Is libel punished only by fine, not jail time?

In the case of Visitacion v. People (G.R. No. 194214, January 10, 2018), a petition for review on certiorari, Visitacion no longer questions her conviction for the crime of libel. Rather, she assails the decisions of the courts a quo in sentencing her to one (1) year imprisonment and to pay Punongbayan P3,000,000.00 as moral damages.Relevant is Administrative Circular (A.C.) No. 08-08 (25 January 2008) which provides for guidelines in the imposition of penalties in libel cases. The pertinent portion thereof reads:
The foregoing cases indicate an emergent rule of preference for the imposition of fine only rather than imprisonment in libel cases under the circumstances therein specified.

All courts and judges concerned should henceforth take note of the foregoing rule of preference set by the Supreme Court on the matter of the imposition of penalties for the crime of libel bearing in mind the following principles:
  1. This Administrative Circular does not remove imprisonment as an alternative penalty for the crime of libel under Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code;
  2. 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;
  3. 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 Revised Penal Code provisions on subsidiary imprisonment.
A review of A.C. No. 08-08 reveals that it was issued to embody the Court's preference, as espoused in previous jurisprudence, to impose only a fine for conviction of libel. The said circular, however, does not remove the discretion of courts to sentence to imprisonment the accused in libel cases should the circumstances warrant. In other words, judicial policy states a fine alone is generally acceptable as a penalty for libel. Nevertheless, the courts may impose imprisonment as a penalty if, under the circumstances, a fine is insufficient to meet the demands of substantial justice or would depreciate the seriousness of the offense.

Thus, in Visitacion v. People (G.R. No. 194214, January 10, 2018), pursuant to the policy in A.C. No. 08-08, the Court found that the imposition of a fine, instead of imprisonment, was sufficient. There was no need for imprisonment because Visitacion is a first-time offender with no other criminal record under her name. Further, the degree of publication is not that widespread considering that the libelous letter was circulated only to a few individuals.