Libel, e-Libel or Internet Libel

We see the explosion of e-groups, blogs, message boards and other fora wherein people share facts, views and opinions. With respect to established institutions, particularly newspapers, the Online Journalism Review reports how the made good use of the internet to expand the reach – and revenue – of its parent paper. Gauging from the number of advertisements in, the same may as well hold true in the Philippine setting.

The vast reach and infinite potential of the internet is beyond dispute. Indeed, the easy transfer of information over the internet – on real time basis and through territorial jurisdictions – has opened great possibilities, both in terms of opportunities and problems. If you consider the huge amount of content written about almost everyone in the internet, it will not be long before someone gets really pissed and files a case for libel. In fact, there are already pending cases.

There are many interesting issues with respect to e-libel or internet libel. For instance, in Dow Jones vs. Gutnick (an Australian case), one of the issues is the definition of “publication” in cyberspace: whether material is published when it is uploaded onto computer servers, or when it is downloaded by readers. The distinction is important because it helps determine which country or state’s libel laws should apply to the published material. (Also refer to E-Legal: Online Defamation – It’s a Small World After All or Australian Court Ruling Could Extend Reach of Libel Law)

In the Philippines, the “multiple publication rule” applies. It means that if a single defamatory statement is published several times, it gives rise to as many offenses as there are publications.

In the days to come, we will be exploring the significance of these issues in relation to Philippine laws. At this juncture, however, let’s discuss the basic concept of libel.

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.” (Art. 353, RPC) See also Brillante vs. Court of Appeals (G.R. Nos. 118757 & 121571), a 2004 case decided by the Supreme Court.

In Philippine jurisdiction, the truth is not always a defense. While something is true, if the purpose is to besmirch, then liability still exists. To be liable for libel, the following elements must be shown to exist: (1) the allegation of a discreditable act or condition concerning another; (2) publication of the charge; (3) identity of the person defamed; and (4) existence of malice.

As a rule, every defamatory imputation is presumed to be malicious, even if true, if no good intention and justifiable motive is shown (Art. 354, RPC). As an exception, the presumption of malice does not apply in privileged communication, which may be absolute or conditional.

Absolutely privileged communications is one wherein no liability, even if its author acted in bad faith. This class includes statements made by members of Congress in the discharge of their functions as such, official communications made by public officers in the performance of their duties, and allegations or statements made by the parties or their counsel in their pleadings or motions or during the hearing of judicial proceedings, as well as the answers given by witnesses in reply to questions propounded to them, in the course of said proceedings, provided that said allegations or statements are relevant to the issues, and the answers are responsive or pertinent to the questions propounded to said witnesses.

Conditionally or qualifiedly privileged communications are those which, although containing defamatory imputations, would not be actionable unless made with malice or bad faith. Conditionally or qualifiedly privileged communications are those mentioned in Article 354 of the RPC:

1. A private communication made by a person to another in the performance of any legal, moral, or social duty. The following requisites, however, must exist: (a) the person who made the communication had a legal, moral, or social duty to make the communication, or at least, had an interest to protect, which interest may either be his own or of the one to whom it is made; (b) the communication is addressed to an officer or a board, or superior, having some interest or duty in the matter, and who has the power to furnish the protection sought; and (c) the statements in the communication are made in good faith and without malice.

2. A fair and true report, made in good faith, without any comments or remarks, of any judicial, legislative, or other official proceedings which are not of confidential nature, or of any statement, report, or speech delivered in said proceedings, or of any act performed by public officers in the exercise of their functions.

The fact that a communication is privileged does not mean that it is not actionable; the privileged character of the communication simply does away with the presumption of malice, and the plaintiff has to prove the fact of malice in such case.

Philippine cases

When this article was first posted, I tried to trace a criminal complaint that was filed in Lapu-lapu City in connection with an alleged libelous matter in an e-mail. According to a newspaper report [SunStar Cebu – “Cabaero: e-Libel”], the complaint was dismissed by the investigating fiscal because “electronic evidence, like an e-mail, cannot be used for criminal action”. I wanted to check the entire resolution of the fiscal just to see how an email could NOT be used in a criminal case for libel. Unfortunately, when I got in touch with the reporter (Ms. Nini Cabaero, who graciously replied to my email), she told me that she can no longer retrieve the details of the case.

I thought it would be a while before another e-libel case comes along. Then I heard the President of Parents Enabling Parents Coalition (see the links at PCIJ) being interviewed by Compacheros Baja and Taberna. Multiple libel cases – which stemmed from the allegedly libelous comments on PEP’s blog – were already filed in court. (We cannot, of course, comment on the merits because of the pendency of the case. Nevertheless, I would presume that among the potential issues is whether a blog author is considered the “publisher” of “libelous” comments posted in his or her blog.) Only recently, we were able to successfully defend an internet libel case (read Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV and Part V of that discussion).

* See also the article of Dave Llorito: “End of Pinoy blogger’s age of innocence?” Note the statement that “bloggers are still safe” and the ruling discussed in Part III. Bloggers are not really safe from libel and we shall discuss why in another article.

18 thoughts on “Libel, e-Libel or Internet Libel

  1. Sheryl

    Good day. I was a former OFW and had a relationship with a man (also an OFW) and had a child after 2 years of our relationship not knowing that he is married. When in oversea we have lived together and not even thought that he is married. I only discovered he was married a month after I gave birth when I requested for his CENOMAR at NSO supposedly in preparation for our planned marriage. With my anger because he still tries to deny it, I was able to find the name of the wife in one of the social network which is Facebook. I messaged her if we can talk. Since her (the wife) account was not active, she was only able to reply me after a month when me and my man had already discussed that he will fix it and file for his annulment sine he mentioned that he has no longer intimate relationship with the wife and only visits his children when he is in Phils. Then the wife started to make an investigation about us and went to my house in Phils. few times and made a public scandal by talking to the owner of our private village that I am a mistress (she has a police blotter on this already). Other things she had done such as adding my minor nephews and nieces, messaging all my friends at Facebook telling that I am mistress and other rude messages causing humiliation at my end. Then recently this July 2016, she posted my photo together with my child telling in the social network that I am mistress and that the baby is the child of the mistress. I feel that this is very unfair for me since I did not know that the man was married and now the wife is trying to ruin my reputation because her husband has filed an annulment. May I know if I can fight this e-libel case against the wife? Not to mention that the wife is only HS graduate and that I have a reputation to protect…

    Looking forward to receive your reply.

    Thank you for your time.

  2. Josephine

    Good day sir, if you don’t mind my asking about cyber libel crime that I was charged..
    unfortunately I was deceived by live in partner of certain atty in our hometown for more than one.millon and six hundred thousand pesos..she failed to pay the said amount and starting telling story then hiding..until I came back to work abroad but because I can’t contact her(she refused to answer her phone)so I have tried my best to search her in Facebook and sent a.message asking I’d she can pay me back just returne the items..but with my surprised my trustee received a 2.subpoena one is for estafa and one is for cyber/libel so came back home to fix everything which she refused to meet me in NBI office..even in fiscal office where she did file the case..I personally talked the fiscal about the case the fiscal scold me and insisting that there’s no estafa files against was a simple mistake and just ignore it..there is only cyber libel using my private message asking about the payment with thank you and God case is in the court and I’ve got the warrant of arrest which I have paid for having this temporary,I came in DOJ to asked help and we sent formal letter the barangay captain for confirmation of there residents which the barangay captain pay a visit to the said person informing about the letter of DOJ..the atty advice the barangry captain to reply the request of DOJ but when I have read the copy of it I was completely sad coz in the sai letter it was full.of beautiful words about the latter like very respected not only in their barangay but entire of our province. .since they knew about my actions the lawyer convinced my ex employees to sue me fabricated lies and evidence which I’ve got the original decoment that they falsified as evidence..I’m almost one year now here in our country lost of opportunity working in Europe..I’m. Asking you’re kind understanding with this matter and please sir don’t hesitate to help. .thank you


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