Does the law on libel under the Revised Penal Code already include internet libel?
The answer to your question is no. Act 3815, otherwise known as the Revised Penal Code, which defines and penalizes libel, does not cover and include internet libel which is separately penalized under Republic Act 10175, otherwise known as the “Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.”
For brevity, the respective provisions of the aforementioned laws read:
“Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code
“ARTICLE 355. Libel by Means of Writings or Similar Means. — 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 prisión 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 which may be brought by the offended party. (Underscoring provided)
“Section 4(c)(a) of the Cybercrime Prevention Act
“SECTION 4. Cybercrime Offenses.-The following acts constitute the offense of cybercrime punishable under this Act: x x x
“(c) Content-related Offenses: x x x
“(4) Libel. — The unlawful or prohibited 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.”
Pertinent to the foregoing, the Supreme Court in the recent case of Peñalosa v. Ocampo (GR 230299, April 26, 2023) penned by Associate Justice Marvic Mario Victor Leonen, clarified that an internet libel may only be punished under the Cybercrime Prevention Act, and not under Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code. In this connection, we lift the pertinent words of the High Court from the said decision to elucidate the dichotomy, viz:
“Reading Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code, “similar means” could not have included ‘online defamation’ under the statutory construction rule of noscitur a sociis. Under this rule, ‘where a particular word or phrase is ambiguous in itself or is equally susceptible to various meanings, its correct construction may be made clear and specific by considering the company of words in which it is founded or with which it is associated.’
“In Article 355, the associated words are ‘writing,’ ‘printing,’ ‘lithography,’ ‘engraving,’ ‘radio,’ ‘phonograph,’ ‘painting,’ ‘theatrical exhibition,’ and ‘cinematographic exhibition,’ clearly excluding ‘computer systems or other similar means which may be derived in the future’ specifically added in Article 4(c)(4) of the Cybercrime Prevention Act. If it were true that Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code already includes libel made through computer systems, then Congress had no need to legislate Article 4(c)(4) of the Cybercrime Prevention Act, for the latter legal provision will be superfluous. That Congress had to legislate Article 4(c)(4) means that libel done through computer systems, i.e., cyber libel, is an additional means of committing libel, punishable only under the Cybercrime Prevention Act.
“To make cyber libel punishable under Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code is to make a penal law effective retroactively but unfavorably to the accused. This is contrary to Article 22 of the Revised Penal Code, which states that ‘[p]enal laws shall have a retroactive effect insofar as they favor the person guilty of a felony[.]’
“For these reasons, an allegedly libelous Facebook post made may only be punished under the Cybercrime Prevention Act, not under Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code. Since the Facebook post complained of was made in 2011, a year before the Cybercrime Prevention Act was passed, there was no libel punishable under Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code. Nullum crimen, nulla poena sine lege – there is no crime when there is no law punishing it.” (Emphasis and underscoring supplied)
Thus, applying the foregoing, it must be clear that the law on libel under the Revised Penal Code does not cover nor include internet or cyber libel since there is a separate law defining and penalizing such.
We hope that we were able to answer your queries. 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 on.
Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org