Tuesday, May 26, 2015

LIBEL; elements; when privileged communication inapplicable.

"x x x.

All the requisites of the crime of libel are obtaining in this case. 

A libel is defined as “a public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of 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.⁠1 “For an imputation to be libelous, the following requisites must concur: a) it must be defamatory; b) it must be malicious; c) it must be given publicity; and d) the victim must be identifiable.”⁠2 

The Court finds the four aforementioned requisites to be present in this case.

As to the first requisite, we find the subject memorandum defamatory. An allegation is considered defamatory if it ascribes to a person the commission of a crime, the possession of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status or circumstance which tends to dishonor or discredit or put him in contempt or which tends to blacken the memory of one who is dead. “In determining whether a statement is defamatory, the words used 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 them, unless it appears that they were used and understood in another sense.”⁠3 

In the present case, the subject memorandum dealt more on the supposedly abnormal behavior of the private respondent which to an ordinary reader automatically means a judgment of mental deficiency. As the Sandiganbayan correctly ruled:

xxx To stress, the words used could not be interpreted to mean other than what they intend to say – that Martinez has psychiatric problems and needs psychological and/or psychiatric treatment: otherwise her mental and emotional stability would further deteriorate. As the law does not make, any distinction whether the imputed defect/condition is real or imaginary, no other conclusion can be reached, except that accused Lagaya. in issuing the Memorandum. ascribes unto Martinez a vice, defect, condition, or circumstance which tends to dishonor, discredit, or put her in ridicule, xxx⁠4 

The element of malice was also established. “Malice, which is the doing of an act conceived in the spirit of mischief or criminal indifference to the rights of others or which must partake of a criminal or wanton nature, is presumed from any defamatory imputation, particularly when it injures the reputation of the person defamed.”⁠5 As early on, the Court had perused the second paragraph contained in the subject memorandum and since the same, on its face, shows the injurious nature of the imputations to the private respondent, there is then a presumption that petitioner acted with malice. Under Article 354 of the RPC, every defamatory imputation is presumed to be malicious, even if it be true, if no good intention and justifiable motive for making it is shown.

To buttress his defense of lack of malice, petitioner claimed that when he issued the memorandum, he was motivated by good intention to help private respondent and improve PITAHC. Such goodness, however, is not sufficient justification considering the details of the entire contents of the memorandum. Thus, in United States v. Prautch,⁠6 it was held that “[t]he existence of justifiable motives is a question which has to be decided by taking into consideration not only the intention of the author of the publication but all the other circumstances of each particular case.”⁠7 Certainly, the second paragraph in the memorandum was not encompassed by the subject indicated therein (Disclosure and Misuse of Confidential and Classified Information) and likewise was riot even germane to the privatization of PITAHC. At this juncture, the observation of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 83622, an Administrative Case filed against herein petitioner based on the same set of facts and circumstances, is worth noting, viz:

x x x If. indeed, petitioner was merely disseminating information to the Manager and Staff of HPP’s under the administration of PITAHC, as he claims, he could have just stated in plain terms the current status of HPP’s to counter the alleged misinformation such as what plans, recommendations and steps are being considered by the PITAHC about the HPP’s, any developments regarding the decision-making process with the assurance that the concerns of those employees involved or will be affected by a possible abolition or reorganization are properly addressed, and similar matters and just stopped there. Casting aspersion on the mental state of private respondent who herself may just be needing plain and simple clarification from a superior like petitioner who is no less the Director of the PITAHC. is totally uncalled for and done in poor taste.

x x x Far from discharging his public duties “in good faith” petitioner succeeded only in ruining beyond repair the reputation of private respondent and attack her very person — the condition of her mental faculties and emotional being — not only by circulating the memo in their offices nationwide but even personally distributed and made sure that the Manager and Staff of the HPP in Tuguegarao where private respondent works, have all read the memo in his presence. It is unbelievable that a public official would stoop so low and diminish his stature by such unethical, inconsiderate, and unfair act against a co-worker in the public service.

x x x x

We fully concur with the Ombudsman’s declaration that short of using the word “‘insane,” the statements- in the memo unmistakably imply that the alleged unauthorized disclosure by private respondent of supposedly classified information regarding the fate of the HPP’s is simply an external manifestation of her deteriorating mental and emotional condition. Petitioner thereby announced to all the employees of the agency that such alleged infraction by private respondent only confirms the findings of their consultant that private respondent is suffering from mental and emotional imbalance, even instructing them to report any information related to private respondent’s “psychiatric behavior.”⁠8 

This CA ruling in the Administrative Case which had already attained its finality on November 30, 2004″⁠9 has effectively and decisively determined the issue of malice in the present petition. We see no cogent reason why this Court should not be bound by it. In Constantino v. Sandiganbayan (First Division)⁠10 the Court ruled:

Although the instant case involves a criminal charge whereas Constantino involved an administrative charge, still the findings in the latter case are binding herein because the same set of facts are the subject of both cases. What is decisive is that the issues already litigated in a final and executory judgment preclude — by the principle of bar by prior judgment, an aspect of the doctrine of res judicata. and even under the doctrine of “law of the case,” — the re-litigation of the same issue in another action. It is well established that when a right or fact has been judicially tried and determined by a court of competent jurisdiction, so long as it remains unreversed. it should be conclusive upon the parties and those in privity with them. The dictum therein laid down became the law of the case and what was once irrevocably established as the controlling legal rule or decision continues to be binding between the same parties as long as the facts on which the decision was predicated continue to be the facts of the case before the court. Hence, the binding effect and enforceability of that dictum can no longer be resurrected anew since such issue had already been resolved and finally laid to rest, if not by the principle of res judicata. at least by conclusiveness of judgment. (Citations omitted.)

The element of publication was also proven. “Publication, in the law of libel, means the making of the defamatory matter, after it has been written, known to someone other than the person to whom it has been written.”⁠11 On the basis of the evidence on record and as found by the Sandiganbayan, there is no dispute that copies of the memorandum containing the defamatory remarks were circulated to all the regional offices of the HPP. Evidence also shows that petitioner allowed the distribution of the subject memorandum and even read the contents thereof before a gathering at a meeting attended by more or less 24 participants thereat.

Anent the last element, that is, the identity of the offended party, there is no doubt that the private respondent was the person referred to by the defamatory remarks as she was in fact, particularly named therein.

Privileged Communication Rule is not applicable in this case. 

Petitioner tenaciously argues that the disputed memorandum is not libelous since it is covered by the privileged communication rule. He avers that memorandum is an official act done in good faith, an honest innocent statement arising from a moral and legal obligation.

Petitioner’s invocation of the rule on privileged communication is misplaced.
Article 354 of the RPC provides:

Article 354; Requirement for publicity— Every defamatory imputation is presumed to be malicious, even if it be true, if no good intention and justifiable motive for making it is shown, except in the following cases:

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

2. 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.

Before a statement would come within the ambit of a privileged communication under paragraph No, 1 of the abovequoted Article 354, it must be established that: “1) the person who made the communication had a legal, moral or social duty to make the communication, or at least, had an interest to protect, which interest may either be his own or of the one to whom it is made; 2) the communication is addressed to an officer or a board, or superior, having some interest or duty in the matter, and who has the power to furnish the protection sought: and 3) the statements in the communication are made in good faith and without malice.”⁠12 All these requisites must concur.

In the instant case, petitioner addressed the memorandum not only to the Plant Manager but also to the staff of HPP. Undoubtedly, the staff of HPP were not petitioner’s superiors vested’ with the power of supervision over the private respondent. Neither were they the parties to whom die information should be given for they have no authority to inquire into the veracity of the charges. As aptly observed by theSandiganbayan, the memorandum is not simply addressed to an officer, a board or a superior. Rather, the communication was addressed to all the staff of PITAHC who obviously do not have the power to furnish the protection sought.⁠13 Substantially, the Court finds no error in the foregoing findings. The irresponsible act of furnishing the staff a copy of the memorandum is enough circumstance which militates against the petitioner’s pretension of good faith and performance of a moral and social duty. As further held in Brillante,⁠14 the law requires that for a defamatory imputation made out of a legal, moral or social duty to be privileged, such statement must be communicated only to the person or persons who have some interest or duty in the matter alleged and who have the power to furnish the protection sought by the author, of the statement. It may not be amiss to note at this point too that petitioner very well knows that the recommendation of PITAHC’s consultant, McGimpers, is a sensitive matter that should be treated with strictest confidentiality.⁠15 

Neither does the defamatory statement in the memorandum covered by paragraph No. 2 of the Article 354. Though private respondent is a public officer, certainly, the defamatory remarks are not related or relevant to the discharge of her official duties but was purely an attack on her mental condition which adversely reflect on her reputation and dignity.

Imposition of the penalty of fine instead of imprisonment. 

Notwithstanding the guilt of the petitioner, still the Court finds favorable consideration on his argument that instead of imprisonment a fine should be imposed on him.

Following precedents16 and considering that the records do not show that petitioner has previously violated any provision of the penal laws, the Court, in the exercise of its judicious discretion, imposes upon him a penalty of fine instead of imprisonment.

x x x."

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