Bill scraps prison term for libel

A VETERAN lawmaker is proposing to amend the libel law by abolishing the penalty of imprisonment.

House Bill 1835 of Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez proposes a higher fine to discourage, if not totally deter, the commission of the crime of libel.

The measure seeks to amend for the purpose Articles 355, 357 and 360 of Act No. 3815, as amended, otherwise known as the Revised Penal Code.

As defined under Article 353 of the Revised Penal Code, 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 already dead.”

Rodriguez said the present law provides the penalty of imprisonment ranging from arresto mayor or one month and one day to six months, and prision correctional or six months and one day to six years and fine ranging from P200 to P6,000.

He said that while the penalty of fine must be sustained, for no crime should go unpunished, imposing a penalty of imprisonment will work more to discourage members of the media to perform their duties with zeal and vigilance.

“Instead of looking deeply into issues that have a potential of affecting public interest and general welfare, the penalty of imprisonment has paved the way for members of media to approach their mandates with doubts and hesitation” Rodriguez said.

“We cannot have that in a country where democracy is primarily infringed on the freedom of speech and expression, and where media is considered the Fourth Estate,” Rodriguez, Chairman of the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments, added.

The proposed amendment to Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code provides for the imposition of a fine of P10,000 to P30,000, in addition to the civil action which may be brought by the offended party, on any person who commits libel by writing or similar means.

Article 357 of the same law is amended to read as follows: “The penalty of a fine ranging from P5,000 to P15,000 shall be imposed upon any person who threatens another to publish a libel concerning him or the parents, spouse, child, or other members of the family of the latter, or upon anyone who shall offer to prevent the publication of such libel for a compensation or money consideration.”

Meanwhile, the proposed amendment to Article 357 of the Revised Penal Code states that “the penalty of a fine from P10,000 to P30,000 shall be imposed upon any reporter, editor, or manager of a newspaper, daily or magazine, who shall publish facts connected with the private life of another and offensive to the honor, virtue, and reputation of said person, even though said publication be made in said connection with or under the pretext that it is necessary in the narration of any judicial or administrative proceedings wherein such facts have been mentioned.”