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G.R. No. 258524 – Criminal Law – Book 2 – Crimes Against Honor – Libel – Cyber Libel – Prescriptive Period – Date of Publication vs Date of Discovery
On 10 May 2021, two Informations for Cyber Libel were filed against Berteni Causing. The Informations alleged that Causing posted libelous materials on his Facebook page against Cong. Ferdinand Hernandez on 4 February 2019 and 29 April 2019. It was alleged that Causing’s posts accused Hernandez of corruption.
Causing moved for the quashal of the two Informations on the ground that the crime has already prescribed because one year has already lapsed from the time the posts were published. Hence, when the Informations were filed in May 2021, the crimes had already prescribed.
The motion to quash was denied by the trial court on the ground that Cyber Libel prescribes in 12 years.
ISSUE: What is the prescriptive period of Cyber Libel?
HELD: Cyber Libel prescribes in one year reckoned from the time of discovery.
The Supreme Court emphasized that the Cybercrime Prevention Act (RA 10175) did not create a new libel law, i.e. Cyber Libel. Libel is still defined and penalized under the Revised Penal Code. What RA 10175 did was to simply identify computer systems as means of committing libel and if libel is so committed with the use of information and communication technology (ICT) then RA 10175 prescribes a penalty higher by one degree than that prescribed by the Revised Penal Code.
In the prescription of crimes, the following are observed:
1. For crimes defined by the Revised Penal Code, their respective prescriptive periods are governed by Article 90 to 91 of the Revised Penal Code;
2. For crimes defined by special penal laws, the respective special penal law itself;
3. For crimes defined by special penal laws but such special penal law does not provide for a prescriptive period, what governs is Act No. 3326.
Since Libel is defined by the RPC, then Article 90 is controlling which provides:
The crime of libel or other similar offenses shall prescribe in one year.
This provision is clear. There was no explicit intention by the legislature, in providing for Cyber Libel, to change the prescriptive period of libel if done via ICT.
But when must the one-year prescriptive period be reckoned from?
In accordance with Article 90 of the RPC, the period of prescription shall commence to run from the day on which the crime is discovered by the offended party, the authorities, or their agents and not from the date of publication.
The case was remanded to the trial court for further proceeding. Prescription is a matter of defense which Causing must prove via evidence.
This case abandoned Tolentino vs. People (G.R. No. 240310, 6 August 2018) which ruled that Cyber Libel prescribes in fifteen (15) years.
This also settled conflicting rulings where the Supreme Court in several instances used the date of publication as the reckoning point in counting the prescriptive period (People vs Hon. Gines, Syhunliong vs Rivera, Calderon-Bargas vs Pasig RTC, Arambulo vs Laqui) but used the date of discovery as reckoning point in others (Alcantara vs Amoranto, Inciong vs Tolentino).