Amend Cyber-libel Law to express clearly intent of Congress on prescription of libel. It's one year, not 12 years.
The Cebu Citizens-Press Council (CCPC) deplores the conviction of journalist Maria Ressa and former writer and researcher Reynaldo Santos of the digital news organization Rappler for cyber-libel.
The nation and many other parts of the world have watched the case with fear for the country's democratic rights. And the Regional Trial Court ruling most likely will increase the apprehension.
CCPC worries specifically on the impact of the decision on future prosecutions for cyber-libel. It worries for journalists who'd be facing for 12 years the threat of litigation for each potentially libelous publication.
Ressa and Santos were convicted of libel on the basis of a news story published in 2012 and "republished" in 2014. The complaint was filed in 2017, five years after the "republication." In both instances, the crime had long prescribed, based on the rule in Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code, which says "The crime of libel or other similar offenses shall prescribe in one year."
CCPC earlier took a stand against the "novel theory" of the Department of Justice, which stretches cyber-libel's prescription period from one year to 12 years. The "ex-post-facto" application of the law was unjust to Maria Ressa and Santos. It would be oppressive to others, more acutely on journalists who don't stop working because of a lawsuit.
Prescription period for libel was precisely fixed at not more than one year so that it won't be used as a threat against the alleged offender. The prolonged threat will cause greater harm to journalists who need to do their job freely without the constant threat of being sued, even over material published more than a decade before.
Had legislators intended to change the prescriptive period of cyber libel from one year, the time span in the Revised Penal Code, to 12 years, which is provided for special laws, the law would've explicitly declared so, as it did in raising the penalty of cyber libel one degree higher.
CCPC urges Congress to make its intent explicit: amend the Anti-Cyber Crime Law to fix the prescriptive period, not leave it to judges who may err or be misguided in interpreting the law.
Pachico A. Seares
June 15, 2020
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