Fake News under the Revised Penal Code: Unlawful Use of Means of Publication

Fake news is covered and penalized under two laws: (a) Republic Act No. 11469, also known as the “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act“; and (b) Act No. 3815, also known as “The Revised Penal Code”. It is important to note that public authorities have the option to charge violators under one law or both laws, simultaneously.

The effectivity of RA 11469 is limited (three months) during the Coronavirus Disease 2019 or Covid-19 pandemic, which means acts committed before and after this period may no longer be penalized under this law. The applicable penalty for fake news under RA 11469 is imprisonment of up to two months (see Fake News and Other Acts Punishable during the COVID-19 Crisis). 

Nevertheless, even without RA 11469, fake news is covered by the Revised Penal Code (RPC), a penal statute of general application. Fake news is considered a “public disorder” under the RPC, Article 154 of which penalizes:

1. Any person who by means of printing, lithography, or any other means of publication shall publish or cause to be published as news any false news which may endanger the public order, or cause damage to the interest or credit of the State; xxx

Article 154 does not cover all news which may be shown to be false. The RPC covers only false news “which may endanger the public order, or cause damage to the interest or credit of the State”. Fake news affecting individuals, on the other hand, may be covered by other laws or provisions of the RPC, including libel. [See Online Libel as Cybercrime in the Philippines: Definition, Requisites and Application of Penalties]

Fake news under Article 154 may be committed “by means of printing, lithography, or any other means of publication”. Social media may be considered “other means of publication,” but to remove any doubt, the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 (Republic Act No. 10175) provides that penalties for crimes committed by, through and with the use of information and communications technologies shall be one degree higher. “Information and communication technology system” refers to system intended for, and capable of, generating, sending, receiving, storing or otherwise processing electronic data messages or electronic documents, and includes the computer system or other similar device by or in which data is recorded or stored, and any procedures related to the recording or storage of electronic data message or electronic document (Sec. 3[z], Implementing Rules and Regulations of Republic Act No. 10175).

The penalty for violations of Article 154 is imprisonment of arresto mayor, but the fine was increased to a range of P40,000 to P200,000, pursuant to  Republic No. 10951 (“An Act Adjusting the Amount or the Value of Property and Damage on which a Penalty is Based, and the Fines Imposed under the Revised Penal Code, amending for the Purpose Act No. 3815, Otherwise Known as “The Revised Penal Code”, as Amended”), which was signed by the President on 29 August 2019.


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