Cyber-libel cases rising, as friends turn into foes via online platforms

WITH the proliferation of online platforms, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has to deal with the increasing number of cyber-libel cases being filed with the agency, often with people familiar with each other as opposing parties.

Records obtained by the Businessmiror from the DOJ-Office of Cybercrime showed that there are a total of 127 cyber-libel cases filed before the agency last year.

Of the 127 cyber-libel cases, 38 have been dismissed for lack of evidence.

The number is almost 274 percent higher compared to the 34 cyber-libel cases filed in 2016. In 2015 80 cyber-libel cases
were lodged with the DOJ, 31 of these cases already dismissed.

Libel is one of the cybercrime offenses punishable under Republic Act (RA) 10175, or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 .

Section 4 (c) (4)  of RA 10175  renders unlawful or prohibited acts of libel those mentioned under Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC), as amended, if such acts are committed through a computer system or any other similar means that may be devised.

Under Article 355 of the RPC, the crime of libel is committed when a person makes, against another, 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.

In an interview, Office of Cybercrime-OIC Director Jed Sherwin Uy acknowledged that prior to the enactment of RA 10175, the DOJ is getting only few libel complaints.

“But with the enactment of the Cybercrime Law with specific provision on cyber libel, the number of complaints being filed either with the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police [PNP] increased,” Uy said.

While the DOJ does not entertain
cyber-libel cases, Uy noted that the gover-nment prosecutors are still the ones tasked to conduct preliminary investigation and prosecute such cases.

He pointed out that complainants of cyberlibel belong to different social status in life, with no age group in particular. However, usual suspects in cyber-libel cases are those known to the complainant.

“Usually complainants suspect that authors of these libelous posts are people they somehow know because the information is so nonpublic, in a sense that only people close to them or known to them would have such information,” Uy noted.

Uy said one of the challenges that the investigators encounter pertains to the identification or attribution and authentication of the online account that is the subject of the complaint.

“If there is specific denial, it requires authentication. So either we request the platform concerned like Facebook or Twitter, we request for information with respect to the subscriber who uploaded the
supposed article, or we apply for search warrants depending on the IP address of the uploader,”  Uy explained.

But it the offense is committed through online platform based in the United States, Uy admitted this would make the investigation more difficult owing the First Amendment under the US Constitution, which prohibits Congress “from making any law respecting an establishment of religion, prohibiting the free exercise of religion or abridging the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, the right to peaceably assemble, or to petition for a governmental redress or grievances.”

In this case, Uy said prosecutors would rely on other forms of evidence, such as testimony from witnesses attesting or authenticating that the respondent is the real owner of the account.

When asked whether the cyber-libel provision is still relevant considering calls from various sectors to decriminalize libel, Uy said it has been the position of the DOJ Cybercrime Office that the said provision should have not been included anymore in the Cybercrime law.

“We want the cybercrime law to focus on heinous crimes, such as online child abuse, to be part of cyber offenses under the law,” he said.  “With respect to libel being a crime, there have been different schools of thought and different positions wherein it would be better to decriminalize libel, either because it is easier to prosecute the civil action or it is somehow better in a sense it would declog the dockets of the courts,” he added.

But, Uy advised netizens to be responsible in posting anything online even if libel will be eventually decriminalized in the future.

“Whether it is  considered a crime or be decriminalized, it is the social responsibility of every individual to respect the right of the people. We need to strike the balance between the freedom of expression and the right of individuals. So if you think the context would be harmful and not true, we should not be writing such thing even if we  may not be liable civilly or criminally,” Uy said.


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