Guidelines in Imposing Penalties for Libel: Questions and Answers

What is libel?

Libel is “a public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status, or circumstance tending to cause the dishonor, discredit or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead.” (Article. 353, Revised Penal Code; more discussion here)

What is the imposable penalty for libel?

Libel, committed by means of writing, printing, lithography, engraving, radio, phonograph, painting, theatrical exhibition, cinematographic exhibition, or any similar means, is punishable with prision correccional in its minimum and medium periods or a fine ranging from 200 to 6,000 pesos, or both, in addition to the civil action which may be brought by the offended party. (Art. 355, RPC)

What is the significance of Administrative Circular No. 08-2008 (full text), issued by the Supreme Court on 25 January 2008 (A.M. No. 08-1-17-SC)?

Administrative Circular No. 08-2008, providing for Guidelines in the Observance of a Rule of Preference in the Imposition of Penalties in Libel Cases, instructs all courts and judges to take note of certain preferences in imposing penalties for the crime of libel. “The Judges concerned may, in the exercise of sound discretion, and taking into consideration the peculiar circumstances of each case, determine whether the imposition of a fine alone would best serve the interests of justice or whether forbearing to impose imprisonment would depreciate the seriousness of the offense, work violence on the social order, or otherwise be contrary to the imperatives of justice.”

Is there any case or jurisprudence wherein only a fine was imposed?

Yes, there are a number of illustrations mentioned in the Circular. One of the cases cited is Fernando Sazon v. Court of Appeals and People of the Philippines, wherein the Supreme Court modified the penalty imposed upon petitioner, an officer of a homeowners’ association, for the crime of libel from imprisonment and fine in the amount of P200.00, to fine only of P3,000.00, with subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency, for the reason that he wrote the libelous article merely to defend his honor against the malicious messages that earlier circulated around the subdivision, which he thought was the handiwork of the private complainant. There are other illustrations stated in the Circular (full text here).

Does the Circular remove imprisonment as a penalty for libel?

No. The Circular explicitly states that it “does not remove imprisonment as an alternative penalty for the crime of libel under Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code.” In other words, the Circular does not “decriminalize” libel and the court could still impose imprisonment if called for by the circumstances. Also, even if only a fine is imposed but the accused fails or refuses to pay, the accused could be imprisoned, applying the Revised Penal Code provisions on subsidiary imprisonment.

When does the Circular take effect?

It takes effect upon its issuance, or on 25 January 2008.

Is this the first time that the Supreme Court issued a Circular of such nature?

No. Back in 2000 (Administrative Circular No. 12-2000, as clarified by Administrative Circular No. 13-2001), the Supreme Court provided for a similar rule of preference in the application of the penalties provided for in B.P. Blg. 22 (Bouncing Checks Law).

In issuing circulars of such nature, is the Supreme Court amending the law?

Some critics argue that the Supreme Court is, in effect, amending the law, referring to such act as “judicial legislation”. The Supreme Court, however, is merely interpreting the law. The law itself allows the judge to choose between the following penalties: (a) fine only; (b) imprisonment only; OR (c) both fine and imprisonment.

10 thoughts on “Guidelines in Imposing Penalties for Libel: Questions and Answers

  1. jaymendiola

    in Fernando Sazon v. Court of Appeals and People of the Philippines… what if the private complainant did the malicious message that circulates around the subdivision… is fernando sazon still liable for libel?… is there any self-defense against malicious statement or message of the said private complainant?… thanks…

  2. Sarah

    Good day! I have a question, my husband use a woman which is, she is 8weeks pregnant already and my husband told that he paid 500 pesos after he use… Time pass that woman delivered a baby girl and she told that the father of her baby is my husband. She don’t want to do the DNA test, in this case can we cila a libel case against her?

  3. Elvie

    My friend’s daughter had first announced as 2nd honor ..but it turns out during d awarding ceremony she was just on d 3rd place…and d first sed announcement was dat she is just a second placer on her section…my friend due to disappointment and mothers protective instinct posted about how she feels about wat happened to her kid against d teacher…she ddnt mentioned names or institutions….can they filed a libel case against her?pls needed ur reply..

  4. Kristine

    Good day!

    My sister used to work in Kuwait for 7 years. During her vacation, she decided to stay home for good. Recently, an ex coworker of hers send messages to everybody, and post malicious information accusing my sister with theft and bigamy. Also, we are informed that they destroy her reputation with her employer and encouraging her to block her passport. What she did is very damaging that we can’t just let it go. We want to file a case against her but she is still Kuwait and my sister in Philippines. She already deleted her post but we managed to grab copies of it. What is the best form of action? Thank you!

    1. dylan

      File your complaint already. Prosecution for libel prescribes after 1 year from knowledge of offended party of the libelous remarks, kung hihintayin pa yung akusado baka mapaso na yung case mo. A complaint or information is sufficient if it states the name of the accused; the designation of the offense given by the statute; the acts or omissions complained of as constituting the offense; the name of the offended party; the approximate date of the commission of the offense; and the place where the offense was committed. Kung ma suspend hearing dahil wala pa yung akusado, bka ma trial in absentia sya or at least hindi tumatakbo yung prescriptive period nyo.

  5. roosevelt

    eto ikkwento ko bago tayo magkayayaan sa hotel sariwa pa sa utak ko yan dahil kayon lang ako tumange dahil wala akong pera isa isahin ko ang mga karanasan ko sau magarita kupalozzz, dahil gusto mo ng katotohanan …

    tanong kulang po ang salay say po ba na ito ay lumabag sa online libel.. naipost ko po kasi yan true fb

  6. Eric

    I have a question…
    What if my friend was accused for stealing. The people who are involved are her transient. She was accused of stealing (IPAD) during their stay on the said apartment. They filed a complaint against her accusing that she’s the one who stole the said item. I am just wondering what should be the rebattal for this complaint.

  7. Cha A

    Hi, how to file a libel case? There are two people ranting online, giving false accusations and making below-the-belt statements against someone dear to me. Can you please instruct us what to do here? Please reply in my e-mail.. Thank you for your response..

  8. Anne

    Libel ba na matatawag, kung ang Post sa FB ay wala nmang naMention na Name? Libel pa din ba ang Kaso nun? At 30k ba ang Damage danyos sa Kasong Libel?

  9. Akotoh

    good am..ano pong case maffile ko if someone accusing me a drug addict and dignity destruction/below the belt?
    thank you


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