The issue in the case we want to tackle now is not whether or not something said was libel but whether or not the court had jurisdiction over the libel committed. In this case, the alleged libelous material was found in a blog.
As regards jurisdiction in libel cases, the relevant provision is found in the 2nd paragraph of Art. 360 of the Revised Penal Code (as amended by Republic Act 4363):
“The criminal and civil action for damages in cases of written defamations … shall be filed simultaneously or separately with the court of first instance of the province or city where the libelous article is printed and first published or where any of the offended parties actually resides at the time of the commission of the offense: Provided, however, … in case one of the offended parties is a private individual, the action shall be filed in the Court of First Instance of the province or city where he actually resides at the time of the commission of the offense or where the libelous matter is printed and first published...” [underline supplied]
The complainant in this case, a Jessie John P. Gimenez, filed, on behalf of the Yuchengco Family (former Ambassador Alfonso Yuchengco and Helen Y. Dee of the Malayan Insurance Co., Inc.), a criminal complaint before the Makati City Prosecutor’s Office, for 13 counts of libel against the officers of Parents Enabling Parents Coalition, Inc. (PEPCI), trustees of PEPCI, a member of PEPCI, and a certain John Doe, the administrator of the website www.pepcoalition.com. Gimenez also alleged that PEPCI owned, controlled and moderated on the internet a blog at www.pacificnoplan.blogspot.com and a yahoo e-group at email@example.com, sites easily accessible to the public or by anyone logged on to the internet.
Gimenez claimed that when he accessed websites in Makati on various dates he “was appalled to read numerous articles [numbering 13], maliciously and recklessly caused to be published by [the accused] containing highly derogatory statements and false accusations, relentlessly attacking the Yuchengco Family, YGC, and particularly, Malayan.” For example:
“Talagang naisahan na naman tayo ng mga Yuchengcos. Nangyari na ang mga kinatatakutan kong pagbagsak ng negotiation because it was done prematurely since we had not file any criminal aspect of our case. What is worse is that Yuchengcos benefited much from the nego. x x x . That is the fact na talagang hindi dapat pagtiwalaan ang mga Yuchengcos.
LET’S MOVE TO THE BATTLEFIELD. FILE THE CRIMINAL CASES IN COURT, BSP AND AMLC AND WHEREVER. Pumunta tayong muli sa senado, congreso, RCBC Plaza, and other venues to air our grievances and call for boycott ng YGC. Let us start within ourselves. Alisin natin ang mga investments and deposits natin sa lahat ng YGC and I mean lahat and again convince friends to do the same. Yung mga nanonood lang noon ay dapat makisali na talaga ngayon specially those who joined only after knowing that there was a negotiation for amicable settlements.
FOR SURE MAY TACTICS PA SILANG NAKABASTA SA ATIN. LET US BE READY FOR IT BECAUSE THEY HAD SUCCESSFULLY LULL US AND THE NEXT TIME THEY WILL TRY TO KILL US NA. x x x”
The Makati City Prosecutor’s Office filed a complaint for libel but on appeal to the Department of Justice, the “Justice Secretary opined that the crime of “internet libel” was non-existent, hence, the accused could not be charged with libel under Article 353 of the RPC.” This prompted the accused to file a Motion to Quash the Information “on the grounds that it failed to vest jurisdiction on the Makati RTC; the acts complained of in the Information are not punishable by law since internet libel is not covered by Article 353 of the RPC; and the Information is fatally defective for failure to designate the offense charged and the acts or omissions complained of as constituting the offense of libel.”
Unfortunately for the accused, the Court of Appeals found the complaint sufficient in form.
Fortunately for the accused, the Supreme Court held the opposite and said that -
“… that the venue of libel cases where the complainant is a private individual is limited to only either of two places, namely: 1) where the complainant actually resides at the time of the commission of the offense; or 2) where the alleged defamatory article was printed and first published. The Amended Information in the present case opted to lay the venue by availing of the second. Thus, it stated that the offending article “was first published and accessed by the private complainant in Makati City.” In other words, it considered the phrase to be equivalent to the requisite allegation of printing and first publication.
The insufficiency of the allegations in the Amended Information to vest jurisdiction in Makati becomes pronounced upon an examination of the rationale for the amendment to Article 360 by RA No. 4363. Chavez v. Court of Appeals [G.R. No. 125813, February 6, 2007, 514 SCRA 279, 285-286] explained the nature of these changes:
“Before article 360 was amended, the rule was that a criminal action for libel may be instituted in any jurisdiction where the libelous article was published or circulated, irrespective of where it was written or printed (People v. Borja, 43 Phil. 618). Under that rule, the criminal action is transitory and the injured party has a choice of venue.
Experience had shown that under that old rule the offended party could harass the accused in a libel case by laying the venue of the criminal action in a remote or distant place.
To forestall such harassment, Republic Act No. 4363 was enacted. It lays down specific rules as to the venue of the criminal action so as to prevent the offended party in written defamation cases from inconveniencing the accused by means of out-of-town libel suits, meaning complaints filed in remote municipal courts (Explanatory Note for the bill which became Republic Act No. 4363, Congressional Record of May 20, 1965, pp. 424-5; Time, Inc. v. Reyes, L-28882, May 31, 1971, 39 SCRA 303, 311).”
Further, the Supreme Court noted that the phrase “where the libelous article is printed and first published’ cannot be applied to “defamatory material appearing on a website on the internet as there would be no way of determining the situs of its printing and first publication.”
Before dismissing the case, the Supreme Court found cause to again cite the Chavez case and thereby instruct future complainants that –
“These limitations imposed on libel actions filed by private persons are hardly onerous, especially as they still allow such persons to file the civil or criminal complaint in their respective places of residence, in which situation there is no need to embark on a quest to determine with precision where the libelous matter was printed and first published.”
It’s weird that some people have said we don’t have internet libel in the Philippines because the Supreme Court has even instructed us (in this Yuchengco case) where victims can file such a case.