Thursday, September 17, 2015

Penalty for libel limited to fine; damages awarded.


“x x x.

Under Art. 360 of the RPC, as Tulfo, the author of the subject articles, has been found guilty of libel, so too must Cambri, Salao, Barlizo, and Pichay.

Though we find petitioners guilty of the crime charged, the punishment must still be tempered with justice.Petitioners are to be punished for libel for the first time. They did not apply for probation to avoid service of sentence possibly in the belief that they have not committed any crime. In Buatis, Jr. v. People, G.R. No. 1409, March , 2006, 485 SCRA 275,  the Court, in a criminal case for libel, removed the penalty of imprisonment and instead imposed a fine as penalty. In Sazon v. Court of Appeals,G.R. No. 120715, March 29, 1996, 255 SCRA 692, the accused was merely fined in lieu of the original penalty of imprisonment and fine. Freedom of expression as well as freedom of the press may not be unrestrained, but neither must it be reined in too harshly. In light of this, considering the necessity of a free press balanced with the necessity of a responsible press, the penalty of a fine of PhP 6,000 for each count of libel, with subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency, should suffice. (Administrative Circular No. 08-2008. See Fermin v. People, G.R. No. 157643, March 28, 2008). Lastly, the responsibilities of the members of the press notwithstanding, the difficulties and hazards they encounter in their line of work must also be taken into consideration.

The award of damages by the lower court must be modified. Art. 2199 of the Civil Code provides, Except as provided by law or by stipulation, one is entitled to an adequate compensation only for such pecuniary loss suffered by him as he has duly proved. Such compensation is referred to as actual or compensatory damages. There was no showing of any pecuniary loss suffered by the complainant Atty. So. Without proof of actual loss that can be measured, the award of actual damages cannot stand.

In Del Mundo v. Court of Appeals,   G.R. No. 1045676, January 20, 1995, 0 SCRA 348, 356-357, it was held, as regards actual and moral damages:

A party is entitled to an adequate compensation for such pecuniary loss actually suffered by him as he has duly proved. Such damages, to be recoverable, must not only be capable of proof, but must actually be proved with a reasonable degree of certainty. We have emphasized that these damages cannot be presumed, and courts, in making an award must point out specific facts which could afford a basis for measuring whatever compensatory or actual damages are borne.

Moral damages, upon the other hand, may be awarded to compensate one for manifold injuries such as physical suffering, mental anguish, serious anxiety, besmirched reputation, wounded feelings and social humiliation. These damages must be understood to be in the concept of grants, not punitive or corrective in nature, calculated to compensate the claimant for the injury suffered. Although incapable of exactness and no proof of pecuniary loss is necessary in order that moral damages may be awarded, the amount of indemnity being left to the sound discretion of the court, it is imperative, nevertheless, that (1) injury must have been suffered by the claimant, and (2) such injury must have sprung from any of the cases expressed in Article 2219 and Article 2220 of the Civil Code. A causal relation, in fine, must exist between the act or omission referred to in the Code which underlies, or gives rise to, the case or proceeding on the one hand, and the resulting injury, on the other hand; i.e. the first must be the proximate cause and the latter the direct consequence thereof.

It was the articles of Tulfo that caused injury to Atty. So, and for that Atty. So deserves the award of moral damages. Justification for the award of moral damages is found in Art. 2219(7) of the Civil Code, which states that moral damages may be recovered in cases of libel, slander, or any other form of defamation. As the cases involved are criminal cases of libel, they fall squarely within the ambit of Art. 2219(7).

Moral damages can be awarded even in the absence of actual or compensatory damages. The fact that no actual or compensatory damage was proven before the trial court does not adversely affect the offended partys right to recover moral damages. (Patricio v. Leviste, G.R. No. 51832, April 26, 1989, 172 SCRA 774, 781).

 X x x.”