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Legal experts weigh in on filing of online libel case vs. ‘joking’ depositor

Legal experts on Friday weighed in on the filing of an online libel complaint against a man for falsely claiming that his cash deposits ballooned to P12 billion following a system glitch that hit the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) last month.

Filing a complaint with the Manila Prosecutor's Office on Wednesday, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) said Daniel Angelo Salasalan should be held liable for online libel under Section 4(c)(4) of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 for giving media false information about his account which could be detrimental to the reputation of BPI and the banking system.

Salasalan had admitted that he only fabricated the story on his social media page that said more than P12 billion had been deposited to his account following the BPI glitch.

He has already apologized to BPI, adding he was only joking when he uploaded the post, which was picked up by at least two television networks. 

Even assuming it was a joke, University of the Philippines law professor Jose Jesus Disini Jr., told GMA News Online that Salasalan "maintained the joke with the full knowledge that it would cause harm to BPI."

"He should have owned up to the truth. Instead he made a misrepresentation. The misrepresentation had the effect of harming the bank's reputation," said Disini, who teaches cyberspace law and advanced topics in commercial law and intellectual property.

"The harm was magnified through mass media."

For online libel to prosper, former Ateneo School of Government dean Antonio La Viña said malice must be present in every defamatory imputation.

"[B]ut joking can be malicious," he said, noting cracking bomb jokes in public can land you in jail.

The Manila Prosecutor's Office will evaluate if the complaints should be forwarded to the court for trial.

Salasalan could spend up to 12 years in jail if convicted for online libel.

He is also facing complaints for falsification by private individuals and use of falsified documents under the Revised Penal Code. — MDM/JST/KVD, GMA News