Criminalizing libel-A A +A
Friday, October 5, 2012
A PERSON'S reputation is a priceless possession. How does one deal with another who trifles with his name and honor?
In olden times, an insult was enough to earn a challenge to a duel. Unfortunately, modern society has outlawed the practice of wiping away one’s shame with the blood of the one who caused it. In its place, it has offered the law on libel.
In our jurisdiction, the principal law is Art. 353 of the Revised Penal Code which defines libel as the “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.”
The penalty for written, printed or broadcast libel is imprisonment for six months and one day up to four years and two months or fine between P200 and P6,000 or both jail time and fine.
When you consider what the victim lost and what he was allowed to exact by way of recompense in the days of old, the penalty is actually a slap on the wrist. But even that may be taken away if libertarians and the media can have their way. They argue that the present law is a threat to the freedom of expression.
A similar claim is now being made against a provision of Republic Act 10175, otherwise known as the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012. “The unlawful or prohibited acts of libel as defined in Art. 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” is among the “punishable acts” enumerated in the law.
RA 10175 does suffer from a glaring infirmity in that it provides that any prosecution under it shall be without prejudice to any liability for any violation of the Revised Penal Code or other special laws. This is clearly a case of double jeopardy and the provision should be struck down as unconstitutional.
But I do not buy the argument that criminalizing libel is a threat to anyone’s freedom. It is a threat, yes, but one that is specifically addressed to him and only him who irresponsibly exercises his freedom to the point of abusing it.
“No one should libel whatever the medium,” says former Sen. Rene Saguisag, a human rights lawyer who fought the Marcos dictatorship in defense of civil liberties. I couldn’t agree more.
You would not believe what is being said on cyberspace these days. Here, no reputation seems to be safe as irresponsible “netizens” go on mudslinging binge with gleeful and wild abandon. The victim? He can only look up to the heavens and beat his breast in despair unless he is daring enough to ask God to make the mudslinger swallow a dozen pieces of Gillette shaving blades.
We worry so much about protecting our right to express ourselves but care very little, if at all, about what the fellow on the receiving end of a scurrilous post or article, feels and is capable of doing when driven to frustration. If we decriminalize libel, what is there left for him to expect from our legal system as and by way of relief?
Civil damages? That makes me laugh. That can happen only if the libeler has money. Ninety-five out of 100, he doesn’t. There will be judgments, yes but enforcing them is an entirely different matter.
Let imprisonment stay as a sanction against the malicious injury to a person’s honor and reputation. If we remove it, we better prepare for that eventuality when libel victims will ignore our legal system and hire a gun, if he will not wield it himself, to get justice done.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on October 05, 2012.