Cebu Citizens-Press Council

Being accountable comes with being free

Basic Philippine law on libel

1. What is libel?

Libel is a public and malicious imputation of a crime, or a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status, or circumstance tending to cause the dishonor, discredit, or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead. (Art. 353, Revised Penal Code, [“RPC”]).

2. What are the means by which libel is committed?

Libel is committed by means of writing, printing, lithography, engraving, radio, phonograph, painting, theatrical exhibition, cinematographic exhibition, or any similar means. (Art. 355, RPC).

3. What is slander?

Oral defamation is called slander. (Art. 358, RPC).

4. Is defamation made in a television program considered libel?

Defamation made in a television program is libel. While the medium of television is not expressly mentioned among the means specified in the law, it easily qualifies under the general provision “or any similar means”. (People vs. Casten, et al., CA-G.R. No. 07924-CR, December 13, 1974)

5. Who are the persons liable for the crime of libel?

Any person who shall publish, exhibit, or cause the publication or exhibition of any defamation in writing or by similar means, shall be responsible for the same.

The author or editor of a book or pamphlet, or the editor or business manager of a daily newspaper, magazine or serial publication, shall be responsible for the defamations contained therein to the same extent as if he were the author thereof. (Art. 360, RPC).

Proprietors and editors of periodicals are responsible for the appearance of defamatory matter contained therein, as likewise are all persons who actually participate in the publication of such matter. It is not necessary that the libelous matter should have been seen or read by another. It is sufficient that the accused knowingly parted with the immediate custody thereof under circumstances which exposed it to be read or seen by a person other than himself.

6. What are the penalties for libel?

a. For committed libel: Prision correctional in its minimum and medium periods or a fine ranging from 200 to 600 pesos, or both. This is in addition to the civil action which may be brought by the offended party. (Art. 355, RPC)

b. For threatened libel (“blackmail”): Arresto mayor or a fine of from 200 to 2,000 pesos or both. (Art. 356, RPC)

7. Why is libel punished?

The enjoyment of a private reputation is as much a constitutional right as the possession of life, liberty or property. It is one of those rights necessary to human society that underlie the whole scheme of civilization. The law recognizes the value of such reputation and imposes upon him who attacks it, by slanderous words or libelous publication, the liability to make full compensation for the damages done (Worcester vs. Ocampo, 22 Phil. 42).

8. What court has jurisdiction over an action for libel?

The Regional Trial Court has been specifically designated to try a libel case. (Art. 360, Revised Penal Code; Jalandoni vs. Endaya, 55 SCRA 260; Bacobo vs. Estanislao, 72 SCRA 520)

9. Where is the venue for an action for libel?

Art. 360 of the RPC as amended by Republic Act No. 4363 laid down the following rules on the venue of the criminal and civil actions in written defamations:

1. General Rule: The action may be filed in the Regional Trial Court of the province or city where the libelous article is printed and first published or where any of the offended parties actually resides at the time of the commission of the offense.

2. If the offended party is a public officer with office in Manila at the time the offense was committed, the venue is Manila or the city or province where the libelous article is printed and first published.

3. Where an offended party is a public official with office outside of Manila, the venue is the province or the city where he held office at the time of the commission of the offense or where the libelous article is printed and first published.

4. If an offended party is a private person, the venue is his place of residence at the time of the commission of the offense or where the libelous article is printed and first published.

The common feature of the foregoing rules is that whether the offended party is a public officer or a private person, he has always the option to file the action in the Regional Trial Court of the province or city where the libelous article is printed or first published. (Escribano vs. Avila, 85 SCRA 245)

10. What is the prescriptive period for filing a criminal complaint for libel?

The crime of libel prescribes in one year from the date the alleged libelous article was published. (Art. 90, RPC as amended by Republic Act No. 4661; People vs. Gines, 197 SCRA 481)

11. What are the damages recoverable in an action for libel?

Article 2219 (7) of the Civil Code provides that moral damages may be recovered in cases of libel, slander or any other form of defamation. In effect, the offended party in these cases is given the right to receive from the guilty party moral damages for injury to his feelings and reputation in addition to punitive or exemplary damages. (Occena vs. Icamina, 181 SCRA 328; M.H. Wylie vs. Rarang, 209 SCRA 357)

12. In what court should the civil action for damages be filed?

The civil action for libel shall be filed in the same court where the criminal action is filed and vice versa and the court in which the action is first filed acquires exclusive jurisdiction to entertain the corresponding complaint for libel. (Art. 360, Revised Penal Code as amended by Republic Act No. 1289; Laquian vs. Baltazar, 31 SCRA 552; Agbayani vs. Sayo, 89 SCRA 699; Cojuangco, Hr. vs. CA, 203 SCRA 620)

13. Who can file a complaint for libel?

A criminal action for defamation which consists in the imputation of a crime which cannot be prosecuted de oficio can only be filed by the offended party. (Art. 360, RPC).

But, a libel attributing a defect or vice, real or imaginary, which does not constitute a crime but brings into disrepute, scorn or ridicule, or tends to cause dishonor, discredit, or contempt, can be prosecuted de oficio. In other words, the complaint of the offended party is not necessary, and the information filed by the prosecuting officer is enough to confer jurisdiction upon the court to try the defendant charged with the crime. (Santos, et al. vs. Guballa, No. L-7316 and L-7317, Dec. 19, 1955).

In other words, the provincial fiscal may file the information upon his own initiative without the offended party’s complaint and even over his objection. (People vs. Pascual, et al., 102 Phil. 503).

14. What are the crimes which cannot be prosecuted de oficio?

The crimes of adultery, concubinage, abduction, rape or acts of lasciviousness cannot be prosecuted de oficio. Accordingly, a libel imputing any of these crimes can be filed by the offended party.

15. Can an imputation of the crime of prostitution be prosecuted de oficio?

Yes, an imputation of the crime of prostitution can be prosecuted de oficio. (People vs. Orcullo, 111 SCRA 609). Prostitution is not included among the crimes which cannot be prosecuted de oficio.

16. Example of imputation of a crime which cannot be prosecuted de oficio.

A published letter stating that a woman employee had “illicit relationship with another who is the former’s paramour” imputes an adulterous relationship between the two. A prosecution for libel based thereon cannot be made without the sworn complaint of the offended party. (Fernandez vs. Lantin, 74 SCRA 338)

17. Does the death of the offended party extinguish the criminal liability of the accused in a crime of libel?

If the death of the offended party occurred after the filing of the complaint, the complaint previously filed by the offended party will not be invalidated even if it is a crime which cannot be prosecuted de oficio. (People vs. Bundalian, 117 SCRA 718). If the offended party shall die before he was able to file a complaint for libel, his heirs or legal representatives have a right to file the complaint, unless the libel charged in the information is one which cannot be brought except at the instance of and upon complaint filed by the offended party there being an imputation of an offense which cannot be prosecuted de oficio.

18. What are the essential elements of libel?

There are four (4) essential elements of libel, namely:

a. The imputation must be defamatory;

b. The imputation must be made publicly;

c. The imputation must be malicious; and

d. The person defamed must be identifiable.

(People vs. Monton, 6 SCRA 801)

ELEMENTS OF LIBEL

FIRST ELEMENT: THERE MUST BE A DEFAMATORY IMPUTATION.

19. What can the defamatory imputation cover?

The imputation can cover any of the following;

a. Crime allegedly committed by the offended party;

b. Vice or defect, real or imaginary, of the offended party; or

c. Any act, omission, condition, status of, or circumstance relating to, the offended party which tend to cause the dishonor, discredit, or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead.

20. Examples of imputations of a crime allegedly committed by the offended party.

(a) An article which portrays the offended party as a swindler who, prior to his election as municipal president, collected money from several inhabitants of the town through fraud and deceit and constructed a house worth P40,000 with the money so collected, imputes the commission of the crime of estafa to the offended party (People vs. Bailo, et al., C.A., 37 O.G. 2373).

(b) Branding somebody as having murdered his brother-in-law, enriching himself at the expense of others who trusted him, calling one a bigamist and becoming rich overnight through questionable transactions and influence peddling, winning in an election through mass fraud and rampant vote-buying because of the influence of brother-in-law are obviously libelous and slanderous for they are malicious imputations of criminal acts tending to cause dishonor, discredit and contempt of the complainant, punishable under the provisions of Article 353 of the Revised Penal Code (People vs. Dianalan, 13 C.A. Rep. 34).

21. Is an imputation of criminal intention libelous?

No, the imputation of criminal intention is not libelous. Such imputation is not libelous because intent to commit a crime is not a violation of the law. This is more so, when it is a mere assertion or expression of opinion as to what will be the future conduct of another. (People vs. Baja, C.A., 40 O.G., Supp. 5, 206).

22. Examples of imputations of vice or defect, real or imaginary, of the offended party.

(a) When a person, in an article, imputes upon the persons mentioned therein, lascivious and immoral habits, that article is of a libelous nature as it tends to discredit the persons libeled in the minds of those reading the said article (People vs. Suarez, G.R. No. 35396, April 11, 1932).

(b) Calling complainant who was a barangay captain ignoramus, traitor, tyrant and Judas is clearly an imputation of defects in complainant’s character sufficient to cause him embarrassment and social humiliation. (Occena vs. Icamina, 181 SCRA 328)

(c) “One who grabs another’s husband” does not necessarily mean an adulteress. At most, it may imply that the person to whom it is addressed is a “flirt, a temptress, or one who indulges in enticing other husbands” hence, it is more of an imputation of a vice, condition, or act not constituting a crime. (Gonzales vs. Arcilla, 203 SCRA 609)

23. Example of an imputation of an act of omission of the offended party.

An article signed by the accused and published in the Philippines Herald says that the offended party used to borrow money without intention to pay; that he had ordered the fixing of his teeth without paying the fees for the services rendered by the dentist; etc., contains an imputation of an act and omission which is defamatory (People vs. Tolentino, C.A., 37 O.G. 1763).

24. Examples of an imputation of condition, status of, or circumstance relating to the offended party.

(a) Calling a person a bastard or leper within the hearing of other persons is defamatory, because there is an imputation of a condition or status which tends to cause dishonor or contempt of the offended party. (U.S. vs. Ortiz, et al., 8 Phil. 752)

(b) Writing and publishing an article containing the words “coward, vile soul, dirty sucker, savage, hog who always looks toward the ground” which refer to the offended party, thereby exposing the latter to public contempt and ridicule (U.S. vs. Ortiz, et al., 8 Phil, 752).

(c) The word “fool” or “crazy” becomes defamatory if used to connote mental aberration. (People vs. Lladoc, CA-G.R. No. 01432-CR, April 16, 1962)

(d) The word “mangkukulam” is undoubtedly an epithet of opprobrium. To
say that complainant is a witch and sorceress is to impute to her a vice, condition or status that is dishonorable and contemptible. (People vs. Carmen Sario, G.R. No. L-20754 and G.R. No. L-20753, June 30, 1966)

25. In determining whether certain words are defamatory, is the intent of the writer material?

In matters of libel, the question is not what the writer of an alleged libel means, but what is the meaning of the words he has used. The meaning of the writer is quite immaterial. The question is not what the writer meant, but what his words conveyed to those who heard or read them. It is not the intention of the speaker or writer, or the understanding of the plaintiff or of any hearer or reader by which the actionable quality of the words is to be determined, but the meaning that the words in fact conveyed on the minds of persons of reasonable understanding, discretion and candor, taking into consideration the surrounding circumstances which were known to the hearer or reader. (People vs. Encarnacion, C.A. 48 O.G. 1817).

26. Is it necessary that the defamatory imputation be in certain and express terms?

No. Words calculated to induce suspicion are sometimes more effective to destroy reputation than false charges directly made. Ironical and metaphorical language is a favored vehicle for slander. A charge is sufficient if the words are calculated to induce the hearers to suppose and understand that the person against whom they were uttered was guilty of certain offenses, or are sufficient to impeach his honesty, virtue or reputation, or to hold him up to public ridicule. (U.S. vs. O’Connell, 37 Phil. 767)

Where the comments are insincere and intended to ridicule rather than praise the plaintiff, the publication is libelous. Praise undeserved is slander in disguise. (Jimenez vs. Reyes, 27 Phil. 52)

Publication, even if intended for humor, may be libelous when the language used passed from the bounds of playful jest and intensive criticism into the region of scurrilous calumniation and intemperate personalities (Oliver, et al. vs. “La Vanguardia, Inc.” 48 Phil. 429).

27. How do you construe an allegedly libelous article?

The alleged libelous article must be construed as a whole. (Jimenez vs. Reyes, 27 Phil. 52; U.S. vs. Sotto, 38 Phil. 666). The test of libelous meanings is not the analysis of a sentence into component phrases with the meticulous care of the grammarian or stylist, but the import conveyed of the entirety of the language to the ordinary reader. (U.S. vs. O’Connell, 37 Phil. 767). In other words, the article must be construed in its entirety including the headline, as they may enlarge, explain, or restrict or be enlarged, explained or strengthened or restricted by the context. Whether or not it is libelous depends upon the scope, spirit and motive of the publication taken in its entirety. (Imperial, et al. vs. The Manila Publishing Co., Inc., et al., 13 C.A. Rep. 990).

For the purpose of determining the meaning of any publication alleged to be libelous that construction must be adopted which will give to the matter such a meaning as is natural and obvious in the plain and ordinary sense in which the public would naturally understand what was uttered. The published matter alleged to be libelous must be construed as a whole. In applying these rules to the language of an alleged libel, the court will disregard any subtitle or ingenious explanation offered by the publisher on being called to account. The whole question being the effect the publication had upon the minds of the readers, and they not having been assisted by the offered explanation in reading the article, it comes too late to have the effect of removing the sting, if any there be, from the word used in the publication. (U.S. vs. Sotto, 38 Phil. 666).

When neither party endeavors to show a hidden meaning nor latent ambiguities in the publication complained of, it is for the court to determine whether its contents are libelous, after giving to the article as a whole such meaning as is natural and obvious in the plain and ordinary sense in which the publication would naturally be understood. Opinions of witnesses upon this point are immaterial (Jimenez vs. Reyes, 21 Phil. 52).

The defamatory words are to be construed in their entirety, and should be taken in their plain, natural and ordinary meaning as they would naturally be understood by persons reading or hearing them, unless it appears that they were used and understood in another sense. In short, the language used must be understood “in its plain and popular sense – to read the sentences as would the man on the street.” The intent or purpose then of the speaker or writer is not relevant. (Gonzales vs. Arcilla, 203 SCRA 609).

28. What is the “innocent construction” rule?

Words capable of being read innocently must be read innocently and declared not libelous under the rule of innocent construction.

Where the alleged libelous matter is susceptible of two or more interpretations, one libelous and the other not libelous, courts of justice are not justified in holding that the real purpose of the writer was to have the public understand what he wrote in light of the worst possible meaning. There must be clear evidence that such was the case. (People vs. Madamba, 47 O.G. 3553).

SECOND ELEMENT: THERE MUST BE PUBLICATION OF THE DEFAMATORY IMPUTATION.

29. What constitutes publication?

Publication is the communication of the defamatory matter to some third person or persons (People vs. Atencio, CA-G.R. Nos. 11351-R to 11353-R, Dec. 14, 1954). Libel is published not only when it is widely circulated, but also when it is made known or brought to the attention or notice of another person other than its author and the offended party. (U.S. vs. Ubinana, 1 Phil. 471).

The communication of libelous matter to the person defamed alone does not amount to publication, for that cannot injure his reputation. A man’s reputation is the estimate in which others hold him, not the good opinion which he has of himself. (People vs. Atencio, CA-G.R. Nos. 11351-R to 11353-R, Dec. 14, 1954).

30. Examples of publication.

(a) Writing a letter to another person other than the person defamed is sufficient to constitute publication, for the person to whom the letter is addressed is a third person in relation to its writer and the person defamed therein (Orfanel vs. People, 30 SCRA 819)

(b) Sending to the wife a letter defamatory of her husband is sufficient publication (U.S. vs. Ubińana, 1 Phil. 471). The person defamed is the husband and the wife is the third person to whom the publication is made.

(c) One of the typesetters of the paper testified that the defendant handed to him, to be set in type, the article in question, and that the manuscript thus delivered was in the handwriting of the defendant. It was held that delivering the article to the typesetter is sufficient publication. (U.S. vs. Crame, 10 Phil. 135)

(d) There is publication of defamatory letter not shown to be sealed when sent to the addressee. If sending a letter “not shown to be sealed” is publication, sending of an “unsealed letter” should a fortiori be held to be publication (U.S. vs. Grin-o, 36 Phil. 738; People vs. Silvela, 103 Phil. 773).

However, sending a letter in a sealed envelope through messenger, is not publication (Lopez vs. Delgado, 8 Phil. 26).

31. What is the “multiple publication” rule?

Each and every publication of the same libel constitutes a distinct offense. Stated more succinctly for purposes of ascertaining jurisdiction under Article 360 of the RPC, as amended, every time the same written matter is communicated such communication is considered a distinct and separate publication of the libel.

It is a settled jurisprudence that each separate publication of a libel constitutes a distinct crime of libel, although two libelous publications arose out of the same controversy and even if one was partial reiteration of the first. (People vs. Sotto, 36 Phil. 389; Montinola vs. Montalvo, 34 Phil. 662; Soriano vs. IAC, 167 SCRA 222)

THIRD ELEMENT: THERE MUST BE MALICE.

32. What is malice?

Malice is a term used to indicate the fact that the offender is prompted by personal ill-will or spite and speaks not in response to duty, but merely to injure the reputation of the person defamed (U.S. vs. Castańete, 38 Phil. 253).

33. What are the types of malice?

There are two types of malice, i.e. malice in law and malice in fact.

34. What is malice in law?

Malice in law is a presumption of law. It dispenses with the proof of malice when words which raise the presumption are shown to have been uttered. It is also known as constructive malice, legal malice, or implied malice.

35. What is malice in fact?

Malice in fact is a positive desire and intention to annoy or injure. It may denote that the defendant was actuated by ill will or personal spite. It is also called express malice, actual malice, real malice, true malice, or particular malice.

36. How is malice proved?

Malice is established either by presumption or by proof.

37. How is malice in law proved?

Malice in law is presumed from a defamatory imputation. Proof of malice is not required, because it is presumed to exist from the defamatory imputation (1st paragraph, Art. 354, RPC). Thus, when the imputation is defamatory, the prosecution or the plaintiff need not prove malice on the part of the defendant. The law presumes that the defendant’s imputation is malicious.

38. How is malice in fact proved?

Malice in fact may be shown by proof of ill-will, hatred, or purpose to injure. Thus, a republication of defamatory matter subsequent to the commencement of an action based thereon is admissible to establish malice in fact (U.S. vs. Montalvo, 29 Phil. 595).

39. Example of how malice in fact is proved.

There is express malice or “malice in fact,” because it clearly appears that the accused Topacio was actuated by a desire to impeach the reputation, integrity and honesty of Secretary Perez as a government official and to force him to resign because of the alleged misfeasance and malfeasance in office (People vs. Topacio, et al., 59 Phil. 356).

40. When is malice in law not presumed?

The presumption of malice does not arise in the two cases of privileged communications mentioned in paragraphs 1 and 2 of Art. 354 of the Revised Penal Code, i.e.:

a. A private communication made by any person to another in the performance of any legal, moral or social duty;

b. A fair and true report, made in good faith, without any comments or remarks, of any judicial, legislative, or other official proceedings which are not of confidential nature, or of any statement, report, or speech delivered in said proceedings, or of any other act performed by public officers in the exercise of their functions.

Where the communication is privileged, malice is not presumed from the defamatory words. The plaintiff or the prosecution must prove malice in fact, whenever the defamatory imputation appears in a privileged communication. (U.S. vs. Bustos, 37 Phil. 731; Lu Chu Sing, et al., vs. Lu Tiong Gui, 76 Phil. 669).

41. Does proof of good intention and justifiable motive negate the existence of malice?

Malice in law is not necessarily inconsistent with an honest or even laudable purpose. For that reason, even if the publication is injurious, the presumption of malice disappears upon proof of good intention and justifiable motive.

But where malice in fact is present, justifiable motives can not exist, and the imputations become actionable (People vs. Peregrino, 11 C.A. Rep. 803, citing U.S. vs. Bustos, 13 Phil. 600; Liu Chu sing, et al. vs. Lu Tiong Ciu, 76 Phil. 609)

FOURTH ELEMENT: THE PERSON DEFAMED MUST BE IDENTIFIABLE.

42. Should the person defamed be identifiable?

Yes. In order to maintain a libel suit it is essential that the victim be identifiable, although it is not necessary that he be named.

43. How is the identity of the person defamed determined?

It is enough if by intrinsic reference the allusion is apparent or if the publication contains matters of description or reference to facts and circumstances from which others reading the article may know that the plaintiff was intended, or if he is pointed out by extraneous circumstance so that persons knowing him could and did understand that he was the person referred to (Corpus vs. Cuaderno, Sr., 16 SCRA 807).

The obnoxious writing need not mention the libeled party by name. It is sufficient if it is shown that the offended party is the person meant or alluded to (Causin vs. Jakosalem, 5 Phil. 155), the prosecution being permitted to prove by evidence that the vague imputation refers to the complainant (People vs. Silvela, 103 Phil. 773).

44. Does the fact that the offended party recognized himself as the person defamed sufficient for purposes of complying with the fourth element of libel, i.e. that the person defamed must be identifiable?

Where no one is named or accurately described in the article complained of, it is not sufficient that the offended party recognized himself as the person attacked or defamed; it must be shown that at least a third person could identify him as the object of the libelous publication (Kunkle vs. Cablenews-American, 42 Phil. 757).

Where the article is impersonal on its face and interpretation of its language does not single out individuals, the fourth essential requisite of the offense of libel does not exist (People vs. Andrada, C.A., 37 O.G. 92; Uy Tioco, et al. vs. Yang Shu Wen, et al., 32 Phil. 624).

45. Are defamatory imputations directed at a group of persons actionable?

Defamatory remarks directed at a group of persons is not actionable unless the statements are all-embracing or sufficiently specific for the victim to be identifiable.

Where the defamation is alleged to have been directed at a group or class, it is essential that the statement must be so sweeping or all-embracing as to apply to every individual in that group or class, or sufficiently specific so that each individual in that class or group can prove that the defamatory statement specifically pointed to him, so that he can bring the action separately, if need be. (Newsweek, Inc. vs. Intermediate Appellate Court, 142 SCRA 171).

46. Can libel published in different parts be taken together to establish the identity of the person defamed?

Yes. In U.S. vs. Sotto, 36 Phil. 389, there were two publications. The first publication mentioned no names. It employed, however, certain words and phrases which are defamatory. The second publication consisted of a cartoon in which the persons referred to in the first publication are caricatured by name and to each one of them is attached one of the defamatory words or phrases. The two publications were considered together to establish the identity of the offended party.

DEFENSES IN LIBEL

47. What are the possible defenses in an action for libel?

The possible defenses in an action for libel include the following:

(a) Privileged communications;

(b) Fair comment on matters of public interest;

(c) Fair comment on qualifications of candidates for public office;

(d) Apology or retraction;

(e) Rectification;

(f) Proof of truth; and

(g) Self-defense.

A. PRIVILEGED COMMUNICATIONS

48. What are privileged communications?

Privileged communications are those which, were it not for the occasion on which or the circumstances under which they are made, would be derogatory and actionable.

49. What are the classes of privileged communications?

A privileged communication may either be absolutely privileged or conditionally or qualifiedly privileged.

50. When is a communication considered absolutely privileged?

A communication is said to be absolutely privileged when it is not actionable, even if its author has acted in bad faith. This class includes statements made by members of Congress in the discharge of their functions as such, official communications made by public officers in the performance of their duties, and allegations or statements made by the parties or their counsel in their pleadings or motions or during the hearing of judicial proceedings, as well as the answers given by witnesses in reply to questions propounded to them, in the course of said proceedings, provided that said allegations or statements are relevant to the issues, and the answers are responsive or pertinent to the questions propounded to said witnesses. (Orfanel vs. People, L-26877, Dec. 26, 1969, 30 SCRA 819).

51. When is a communication considered conditionally or qualifiedly privileged?

Conditionally or qualifiedly privileged communications are those which, although containing defamatory imputations, would not be actionable unless made with malice in fact or bad faith. It has, moreover, been held that there is malice when the defamer has been prompted by ill-will or spite and speaks not in response to duty, but merely to injure the reputation of the person defamed. (Orfanel vs. People, L-26877, Dec. 26, 1969, 30 SCRA 819).

52. Distinguish absolute privileged communications and qualified privileged communications.

In absolute privileged communications, the occasion is an absolute bar to the action, whereas, in the case of conditional or qualified privileged communications, the law raises only a prima facie presumption in favor of the occasion. In the former, the freedom from liability is absolute, regardless of the existence of express malice, as contrasted with the freedom in the latter class where it is conditioned on the want or absence of express malice.

In qualified privileged communications, there must be both an occasion of privilege and a use of that occasion in good faith, whereas, in absolute privileged communication, only an occasion of privilege is necessary. (Sison vs. David, No. L-1128, January 28, 1961)

53. What do qualifiedly privileged communications include?

The qualifiedly privileged communications include the following:

a. A private communication made by any person to another in the performance of any legal, moral or social duty (No. 1, Art. 354, RPC);

b. A fair and true report, made in good faith, without any comments or remarks, of any judicial, legislative, or other official proceedings which are not of confidential nature, or of any statement, report, or speech delivered in said proceedings, or of any other act performed by public officers in the exercise of their functions (No. 2, Art. 354, RPC).

54. Examples of a private communication made by any person to another in the performance of any legal, moral or social duty.

(a) A communication sent by an official to his immediate superior in the performance of a legal duty, as an explanation of a matter contained in an indorsement sent to him by his superior officer, although it employed a language somewhat harsh and uncalled for, is excusable in the interest of public policy, and is considered a privileged communication, for which the writer is not liable for damages. (Deano vs. Godinez, 12 SCRA 483).

(b) Complaint made in good faith against a priest to his ecclesiastical superior
allegedly for drunkenness, taking indecent liberties of women, illicit relations with a woman, and general immoral and indecent behavior, is privileged, even if the proof fails to establish the truth of the charges. The members of a religious organization have a moral duty to bring to the attention of the church authorities the misbehavior of their spiritual leaders or of fellow members. (U.S. vs. Canete, et al., 38 Phil. 253)

55. Example of a fair and true report, made in good faith, without any comments or remarks, of any judicial, legislative, or other official proceedings which are not of confidential nature, or of any statement, report, or speech delivered in said proceedings, or of any other act performed by public officers in the exercise of their functions.

A newspaper’s faithful and accurate summary of what was testified to by a witness in a pending rape case is not libelous.

No libel exists where the heading or title of a news item deemed not libelous, merely portrayed with accuracy what was in the news item. – Nor is a different conclusion called for just because the heading of the news item arising from the testimony of Jaime Jose was worded thus: “LINK CRISOLOGO SON TO PASAY RAPE CASE.” How else could it have been expressed? That was to portray with accuracy what was contained in the news item. What was testified to was to that effect. It succinctly set forth the facts. There was no attempt to sensationalize. The tone is both neutral and objective. (Elizalde vs. Gutierrez, 76 SCRA 448).

56. What public records may be published?

The privilege has been strictly limited to cases in which the right of access is secured by law, and in which the purpose and object of the law is to give publicity to the contents of the record or document in the interest, or for the protection, of the public generally (U.S. vs. Santos, 33 Phil. 533).

57. Is the publication of a record or document of a confidential nature privileged?

No. If the contents of the record or document, involved in any judicial, legislative or other official proceedings, are of confidential nature, they should not be published. Hence, the publication of confidential record containing libelous matter is not privileged.

58. Does the fact that a communication is privileged make it not actionable?

No. The fact that a communication is privileged does not mean that it is not actionable; the privileged character simply does away with the presumption of malice, which the plaintiff has to prove in such a case. (Lu Chu Sing, et al., vs. Lu Tiong Gui, 76 Phil. 669).

The character of the privilege is a matter of defense which may be lost by positive proof of express malice. In other words, the onus of proving actual malice is placed on the plaintiff who must then convince the court that the offender was prompted by malice or ill will. Once this is accomplished, the defense of privilege is unavailing. (Santos vs. CA, 203 SCRA 110).

59. How can the prosecution or plaintiff prove malice in fact, i.e. actual malice?

The existence of malice in fact may be shown by extrinsic evidence that the defendant bore a grudge against the offended party, or that there was rivalry or ill-feeling between them which existed at the date of the publication of the defamatory imputation, or that the defendant had an intention to injure the reputation of the offended party as shown by the words used and the circumstances attending the publication of the defamatory imputation.

60. Examples of the existence of malice in fact.

(a) The accused admitted that he was motivated by hate and revenge because the offended party instigated the filing of criminal cases against him, without which he would not have sent the communication at all. Malice in fact being present in this case, justifiable motives cannot exist and the communication becomes actionable. (People vs. Hogan, C.A., 55 O.G. 1597).

(b) Had the defendant been prompted by a sense of duty, and not because of
malice, the charge at least with respect to the alleged threat made against an American, should have been filed with the Senate or any of its Committees. The defendant did not do so but instead made the accusations publicly by causing them to be given widest publication by all the metropolitan newspapers, obviously in retaliation to the charge filed against him by the plaintiff with the Blue Ribbon Committee of the Senate. (Antonio vs. Valencia, 57 SCRA 70).

(c) Even if the letter report was in the nature of a qualified privileged
communication, such privilege is lost by proof of actual malice as in the case at bar. Moreover, said letter report lost its character as a qualified privileged communication the moment petitioner furnished copies thereof to several provincial and national government agencies which had no interest, right or duty in the prosecution of said charges and the general rule is that any written or printed statement falsely charging another with the commission of a crime is libelous per se. (Bravo vs. Court of Appeals, 208 SCRA 531).

(d) Another circumstance which militates against the petitioner’s pretensions of good faith and performance of a moral and social duty was his irresponsible act of letter writing to expose his alleged discovery of what he perceived to be an anomaly. When he saw the unsigned minutes of the association’s Board of Directors, he immediately sent out the assailed letters eventually culminating in the publication of the subject newsletter sans the verification which ordinary prudence demands. (Lacsa vs. IAC, 161 SCRA 427).

61. Is actual malice necessarily present if the statements are found to be false?

No. Even when the statements are found to be false if there is probable cause for belief in their truthfulness and the charge is made in good faith, the mantle of privilege may still cover the mistake of the individual. But the statement must be made under an honest sense of duty; a self-seeking motive is destructive. The duty under which a party is privileged is sufficient if it is social or moral in its nature and this person in good faith believes he is acting in pursuance thereof although in fact he is mistaken. (U.S. vs. Bustos, et al., 37 Phil. 731)

But when the defendant admitted that he had personally made no investigation with reference to the truth of many of the statements made in the communication to the Secretary of Justice, especially with reference to the statements based on the rumors that a judge and a fiscal received a bribe for dismissing a murder case, he had no reasonable ground for believing the charge made by him to be true. (U.S. vs. Bustos, 13 Phil. 690).

B. FAIR COMMENT ON MATTERS OF PUBLIC INTEREST

62. What is the rationale in making fair comment on matters of public interest privileged?

A matter of public interest is a common property, and hence anybody may express an opinion on it. Thus, it is a defense to an action for libel or slander that the words complained of are fair comment on a matter of public interest.

The conduct or acts of public officers which are related to the discharge of their official duties are matters of public interest. Defamatory remarks and comments on the conduct or acts of public officers which are related to the discharge of their official duties will not constitute libel if the defendant proves the truth of the imputation. Public acts of public men may lawfully be made the subjects of comment and criticism. If made in good faith, such criticism is privileged.

But any attack upon the private character of the public officer on matters which are not related to the discharge of their official functions may constitute libel (People vs. Del Fierro and Padilla, C.A. G.R. No. 3599-R, July 27, 1950). The right to criticize public officers does not authorize defamation. No one has the right to invade another’s privacy.

In defamation, where the acts imputed concern the private life of the individual, criminal intent is presumed to arise from the publication of defamatory matters, because no one has a right to invade another’s privacy; but where the imputation is based upon a matter of public interest, the presumption of criminal intent does not arise from the mere publication of defamatory matter. A matter of public interest is common property, and hence everybody may express an opinion on it. The public conduct of every public man is a matter of public concern. Libelous remarks or comments connected for one thing, with any speech or acts performed by officers in the exercise of their functions are not actionable, unless malice is proved. If it is shown that the imputation is either a false allegation of fact, or the expression of an opinion based upon mere conjecture, malicious intent is established. In order that a discreditable imputation to a public official may be actionable, it must be either a false allegation of fact or a comment based on a false supposition. If the comment is an expression of an opinion, based upon proven facts, then it is no matter that the opinion happens to be mistaken so long as it might be reasonably inferred from the facts. Comment may be fair, although wrong. So that the discreditable imputation may not be actionable, the fact upon which the comment is reasonably based should be actual facts, and not mere suppositions. (People vs. Velasco, C.A., 40 O.G. 3694)

C. FAIR COMMENT ON QUALIFICATIONS OF CANDIDATES FOR PUBLIC OFFICE

63. What is the rationale in making fair comment on qualifications of candidates for public office privileged?

The mental, moral and physical fitness of candidates for public office may be the object of comment and criticism, the very fact of candidacy putting these matters is issue and the public having a right to be informed as to the qualification of those who seek election, and perhaps appointment to public office. But if it appears that it was actuated by actual or express malice, and is defamatory in its nature, the comment or criticism constitutes a criminal libel. The freedom to such criticism is necessarily limited to fair comment, the latter being comment which is true, or which if false, expresses the real opinion of the author which is formed with a reasonable degree of care and on reasonable ground. (U.S. vs. Sedano, 14 Phil. 338)

D. APOLOGY OR RETRACTION

64. What is the effect of apology or retraction in an action for libel?

A retraction published to correct the mistake does not wipe out the responsibility arising from the publication of the libelous photograph or article, although it may and should mitigate it (Lopez vs. CA, 34 SCRA 116).

In order to have the desired effect, the retraction should contain an admission of the incorrectness or the falsity of the libelous publication and evince a desire to repair the wrong occasioned thereby. (Sotelo Matti vs. Bulletin Publishing Co., 37 Phil. 562)

A publication however of a retraction or apology on an agreement with the injured party that the aforesaid publication shall constitute a complete accord and satisfaction will bar the right of plaintiff to an action for damages.

E. RECTIFICATION

65. What is the effect of rectification?

Rectification or clarification does not wipe out the responsibilities arising from the publication of the first article, although, it may and should mitigate. (Jimenez vs. Reyes, 27 Phil. 52; Policarpio vs. Manila Times Publishing Co., Inc., 55 SCRA 148).

F. PROOF OF TRUTH

66. When is proof of truth a defense in libel?

Proof of truth is admissible as a defense in any of the following:

a. When the act or omission imputed constitutes a crime regardless of whether the offended party is a private individual or a public officer;

b. When the offended party is a government employee, even if the act or omission does not constitute a crime, provided it is related to the discharge of his official duties. (Art. 361, RPC)

But when the imputation involves the private life of a government employee which is not related to the discharge of his official functions, the offender can not prove the truth thereof.

67. Is proof of truth sufficient to acquit an accused in an action for libel?

No, proof of the truth is not enough. It is also required that the matter charged as libelous was published with good motives and for justifiable ends. (Art. 361, RPC)

G. SELF-DEFENSE

68. What is the prerequisite before “self-defense” can be invoked by an accused in an action for libel?

To justify one’s hitting back with another libel, there must be a showing that he has been libeled. (Fieldman’s Insurance Co., Inc. vs. Ku Nung, CA-G.R. No. 31559-R, May 26, 1964).

69. What is the rationale in allowing a person charged with libel to invoke “self-defense”?

In an honest endeavor to vindicate himself and his own interests a person is often privileged to make statements which would otherwise be regarded as defamatory. Thus, if one’s good name is assailed in a newspaper, he may reply defending himself, and if his reply is made in good faith, without malice and is not necessarily defamatory of his assailant, it is privileged. (People vs. Baja, CA, 40 O.G. Supp. 5, 206).

70. What are the limitations to “self-defense” in libel?

While a person may be legally justified in defending himself or his near relatives against libelous articles, nevertheless, he may not use offensive language against the libeler. And though a person may defend himself from charges made against him, he cannot make against his libeler a counterattack which contains libelous statements not pertinent to the matters charged in the attack. If he does, then he has exceeded his privilege and the law shall afford him no protection.

4 Comments

  • this is very helpful to person with complaint of libel done to him/her

  • Annalyn Labis

    hi goodevening meron po akong frnd hes already married n po but meron pi siyang anak sa dati niya gf ngayon po yong asawa niya ng accused po sa through txt kanya n ngplaplano po raw siya balikan ang dati niya karelasyon hindi po sila good term ng wife niya.consider po ba siya as a false allegations ?thnks po

  • Jose B. Flores

    Can the exercise by the People of their right to Petition the Government for the redress of their grievances considered spamming?

  • Brylle Nicdao

    Good day, Mr Flores, I have read in one of your comments about your father. I would like to ask more about him pertaining to his studies in Guagua National Colleges. Any information would be much appreciated. Kindly email me at ibnicdao02@gmail.com . Thank you.