No Prison Term for Libel – Chief Justice

By Joel Roja/Asianjournal.com

MANILA — Chief Justice Reynato Puno Thursday confirmed that it will come out with an administrative circular for all judges stressing its preference for the imposition of fine only rather than imprisonment against those who will be found guilty of libel.

In an ambush interview after speaking before newly-inducted officers and members of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX), Puno said the circular will be out either Thursday or Friday.

“These are interim measures that will help members of media that when there is conviction the penalty should no longer be imprisonment but only fine,” Puno told reporters.

He stressed that the circular is not intended to decriminalize libel since such action would come from the legislative department.

The Chief Justice explained that the Court decided to come up with such circular after reviewing libel cases brought before it and found out that a lot of them are committed “with honest intention.”

Under Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC), a libel is committed by means of writing, printing, lithography, engraving, radio phonograph, painting, theatrical exhibition, cinematographic exhibition or any similar means, shall be punished by prison correccional in its minimum and medium period or a fine ranging from P200 to P6,000 or both in addition to civil action which may be brought by the offended party.

A draft copy of the circular noted that the administrative circular “does not remove imprisonment as an alternative penalty for the crime of libel under Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code.”

“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 imperative of justice,” the circular stated.

It added that should only a fine be imposed and the accused be unable to pay the fine, there is no legal obstacle to the application of the provisions of the Revised Penal Code.

In the same interview, Puno also disclosed that the Supreme Court is set to issue within this month the Special Rules of Court on Alternative Dispute Resolution.

The special rules on ADR, according to Puno, will address “to a very large degree” the slow movement of cases in courts.

“Arbitration is the private system of justice that will complement the public system of government. It will speed up the disposition of cases,” Puno noted.

(www.asianjournal.com)

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