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Uanan, Claudine S. CONSTITUTIONAL LAW II Atty. Ruben S. Ayson, Jr.

1A-JD Wednesdays 7-10 PM

Should libel be decriminalized?

I maybe reluctant in decriminalizing the libel in the country. However, I must


agree that penalty imposed for violation thereof would produce, most probably, a
chilling effect to people, consequently, the freedom of expression thus restrained.

Under Article 353 of the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines, libel is defined 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 discredit or cause the
dishonor or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one
who is dead. 1

While in the same code, Article 354 defines the privilege communication on
which no presumption of malice shall be inflicted upon the remarks of the offender. And
finally, the Article 355 provides for the penalty for libel, to wit: A libel, xxx xxx, shall
be punished by prision 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

In lines of cases decided by the Supreme Court, our law had given ample
discretion to our judges to impose penalty.

With respect to the penalty to be imposed for this conviction, we note that on January
25, 2008, the Court issued Administrative Circular No. 08-2008, entitled Guidelines in
the Observance of a Rule of Preference in the Imposition of Penalties in Libel Cases.
The Circular expresses a preference for the imposition of a fine rather than
imprisonment, given the circumstances attendant in the cases cited therein in which
only a fine was imposed by this Court on those convicted of libel. It also states that, if
the penalty imposed is merely a fine but the convict is unable to pay the same, the
Revised Penal Code provisions on subsidiary imprisonment should apply.

However, the Circular likewise allows the court, in the exercise of sound
discretion, the option to impose imprisonment as penalty, whenever the imposition of a
fine alone would depreciate the seriousness of the offense, work violence on the social
order, or otherwise be contrary to the imperatives of justice.2

At this juncture, I am pleased that there is a guidelines for the imposition of


penalties in Libel cases rather than to impose a seemingly excessive penalty. I think it
would serve as the middle ground for the people, specifically journalists, to a free
exercise of expression and for the State to protect the interest of the public.

Justice Mendoza once said in his proposal that, we should not totally
decriminalize libel but support a middle ground. His compromise formula would balance
the interests of freedom of the press and the right of an individual to seek redress by
making a distinction between political libel and private libel. In the case of

1 Daez v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 47971, 31 October 1990 .


2 Fermin v. People, G.R. No. 157643, 28 March 2008.
government officials and public figures, he suggested that the libel law be amended to
place the burden of proving malice on the complainant. But with respect to private libel,
he said, the law should be preserved out of regard for the values of reputation and
privacy.3

As a final point, decriminalizing libel interposes a serious corruption of public.


We should note that freedom of expression can only be exercised within the bounds of
the law-- it is not absolute with or without libel.

3 http://opinion.inquirer.net/22599/decriminalize-libel. Accessed April 15, 2017.