WHEN journalist Maria Ressa and Reynaldo Santos Jr. of Rappler were convicted of cyber-libel on June 14, 2020 by the Manila Regional Trial Court, the Cebu Citizens-Press Council (CCPC) said it "worries for journalists who'd be facing for 12 years the threat of litigation for each potentially libelous publication."
The "prolonged threat would be oppressive and could cause greater harm to journalists who need to do their job freely without the constant threat of being sued over material published more than a decade before," CCPC said then.
The Supreme Court has just announced it decided a petition arising from a cyber-libel complaint of a former congressman Ferdinand Hernandez against lawyer Berteni Causing. And part of the ruling concerned the issue of prescriptive period for cyber-libel.
The SC ruled it's one year from discovery of the crime, not 12 years, which was the earlier "novel theory" of the Department of Justice.
The ruling could help Ressa and Santos Jr., whose conviction by RTC was upheld by the Court of Appeals in October 2022. The journalists were convicted on the basis of a Rappler news story published in 2012 and "republished" in 2014. The cyber-libel complaint was filed in 2017, five years after first publication and three years after "re-publication. Either case, the lawsuit was filed beyond the one-year period under the Revised Penal Code.
The high court ruling -- promulgated October 14, 2023 but released January 19, 2024 -- said the legislators intended the prescriptive period to be one year, as provided by the Revised Penal Code of 1930. Cyber-libel is "no a new crime," as the Cyber-crime Law of 2012, the Supreme Court said, merely recognizes "use of the computer system" as "another means of committing libel."
CCPC applauds the SC decision, which could lead to resolving finally the issue on prescriptive period of cyber-libel and related issues on "re-publication" and the rule on proving publication in cyberspace.
Atty. Pachico A. Seares
Cebu Citizens-Press Council