Petitioners lament that libel provisions of the penal code and, in effect, the libel provisions of the cybercrime law carry with them the requirement of “presumed malice” even when the latest jurisprudence already replaces it with the higher standard of “actual malice” as a basis for conviction. Petitioners argue that inferring “presumed malice” from the accused’s defamatory statement by virtue of Article 354 of the penal code infringes on his constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression.
Whether or not Section 4(c)(4) of the Cybercrime Prevention Act on cyberlibel affected the requirement of “actual malice” as opposed to “presumed malice” as basis for conviction of libel.
The prosecution bears the burden of proving the presence of actual malice in instances where such element is required to establish guilt. The defense of absence of actual malice, even when the statement turns out to be false, is available where the offended party is a public official or a public figure, as in the cases of Vasquez (a barangay official) and Borjal (the Executive Director, First National Conference on Land Transportation). Since the penal code and implicitly, the cybercrime law, mainly target libel against private persons, the Court recognizes that these laws imply a stricter standard of “malice” to convict the author of a defamatory statement where the offended party is a public figure. Society’s interest and the maintenance of good government demand a full discussion of public affairs.
But, where the offended party is a private individual, the prosecution need not prove the presence of malice. The law explicitly presumes its existence (malice in law) from the defamatory character of the assailed statement. For his defense, the accused must show that he has a justifiable reason for the defamatory statement even if it was in fact true.