This will probably by the first of many. My first law blog-lecture.
Of course, I will not lecture my entire law school curriculum here. Just those useful to bloggers. And of course, I can only cover Philippine laws. So are you ready class? Let us begin.
Libel is defined in Article 353 of the Philippine Revised Penal Code as follows:
A libel is a public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act or 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.
For an imputation then to be libelous, hence criminal, 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.
By requisites, we mean, all of these must be present in any potential case for libel. Hence, there is no libel of any one of these is absent.
Let us tackle each requisite in seriatim (one after another, in series):
1. Defamatory Imputation
According to Article 353, a defamatory imputation attributes to any legal person (natural or jurdical; alive or dead), any of the following (aka, let’s break it down…):
a. a crime (ex. Mr. X is an estafador, a murderer or [insert your favorite crime here];
b. a vice (ex. Ms. I is an alcoholic, a drug addict, a compulsive gambler, etc.)
c. a defect (ex. Mr. Z’s has only four toenails, or has low sperm count)
d. any act or ommission (ex. Mr. S does/does not donate to the sperm bank, Mr. E conned me out of 50 bucks, etc.)
e. a condition (ex. Mr. MT is pscho, OC or AR)
f. a status (ex. Mr. BF is a bar/board-flunker, an ex-con or an ex-convento)
g. a circumstance (ex. Ms. BK’s car got repossessed, etc.)
that tends to cause the one defamed dishonor, discredit, or contempt. If the person is dead, the foregoing tends to blacken his memory.
The important thing is the effect. If such imputation tends to the dishonor, discredit or contempt, or if the person is dead, tends to blacken his memory, the imputation is defamatory.
The characterization of a statement being defamatory is likewise important because of the next portion.
2. Malicious Intent
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.
Under Philippine laws, every defamatory imputation as stated above is presumed to be malicious, even if true, if no good intention and justifiable motive for making it is shown. Hence, if the imputation is qualified under No. 1, malice is presumed and need not be proven. The burden, then, to prove that it is not malicious shifts to the one accused (the one who made the defamatory imputation).
Truth is therefore not a defense, unless it is shown that the matter charged as libelous was made with good motives and for justifiable ends. Article 361 of the Revised Penal Code provides, in part, as follows:
“ART. 361. Proof of truth. — In every criminal prosecution for libel, the truth may be given in evidence to the court and if it appears that the matter charged as libelous is true, and, moreover, that it was published with good motives and for justifiable ends, the defendant shall be acquitted.”
This presumtion is not applicable to all cases. In the following situations, however, malice, is not presumed and must, therefore, be also proved to make a libel case:
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.
The privileged character of these communications is not absolute, but merely qualified since they could still be shown to be malicious by proof of actual malice or malice in fact. Here, the burden of proof to prove malice is on the plaintiff or the prosecution.
Publication means “to make public; to make known to people in general; to bring before the public.” In the Philippines, the act of communicating the imputation to a third person already constitutes publication. In letters and correspondences, the cc: is enough to be considered publication.
Specifically put, publication in the law of libel means the making known of the defamatory matter, after it has been written, to some person other than the person of whom it is written. If the statement is sent straight to a person of whom it is written, there is no publication of it.
Putting it out in a blog is definitely publication because third persons definitely read it.
The reason for this is a communication of the defamatory matter to the person defamed cannot injure his reputation though it may wound his self-esteem.
What is punished in libel is the destruction of his reputation, what others think of him and not what he thinks of himself (his self-esteem). The only way that is accomplished is by attacking his good name in public.
4. The person defamed must be identified
Face it. The only way ruin one’s reputation to actually identify the person. Each person’s reputation is unique. If the character attack is general (all/some generals/government officials/[insert your favorite character] are corrupt/immoral/etc.), there is really no particular reputation destroyed. Hence, to prove libel the victim thereof must be identified.
Remember, identified does not equal named. If the description is precise enough that people will make no mistake or reasonably conclude that it is a particular person, there is already identification even if no names were mentioned.
The principles of libel become a little bit more complicated when the victim is a public official. That will have to wait for another blog…next time.
*(taken/derrived mostly from the Supreme Court case Alonzo vs. CA, GR. No. 110088, 01 February 1995 that quotes other cases)
But at this point, do you have any questions class?