Thursday, February 20, 2014

Slander by deed - G.R. No. 160351

See - G.R. No. 160351

"x x x.

The next issue that faces this Court is whether or not petitioner’s act of poking a dirty finger at complainant constitutes grave slander by deed.

Following the same principle as enunciated in our foregoing discussion of the first issue, we find petitioner guilty only of slight slander by deed in Criminal Case No. 140-94 inasmuch as we find complainant’s unjust refusal to sign petitioner’s application for monetization and her act of throwing a coke bottle at him constituted a perceived provocation that triggered the “poking of finger” incident.

Article 359 of the Revised Penal Code provides:

Art. 359. Slander by deed. – The penalty of arresto mayor in its maximum period to prision correccional in its minimum period or a fine ranging from 200 to 1,000 pesos shall be imposed upon any person who shall perform any act not included and punished in this title, which shall cast dishonor, discredit, or contempt upon another person. If said act is not of a serious nature, the penalty shall bearresto menor or a fine not exceeding 200 pesos.

Slander by deed is a crime against honor, which is committed by performing any act, which casts dishonor, discredit, or contempt upon another person.  The elements are (1) that the offender performs any act not included in any other crime against honor, (2) that such act is performed in the presence of other person or persons, and (3) that such act casts dishonor, discredit or contempt upon the offended party.  Whether a certain slanderous act constitutes slander by deed of a serious nature or not, depends on the social standing of the offended party, the circumstances under which the act was committed, the occasion, etc.[32]  It is libel committed by actions rather than words.  The most common examples are slapping someone or spitting on his/her face in front of the public market, in full view of a crowd, thus casting dishonor, discredit, and contempt upon the person of another.

In Mari v. Court of Appeals,[33] complainant and petitioner were co-employees in the Department of Agriculture, with office at Digos, Davao del Sur, although complainant occupied a higher position.  On 6 December 1991, petitioner borrowed from complainant the records of his 201 file. However, when he returned the same three days later, complainant noticed that several papers were missing which included official communications from the Civil Service Commission and Regional Office, Department of Agriculture, and a copy of the complaint by the Rural Bank of Digos against petitioner.  Upon instruction of her superior officer, complainant sent a memorandum to petitioner asking him to explain why his 201 file was returned with missing documents.  Instead of acknowledging receipt of the memorandum, petitioner confronted complainant and angrily shouted at her: "Putang ina, bullshit, bugo."  He banged a chair in front of complainant and choked her.  With the intervention of the security guard, petitioner was prevailed upon to desist from further injuring complainant.  We held:

Prescinding from the foregoing, it would serve the ends of justice better if the petitioner were sentenced to pay a fine instead of imprisonment.  The offense while considered serious slander by deed was done in the heat of anger and was in reaction to a perceived provocation.  The penalty for serious slander by deed may be either imprisonment or a fine.  We opt to impose a fine.

ACCORDINGLY, the Court hereby SETS ASIDE the decision of the Court of Appeals and in lieu thereof renders judgment finding petitioner guilty beyond reasonable doubt of serious slander by deed defined and penalized under Article 359 of the Revised Penal Code, and sentencing him to pay a fine of P1,000.00, with subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency.[34]  (Emphasis supplied.)

In Mari, the Court found petitioner guilty of serious slander by deed defined and penalized under Article 359 of the Revised Penal Code, and sentenced him to pay a fine of P1,000.00, with subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency.  The deed involved was the banging of a chair in front of complainant and choking her.

In another case, Teodoro v. Court of Appeals,[35] the incident, which gave rise to this case, is narrated as follows:

Petitioner Amado B. Teodoro was vice-president and corporate secretary of the DBT-Marbay Construction, Inc., while complainant, Carolina Tanco-Young, was treasurer of the same corporation. Petitioner is the brother of the president of the corporation, Donato Teodoro, while complainant is the daughter of the chairman of the board of the corporation, Agustin Tanco. x x x

Records show that the incident complained of took place at the Board Room of the D.B.T. Mar Bay Construction Incorporated in the afternoon of August 17, 1984.  Present at the meeting were Agustin Tanco, Chairman of the Board; the President, Donato Teodoro; the accused, Amado Teodoro, as Corporate Secretary; the complainant, Carolina Tanco-Young who is the Treasurer; and one OscarBenares.

x x x

It appears that there was a controversial document being insisted upon by the accused, as secretary, to be signed by the chairman.  The Board Treasurer, Carolina Tanco-Young questioned the propriety of having the document signed as there was, according to her, no such meeting that ever took place as to show a supposed resolution to have been deliberated upon.  A verbal exchange of words and tirades took place between the accused Secretary and the Treasurer.  One word led to another up to the point where Carolina Tanco-Young, the treasurer, either by implication or expressed domineering words, alluded to the accused as a "falsifier" which blinded the accused-appellant to extreme anger and rage, thus leading him to slap Tanco-Young — the alleged name caller.[36]  (Emphasis supplied.)

This Court in Teodoro held that there was grave slander by deed.

In another case, the acts of pushing and slapping a woman in order to ridicule and shame her before other people constitute the felony of slander by deed defined and penalized under Article 359 of the Revised Penal Code by arresto mayor in its maximum period to prision correccional in its minimum period.[37]

In the cases as above-cited, there was no provocation on the part of the complainants unlike the present case.  Moreover, the “poking of the finger” in the case at bar was, palpably, of less serious magnitude compared to the banging of chair, the choking in Mari and the slapping of a face inTeodoro.  Thus, we find that the poking of dirty finger in the case at bar, while it smacks of slander by deed, is of a lesser magnitude than the acts committed in the foregoing cases.

Moreover, pointing a dirty finger ordinarily connotes the phrase “Fuck You,” which is similar to the expression “Puta” or “Putang Ina mo,” in local parlance.  Such expression was not held to be libelous in Reyes v. People,[38]  where the Court said that:  “This is a common enough expression in the dialect that is often employed, not really to slander but rather to express anger or displeasure.  It is seldom, if ever, taken in its literal sense by the hearer, that is, as a reflection on the virtues of a mother.”  Following Reyes, and in light of the fact that there was a perceived provocation coming from complainant, petitioner’s act of pointing a dirty finger at complainant constitutes simple slander by deed, it appearing from the factual milieu of the case that the act complained of was employed by petitioner "to express anger or displeasure" at complainant for procrastinating the approval of his leave monetization. While it may have cast dishonor, discredit or contempt upon complainant, said act is not of a serious nature, thus, the penalty shall be arresto menor meaning, imprisonment from one day to 30 days or a fine not exceeding P200.00. We opt to impose a fine following Mari.[39]

Yes, complainant was then a Vice-Mayor and a lady at that, which circumstances ordinarily demanded respect from petitioner.  But, it was, likewise, her moral obligation springing from such position to act in a manner that is worthy of respect. In the case at bar, complainant’s demeanor of refusing to sign the leave monetization of petitioner, an otherwise valid claim, because of a political discord smacks of a conduct unbecoming of a lady and a Vice-Mayor at that.  Moreover, it appears that she had, indeed, thrown a bottle of coke at petitioner, which actuation reveals that she, too, had gone down to petitioner’s level.

Holding an esteemed position is never a license to act capriciously with impunity.  The fact that there was a squabble between petitioner and complainant, both high-ranking local public officials, that a verbal brawl ostensibly took place, speaks very poorly of their self-control and public relations.  For this, they both deserve to be censured and directed to conduct themselves in a more composed manner and keep their pose as befits ranking officials who officially deal with the public.[40]

To be worthy of respect, one must act respectably, remembering always that courtesy begets courtesy.

Anent the award of damages, the Court of Appeals erred in increasing the award of moral damages to P100,000.00 in light of its own finding that petitioner himself was “a victim of complainant’s indiscretion for her refusal, for no reason at all, to approve petitioner’s application for monetization of his accrued leave credits.”  

In similar fashion, considering that petitioner and complainant belong to warring political camps, occasional gestures and words of disapproval or dislike are among the hazards of the job.[41] Considering this political reality and the fact that the Court of Appeals concluded, based on evidence on records, that petitioner himself was a victim of complainant’s indiscretion, her claim for damages and attorney’s fees must, likewise, fail.  Akin to the principle that “he who comes to court must have clean hands,” each of the parties, in the case at bar, must bear his own loss.
 x x x."