Published 15 December 2023, The Daily Tribune
Cyber libel is the public and malicious imputation of a crime, vice, or defect, tending to cause the dishonor of a person through the use of a computer system. In the age of technology and social media and in light of the Supreme Court decision in Disini vs. Secretary of Justice (2014) upholding the constitutionality of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, actions alleging the commission of cyber libel continue to rise.
A consistent challenge in prosecuting this crime, however, is the ephemeral nature of the evidence involved. Unlike traditional newspapers or handwritten letters, cyber libel is committed through electronic means. Even after publication, a defamatory post or statement might be deleted, edited, or altered, making prosecuting or defending cyber libel suits uniquely challenging.
The most common evidence used in cyber libel are screenshots or screen recordings. However, the recording or screenshot must comply with the Rules on Electronic Evidence (A.M. 01-7-01-SC) and the Rules of Court to be admissible. At a minimum, litigants must be able to show that the printout or recording reflects the data accurately and must be able to authenticate the evidence by showing its integrity and reliability. In the case of RCBC Bankard Services Corporation vs. Oracion Jr. (2019), the Supreme Court cited Rule 9 of A.M. 01-7-01-SC and explained that this may be done through an affidavit of evidence executed by one who has direct personal knowledge of how the electronic document was produced.
Litigants may also seek the help of the PNP Anti-Cybercrime Group or the NBI Cybercrime Division. However, Department of Justice Advisory Opinion No. 1 (2018) clarifies that prior investigation by the PNP-ACG, NBI-CC, or other law enforcement agencies is unnecessary. Therefore, litigants may initiate an action before the prosecution office, especially when the perpetrator’s identity is known and when enough evidence is available to prove the presence of all the elements of the offense. Likewise, parties may seek legal or private forensic services to conduct forensic examination and analysis of the electronic evidence on their own.
However, the intervention of law enforcement agencies is required in situations where the case build-up requires a warrant issued by the courts. Under the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, litigants may seek court intervention and apply for a warrant to disclose, preserve, seize, or examine computer or traffic data. This is particularly useful in cases where the perpetrator’s identity is unknown to compel third parties such as internet service providers, social networking sites, or other technology providers to disclose or preserve the data.
Those found guilty by courts of committing cyber libel may be meted out a penalty of a fine or imprisonment, or both. In the recent case of People vs. Soliman (2023), the Supreme Court clarified that even though the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 mandates the imposition of a penalty one (1) degree higher than that provided in the Revised Penal Code, the latter also states that the penalty of a fine may be imposed as a single or alternative penalty. This means that courts may impose a fine, imprisonment, or both for committing cyber libel.
Harmonizing the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 and the Revised Penal Code, the minimum imposable fine for cyber libel is P40,000, while the maximum is P1,500,000. Should the courts, in their discretion, decide that imprisonment is also an appropriate penalty, the accused may be sentenced (with or without a fine) to prision correcccional in its maximum period, to prision mayor in its minimum period, or imprisonment of 2 years, 4 months and one day up to 8 years.