CEMLA’S STAND ON PROPOSED AMENDMENTS TO LIBEL LAW
Nov. 24, 2011
STATEMENT OF CEBU MEDIA LEGAL AID ON HOUSE BILL 2901, INTRODUCED BY GIORGIDI B. AGGABAO, IN THE FIRST REGULAR SESSION OF THE 15TH CONGRESS, PROPOSING AMENDMENTS TO PROVISIONS ON LIBEL IN THE REVISED PENAL CODE
We, members of Cebu Media Free Legal Aid (Cemla) Inc., a duly incorporated non-stock, non-profit organization that serves as the legal adviser of the Cebu Citizens-Press Council (CCPC), commend the initiative of House Rep. Giorgidi B. Aggabao to enhance and strengthen the provisions on libel in the Revised Penal Code.
 Under the Revised Penal Code, malice is an element of libel without which there can be no libel. However, Article 354 of the Revised Penal Code also provides that malice is presumed in every defamatory imputation, except in the following qualified privileged communication:
(a) A private communication made by one person to another in the performance of any legal, moral or social duty; and
(b) A fair and true report, made in good faith, without any comments or remarks of any judicial, legislative or other official proceedings which are not confidential in nature, or of any statement, report or speech delivered in said proceedings, or of any other act performed by public officers in the exercise of their functions.
The Supreme Court, however, in several decisions, concluded that the two enumerations under Article 354 as aforecited are not exclusive. The Supreme Court, by manner of judicial legislation, has declared that discussions of any matter of public concern or criticism of official conduct or conduct of public figures, although defamatory, are not presumed to be malicious, unless these were made despite knowledge of their falsity or with reckless disregard of whether they are false or not.
Section 1 of House Bill 2901 seeks to expand the scope of qualified privileged communication with respect to libel by incorporating the abovecited judicial legislation into the provisions of libel in the Revised Penal Code.
 Article 90 of the Revised Penal Code provides that libel prescribes in one year.
Section 2 of House Bill 2901 seeks to shorten the prescriptive period for libel to six months counted from the date of the first publication, airing or exhibition of the libelous material, which is certainly beneficial to journalists.
With such reduction in libel’s prescriptive period, complainants would only have six months within which to decide whether or not to sue for libel. Beyond that period, they can no longer sue for libel.
 Article 360 of the Revised Penal Code makes editors, publishers or business editors liable for libel to the same extent as if they were the author of the libelous material.
Section 5 of House Bill 2901 seeks to make editors, business managers or publishers liable for libel only if the said libelous material passed through him.
This amendment will correct the anomalous situation of making editors, publishers and business managers liable for libelous materials which they have not even read, more so, approved. The logic behind the amendment is simply that, malice, also known as spite or ill-will or bad motive, could not be attributed to a person who has not even read the alleged offensive material.
 The same section of House Bill 2901 further seeks to limit the venue for libel against community journalists to the Regional Trial Court in the place where the principal office of the publication is located.
With such amendment, community journalists, publications and broadcast stations, who are financially distressed, will be spared the additional burden of having to defend themselves in libel cases filed far from their principal place of publication. The sheer act of filing libel cases in distant places, though flimsy and unsubstantiated, can already be taxing on community journalists who have to bear the high costs of litigation.