explained Rodriguez.

Differing views

The former law dean noted that there have been differing opinions on when the crime of cyber libel prescribes, or when the right or power to prosecute and punish the offender is terminated.

“Some legal experts argue that since the article involved in the Ressa-Santos case was published in May 2012, then the alleged crime had prescribed in May 2013. If it was republished in February 2014, then the complainant had only until February 2015 to file a complaint. The case was filed in court on Feb. 5, 2017,” he said.

He said Far Eastern University (FEU) law dean Mel Sta. Maria cited the ruling of the SC, in upholding the constitutionality of the Anti-Cyber Crime Law, that cyber libel “is not a new crime,” since the Revised Penal Code (RPC) already punishes libel, whose prescription period is only one year.

“Because cyber libel is not a new crime, then the one-year prescriptive period applies to it. Moreover, such prescriptive period (under the Penal Code) was not changed by the Anti-Cyber Libel Law,” Rodriguez said, quoting Sta. Maria.

He pointed out that the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) thru its President Egon Cayosa has called for the need to clarify the laws in view of questions raised regarding their correct interpretation.

Thus, Rodriguez stressed that to avoid any further confusion, his bill would amend the Anti-Cyber Crime Law to provide that all acts punishable under said statute would prescribe in three years from the commission of the offense, except for cyber libel, which would lapse in one year from the date of publication of the article.

“This will put to rest the issue of prescription of the crime of cyber libel,” he said.