Thursday, February 20, 2014

Oral defamation, slander - G.R. No. 160351

See - G.R. No. 160351

"x x x.

The issues are: (1) whether the Court of Appeals erred in sustaining the conviction of petitioner for grave oral defamation in Criminal Case No. 139-94, and (2) whether the Court of Appeals erred in sustaining the conviction of petitioner for serious slander by deed in Criminal Case No. 140-94.

Anent the first issue, Article 358 of the Revised Penal Code provides:

Art. 358. Slander. – Oral defamation shall be punished by arresto mayor in its maximum period to prision correccional in its minimum period if it is of a serious and insulting nature; otherwise, the penalty shall be arresto menor or a fine not exceeding 200 pesos.

Slander is libel committed by oral (spoken) means, instead of in writing. The term oral defamation or slander as now understood, has been defined as the speaking of base and defamatory words which tend to prejudice another in his reputation, office, trade, business or means of livelihood.[20]

There is grave slander when it is of a serious and insulting nature.  The gravity of the oral defamation depends not only (1) upon the expressions used, but also (2) on the personal relations of the accused and the offended party, and (3) the circumstances surrounding the case.[21]  Indeed, it is a doctrine of ancient respectability that defamatory words will fall under one or the other, depending not only upon their sense, grammatical significance, and accepted ordinary meaning judging them separately, but also upon the special circumstances of the case, antecedents or relationship between the offended party and the offender, which might tend to prove the intention of the offender at the time.[22]

In our previous rulings, we held that the social standing and position of the offended party are also taken into account and thus, it was held that the slander was grave, because the offended party had held previously the Office of Congressman, Governor, and Senator and was then a candidate for Vice-President,[23] for which no amount of sophistry would take the statement out of the compass of grave oral defamation.[24]  However, we have, likewise, ruled in the past that uttering defamatory words in the heat of angerwith some provocation on the part of the offended party constitutes only a light felony.[25]

In the case at bar, as a public official, petitioner, who was holding the position of Councilor at that time, is hidebound to be an exemplar to society against the use of intemperate language particularly because the offended party was a Vice-Mayor.  However, we cannot keep a blind eye to the fact that such scathing words were uttered by him in the heat of anger triggered by the fact, as found by the Court of Appeals, that complainant refused, without valid justification to approve the monetization of accrued leave credits of petitioner.  In a manner of speaking, she sowed the wind that reaped the storm.

          In the words of the Court of Appeals:

The already existing animosity between them does not vest in the complainant the prerogative to deny petitioner a right to which he was legally entitled.  Exemplary damages cannot be recovered as a matter of right.  They are designed to permit the court to mould behavior that has socially deleterious consequences.  Its imposition is required by public policy to suppress the wanton acts of the offender. It cannot be invoked as a matter of right. x x x [26]

The above findings of fact of the Court of Appeals supported by substantial evidence are conclusive and binding on the parties and are not reviewable by this Court.[27]  Considering this finding, the Court of Appeals not only should have struck out the award of exemplary damages but should have modified as well the offense committed to be of simple nature punishable by arresto mayor or a fine not exceeding P200.00 under the above-quoted Art. 358 of the Revised Penal Code.

In Pader v. People,[28] complainant was conversing with his political leaders at the terrace of his house at Morong, Bataan, when petitioner appeared at the gate and shouted “putang ina mo Atty. Escolango.  Napakawalanghiya mo!”  The latter was dumbfounded and embarrassed.  At that time, Atty. Escolango was a candidate for Vice Mayor of Morong, Bataan in the elections of 8 May 1995. We held that the offense committed was only slight slander.  We explained why in this wise:
The issue is whether petitioner is guilty of slight or serious oral defamation.  In resolving the issue, we are guided by a doctrine of ancient respectability that defamatory words will fall under one or the other, depending not only upon their sense, grammatical significance, and accepted ordinary meaning judging them separately, but also upon the special circumstances of the case, antecedents or relationship between the offended party and the offender, which might tend to prove the intention of the offender at the time.
Unquestionably, the words uttered were defamatory.  Considering, however, the factual backdrop of the case, the oral defamation was only slight.  The trial court, in arriving at its decision, considered that the defamation was deliberately done to destroy Atty. Escolango’s reputation since the parties were political opponents.
We do not agree.  Somehow, the trial court failed to appreciate the fact that the parties were also neighbors; that petitioner was drunk at the time he uttered the defamatory words; and the fact that petitioner’s anger was instigated by what Atty. Escolango did when petitioner’s father died.  In which case, the oral defamation was not of serious or insulting nature.
In Reyes v. People [137 Phil. 112, 120 (1969)], we ruled that the expression “putang ina mo” is a common enough utterance in the dialect that is often employed, not really to slander but rather to express anger or displeasure.  In fact, more often, it is just an expletive that punctuates one’s expression of profanity.  We do not find it seriously insulting that after a previous incident involving his father, a drunk Rogelio Pader on seeing Atty. Escolango would utter words expressing anger.  Obviously, the intention was to show his feelings of resentment and not necessarily to insult the latter.  Being a candidate running for vice mayor, occasional gestures and words of disapproval or dislike of his person are not uncommon.
In similar fashion, the trial court erred in awarding moral damages without proof of suffering. Accordingly, petitioner may be convicted only of slight oral defamation defined and penalized under Article 358, Revised Penal Code, prescribing the penalty of arresto mayor or a fine not exceeding 200 pesos.[29] (Emphasis supplied.)

Similarly, in Cruz v. Court of Appeals,[30]  petitioner and complainant, a Municipal Judge, were next door neighbors.  Animosity grew between their two families because of some disputes. Petitioner resented the practice of complainant of throwing garbage and animal excrement into her premises. There was also a boundary dispute between petitioner's mother and complainant, which was the subject of a civil suit for "Recovery of Possession, Ownership, Enforcement of Legal Easement and Abatement of Nuisance" filed by the mother before the Court of First Instance of Iloilo against complainant.  Additionally, petitioner's mother had previously instituted an administrative complaint against the complainant before the Supreme Court, but the same was dismissed.  There was a pent-up feeling of being aggrieved, resentment, anger, and vexation on petitioner's part, culminating in her outburst against complainants.  For having called the complainant judge "land grabber," "shameless" and "hypocrite," petitioner was charged and subsequently convicted by the Court of First Instance of three separate offenses of Grave Oral Defamation committed on 5, 6 and 8 August 1976.  On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed the verdicts of conviction.  On review, however, we held that although the abusive remarks may ordinarily be considered as serious defamation, under the environmental circumstances of the case, there having been provocation on complainant's part, and the utterances complained of having been made in the heat of unrestrained anger and obfuscation, petitioner is liable only for the crime of Slight Oral Defamation.  Petitioner was sentenced to pay a fine of P200.00 in each of the criminal cases, with subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency, and to pay the costs.

Guided by the foregoing precedents, we find petitioner guilty only of slight oral defamationbecause of the attendant circumstances in the case at bar.

Lest we be misconstrued, the Court does not condone the vilification or use of scurrilous language on the part of petitioner, but following the rule that all possible circumstances favorable to the accused must be taken in his favor, it is our considered view that the slander committed by petitioner can be characterized as slight slander following the doctrine that uttering defamatory words in the heat of anger, with some provocation on the part of the offended party, constitutes only a light felony.[31] 

In fact, to be denied approval of monetization of leave without valid justification, but as an offshoot of a political dissension may have been vexing for petitioner and may have been perceived by him as provocation that triggered him to blow his top and utter those disparaging words.  In hindsight, to be denied monetization of leave credits must have stirred upon the petitioner a feeling akin to begging for money that he was legally entitled to.  This oppressive conduct on the part of complainant must have scarred petitioner’s self-esteem, too, to appear as begging for money.  But again, this is not an excuse to resort to intemperate language no matter how such embarrassment must have wreaked havoc on his ego.
x x x."