Libel Again

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By Kelvin Lee

Question of Law

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


THERE has been a recent influx of libel cases being filed or revived lately.

It bears reminding that libel, is defined by the Revised Penal Code as:

Art. 353. Definition of libel. — A libel is 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.

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As per the Supreme Court, libel requires the presence of the following elements: (1) imputation of discreditable act or condition to another; (2) publication of imputation; (3) identity of person defamed; and (4) existence of malice (Luis B, Reyes, Revised Penal Code, Book II).

The absence of a single element would necessarily mean no libel was committed.

Libel remains in place as a law and in fact is one of the more popular criminal cases filed in court. In particular, libel has been used to make lives difficult for some journalists. There are countless cases that have been filed against journalists for supposedly libelous articles that, to date, remain pending in court. Some have even gone so far as to state that the libel law may infringe on freedom of speech and expression. A senior Supreme Court Justice seems to be of this view.

The question then is, why is libel punishable as a crime?

As explained by the Supreme Court the reason that libel is a crime is that, “the enjoyment of a private reputation is as much a constitutional right as the possession of life, liberty or property. It is one of those rights necessary to human society that underlie the whole scheme of civilization. The law recognizes the value of such reputation and imposes upon him who attacks it, by slanderous words or libelous publication, the liability to make full compensation for the damages done.” (Worcester v. Ocampo, 22 Phil. 42).

However, there are those who believe that a private reputation should not infringe on a constitutionally protected right such as the abovementioned freedom of speech and expression.

In any case, a possible defense on the part of those accused of libel is provided for under Article 361 of the Revised Penal Code, such that “he who publishes what is true, in good faith and for justifiable ends incurs no liability.” (Lo Bok et al. v. Magno, 9 C.A. Rep 699 cited in Jose Reyes Book II).

Without going into specifics, a number of recently revised libel cases against some prominent Mindanao journalists may fall under this category of defense. Thus, whenever one publishes anything, one must check if what he is publishing or writing is true, made in good faith and for justifiable ends.

***

The opinions expressed herein are solely of Atty. Lee. This column does not constitute legal advice nor does it create a lawyer-client relationship with any party. You can reach Kelvin at lvlawoffices@gmail.com

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on January 16, 2014.

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