Thursday, September 17, 2015

LIBEL; elements of; accused acquitted; victim not clearly identified in the libelous article.

OGIE DIAZ vs. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, G.R. No. 159787, May 25, 2007

“x x x.

On May 12, 1998, the trial court rendered its judgment convicting petitioner and Pichel of the crime charged. The dispositive portion reads:

WHEREFORE, in view of the above discussion and findings, the Court finds both accused Manny Pichel and Ogie Diaz guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of libel, defined in Article 353 and penalized under Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, and hereby sentences each of them to suffer an indeterminate penalty of SIX (6) MONTHS AND ONE (1) DAY as minimum to FOUR (4) YEARS AND TWO (2) MONTHS of prision correcional in its Minimum and Medium Periods, as maximum and to pay a fine of P3,000.00 each.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals, in its Decision, sustained the conviction of petitioner but acquitted Pichel.

X  x x.

Hence, the instant petition for review on certiorari.

The sole issue for our resolution is whether the subject article is libelous.
Article 353 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, provides:

ART. 353. Definition of libel. – A libel is 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.

This provision should be read in relation with Article 355 of the same Code which states:

ART. 355. Libel by means of writings or similar means. – A libel committed by means of writing, printing, lithography, engraving, radio, phonograph, painting, theatrical exhibition, cinematographic exhibition, or any similar means, shall be punished by prision correccional in its minimum and medium periods or a fine ranging from 200 to 6,000 pesos, or both, in addition to the civil action which may be brought by the offended party.

Thus, for an imputation to be libelous, the following requisites must be present: (a) it must be defamatory; (b) it must be malicious; (c) it must be given publicity; and (d) the victim must be identifiable. (Novicio v. Aggabao, G.R. No. 141332, December 11, 2003, 418 SCRA 138, 143, citing Alonzo v. Court of Appeals, 241 SCRA 51 (1995)Absent one of these elements, a case for libel will not prosper.

We find the first element present. 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 the persons reading them, unless it appears that they were used and understood in another sense. (Novicio v. Aggabaoid.). In the instant case, the article in question details the sexual activities of a certain "Miss S" and one "Philip Henson" who had a romantic liaison. In their ordinary sense, the words used cast aspersion upon the character, integrity, and reputation of "Miss S." The words convey that "Miss S" is a sexual libertine with unusually wanton proclivities in the bedroom. In a society such as ours, where modesty is still highly prized among young ladies, the behavior attributed to "Miss S" by the article in question had besmirched both her character and reputation.

As to the element of malice, we find that since on its face the article is defamatory, there is a presumption that the offender acted with malice. In Article 354 of the same Code, 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. There is malice when the author of the imputation is prompted by personal ill-will or spite and speaks not in response to duty but merely to injure the reputation of the person who claims to have been defamed. (Alonzo v. Court of Appeals, supra.). We agree with the Court of Appeals that there was neither good reason nor motive why the subject article was written except to embarrass "Miss S" and injure her reputation.
On the element of publication, there can be no question that the article appeared in the December 28, 1991 issue ofBandera, a local tabloid.

The last element of libel is that the victim is identified or identifiable from the contents of the libelous article. In order to maintain a libel suit, it is essential that the victim be identifiable, although it is not necessary that the person be named. 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 the person alluded to, or if the latter is pointed out by extraneous circumstances so that those knowing such person could and did understand that he was the person referred to. (Borjal v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 126466, January 14, 1999, 301 SCRA 1; Corpus v. Cuaderno, Sr., No. L-16969, April 30, 1966, 16 SCRA 807; People v. Monton, No. L-16772, November 30, 1962, 6 SCRA 801).  Kunkle v. Cablenews-American and Lyons, 42 Phil. 757 (1922), laid the rule that this requirement is complied with where a third person recognized or could identify the party vilified in the article.

The libelous article, while referring to "Miss S," does not give a sufficient description or other indications which identify "Miss S." In short, the article fails to show that "Miss S" and Florinda Bagay are one and the same person.

Although the article is libelous, we find that Florinda Bagay could not have been the person defamed therein. In Uy Tioco v. Yang Shu Wen, 32 Phil. 624 (1915), we held that where the requirement for an identified or identifiable victim has not been complied with, the case for libel must be dismissed.

X x x.”