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The Supreme Court has just issued Administrative Circular No.

08-2008, providing for

Guidelines in the Observance of a Rule of Preference in the Imposition of Penalties in
Libel Cases. Trial courts may, in its discretion and based on the peculiar circumstances
of each case, impose only a fine, instead of imprisonment.

In all probability, critics will again say this is judicial legislation, pretty much the same
criticism raised against a similar circular on BP 22, as well as the issuance of the rules on
the writ of amparo. Well, arguments are most welcome at the comments section below. In
the meantime, heres a basic discussion on the guidelines.

What is the imposable penalty for libel?
Libel, committed by means of writing, printing, lithography, engraving, radio,
phonograph, painting, theatrical exhibition, cinematographic exhibition, or any similar
means, is punishable with prision correccional in its minimum and medium periods or a
fine ranging from 200 to 6,000 pesos, or both, in addition to the civil action which may
be brought by the offended party. (Art. 355, RPC)

What is the significance of Administrative Circular No. 08-2008 (full text), issued by the
Supreme Court on 25 January 2008 (A.M. No. 08-1-17-SC)?
Administrative Circular No. 08-2008, providing for Guidelines in the Observance of a
Rule of Preference in the Imposition of Penalties in Libel Cases, instructs all courts and
judges to take note of certain preferences in imposing penalties for the crime of libel.
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 imperatives of justice.
Is there any case or jurisprudence wherein only a fine was imposed?
Yes, there are a number of illustrations mentioned in the Circular. One of the cases
cited is Fernando Sazon v. Court of Appeals and People of the Philippines, wherein the
Supreme Court modified the penalty imposed upon petitioner, an officer of a
homeowners association, for the crime of libel from imprisonment and fine in the
amount of P200.00, to fine only of P3,000.00, with subsidiary imprisonment in case of
insolvency, for the reason that he wrote the libelous article merely to defend his honor
against the malicious messages that earlier circulated around the subdivision, which he
thought was the handiwork of the private complainant. There are other illustrations
stated in the Circular (full text here).

Does the Circular remove imprisonment as a penalty for libel?
No. The Circular explicitly states that it does not remove imprisonment as an alternative
penalty for the crime of libel under Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code. In other
words, the Circular does not decriminalize libel and the court could still impose
imprisonment if called for by the circumstances. Also, even if only a fine is imposed but
the accused fails or refuses to pay, the accused could be imprisoned, applying the
Revised Penal Code provisions on subsidiary imprisonment.

When does the Circular take effect?
It takes effect upon its issuance, or on 25 January 2008.
Is this the first time that the Supreme Court issued a Circular of such nature?
No. Back in 2000 (Administrative Circular No. 12-2000, as clarified by Administrative
Circular No. 13-2001), the Supreme Court provided for a similar rule of preference in the
application of the penalties provided for in B.P. Blg. 22 (Bouncing Checks Law).

In issuing circulars of such nature, is the Supreme Court amending the law?
Some critics argue that the Supreme Court is, in effect, amending the law, referring to
such act as judicial legislation. The Supreme Court, however, is merely interpreting the
law. The law itself allows the judge to choose between the following penalties: (a) fine
only; (b) imprisonment only; OR (c) both fine and imprisonment.