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Carpio: Cyber libel only has a one-year prescriptive period

Retired Supreme Court (SC) Justice Antonio Carpio said on Tuesday that the crime of cyber libel had a one-year prescriptive period, contrary to the decision of the trial court that convicted Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and a former researcher last month.

At a webinar, Carpio pointed out that the SC had said that "cyber libel is actually not a new crime" and “is essentially the old crime of libel found in the 1930 Revised Penal Code and transposed to operate in cyberspace.”

The Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 defines cyber libel as the "unlawful or prohibited acts of libel as defined in Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, committed through a computer system or any other similar means which may be devised in the future."

Carpio, who retired last year, said the SC stated that cyber libel is a "similar means" of committing libel, a crime defined and penalized by the Revised Penal Code.

The Revised Penal Code says the old crime of libel has a prescriptive period of one year, which means one could sue for libel within one year.

Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa, who convicted Ressa and former Rappler researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr., applied Act No. 3326 in ruling that the prescriptive period is 12 years, saying the anti-cybercrime law does not provide its own prescriptive period.

Carpio, on the other hand, said Article 90 of the Revised Penal Code provides a one-year prescriptive period for "libel or other similar offenses," and that cyber libel is a "similar means" of committing traditional libel. He said cyber libel is also a "similar offense" as traditional libel for purposes of the one-year prescriptive period.

"So, you have two provisions of the RPC reinforcing each other that cyber libel, is a 'similar means' of committing traditional libel, and has a prescriptive period of one year since it is a 'similar offense' to traditional libel," he said.

Though the anti-cybercrime law imposes a penalty one degree higher, Carpio explained that the length of the penalty "has nothing to do with the prescriptive period for libel."

In addition, he said Act No. 3326 itself states that it cannot apply to crimes penalized in the Revised Penal Code.

"In short, the very law that the RTC (regional trial court) in the Rappler case used as the basis for the 12-year prescriptive period itself provides that the law, Act No. 3326, cannot apply to crimes penalized in the Penal Code, which is now the Revised Penal Code," the former justice said.

"Clearly, the 12 year prescriptive period in Act No. 3326 cannot apply to cyber libel because Act No. 3326 expressly so provides. Section 5 of Act No. 3326 expressly directs prosecutors and judges – do not apply Act No. 3326 if the crime charged is defined and penalized in the Revised Penal Code," he said.

Carpio added that the solicitor general had said in the oral arguments of the cases challenging the Cybercrime Prevention Act that the prescriptive period remains to be one year.

The solicitor general at the time was Francis Jardeleza, who would later be appointed to the SC. He retired last year.

Ressa and Santos were convicted over an alleged "republication" of a Rappler article that was originally posted before the anti-cybercrime law was enacted. First published in 2012, the story was "updated" in 2014 to correct a misspelling but was considered by the court as a republication.

The story cites an intelligence report saying Wilfredo Keng, a businessman and the private complainant, was under surveillance for human trafficking and drug smuggling.

Ressa and Santos have asked the judge to reconsider the guilty verdict. — DVM, GMA News