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Elements

A. First Element: There must be a defamatory imputation

1. This means that the matter claimed to be libelous must impute a crime, vice, defect,
or any act, or omission, condition, status or circumstance, tending to cause the
dishonor, discredit or contempt to a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory
of one who is dead.

The purpose is to lower the esteem or honor, or respect, in which a person is regarded,
such as :

a). The victim is humiliated or publicly embarrassed

b). The victim is vilified, hated, becomes the subject of gossip, nasty stories, suspected
of wrongdoings, is avoided

c). The victim losses face, becomes a laughing stock, is the object of ridicule

2. Rules to determine whether the language is defamatory or not:

a). What should be considered is what the matter conveyed to a fair and reasonable
man and not the intention of the author or the accused.

b). Statements should not be interpreted by taking the words one by one out of context;
they must be taken in their entirety.

c). Words are to be given the ordinary meaning as are commonly understood and
accepted in the in daily life. The technical meanings do not apply. This is especially true
to idiomatic sayings. Thus “Babae ng Bayan “ does not mean a heroine. “Hayok sa
Laman” does not mean a meat eater. “Adu client nya nga pagbigasan”

3. How the imputation is made:

a). By the use of direct and express defamatory words, descriptions or accusations.
Examples: (i). He is a thief, swindler, “babaero”, ugly, wife beater, a crook (ii) drawing a
caricature of a person depicting him as a crocodile

b). By the use of Figures of Speech such as:

(i) Hyperbole - exaggeration according to which a person is depicted as being better or


worse, or larger or smaller than is actually the case. Example: (a). Mr. X is the
gambling lord (b) She is the mother of all cheaters. (c) Praise undeserved is slander in
disguise

(ii) Irony or sarcasm or where words are used to convey a meaning contrary to their
literal sense. Examples: (a). “Maria belongs to the ladies called “Kalapating mababa ang
lipad” (b). Don’t bother asking him for a treat. He is boxer ( i.e stingy or a miser) (c) He
has a face only a mother can love (d) She is my wife when she is beside me, yours
when she is near you. (e). She is very famous because she is a public sweetheart.

(iii) Metaphor or the use of words or phrases denoting one kind of idea in place of
another word or phrase for the purpose of suggesting a likeness between the two.
Examples: (a) He is Satan personified on earth. (b) She has an angelic face but covered
with a skin as thick as the hide of a carabao

c) Or words or phrases with double meanings such as those which apparently are
innocent but are deliberately chosen because in reality they convey a different and a
derogatory meaning. Example: “He will make a good husband. He is a mama’s boy”.

(i) Where the alleged libelous matter is susceptible of two or more interpretations, one
libelous and the other not libelous, the courts are justified in holding that the real
purpose of the writer was to have the public understand what he wrote in the light of the
worst possible meaning

4. What are not defamatory

a). Words commonly used as expletives, denoting anger or disgust rather than as
defamation, such as the expressions “Putang inaka, tarandado ka”, “Ulol”, “Punyeta ka”.

b). Expressions of an opinion made by one who is entitled to state an opinion on a


subject in which he is interested. Examples:

(i) An heir writes that their was unfairness in the distribution of the properties

(ii) A lady complains over the radio that there was discrimination against Cordillera girls
women in the selection of candidates to the Miss Baguio Pageant

(iii). A law student writes in the school news organ that he believes the faculty in the
college of law are generally lazy and are not kept abreast with new jurisprudence

(iv). A teacher declared in an interview that the students of one school are less
intelligent than those in another school

c). Words which are merely insulting are not actionable as libel or slander per se, and
mere words of general abuse however opprobious, ill-natured, or vexatious whether
written r spoken, do not constitute a basis for an action for defamation in the absence of
allegation for special damages. The fact that the language is offensive to the plaintiff
does not make it actionable by itself ( MVRS Pub. Inc. vs Islamic Da’wah Council of
the Phil. 444 Phil. 20; Binay vs. Sec. of Justice Sept. 8, 2006)

B. Second Element: Publicity of the Libelous Matter

1. This means the accused caused the libelous material to be known or read or seen or
heard by a third person, other than the person to whom it has been written i.e. the
victim. Somebody must have read, seen or heard the libelous material due to the acts of
the accused.

(A). The addressing of defamatory words directly to the person concerned, and to no
other person, does not constitute an actionable libel.

(B). If it was the victim himself and not the accused, who showed, informed or relayed
the libelous material to others, then the accused is not liable.

(C). Circulation or publicity is not necessarily through the newspaper.

(D). Examples:
i). Posting the material in the internet or posting in a bulletin board

ii). Showing the caricature, or naked picture, of the victim to another

iii) Announcements in the radio, or paid advertisements such as “The public is warned
not to purchase the skin lotion products of ABC Corp. to prevent possible cancer”

iv). Asking someone to write a defamatory letter about the victim

iv). Sending the letter to the victim through a messenger but it is in an unsealed
envelope ( the presumption is that the letter is intended to be read by anyone other than
the victim). Thus if the letter is sent in a sealed envelope, the element of publicity is
missing.

2. Effect: Each separate publication of a libelous matter is a separate crime, whether


published in part, or in the same newspaper. Example: (i) There as many crimes of libel
as there are various showing or staging of a libelous drama or stage play in different
venues and at various times.

(ii) If the same libelous news is published in two or more newspapers, then there be
such number of separate libels corresponding to the different newspapers which
published the material.

C. Third Element: The Person libeled must be identified. (Identity of


victim)

1. This means the complainant or plaintiff must prove he is the person subject of the
libelous matter, that it his reputation which was targeted.

2. This element is established by the testimony of witnesses if the complainant was not
directly mentioned by name. They must be the public or third persons who can identify
the complainant as the person subject of the libel. If third persons can not say it is the
plaintiff or complainant who is the subject, then it cannot be said that plaintiff’s name
has been tarnished.

a). Where the publication is ambiguous as to the person to whom it applies, the
testimony of persons who read the publication is admissible for the purpose of showing
who is intended to be designated by the words in said publication

3. How the identification or referral to the plaintiff is made

a). Directly by his name

b). By descriptions of his person, his address, nature of his office or work, his actions, or
any other data personally connected or related to the plaintiff; or identification from
similar other the circumstances

c) From the likeness of his face or features to the libelous drawing, caricature, painting
or sculpture

4. The victims maybe natural persons who are alive or juridical persons, or deceased
persons as to their memory.

5. Rule if several persons were defamed or libeled

a). If several persons were libeled in one article, but all are identifiable, then there are
as many charges of liable as there are persons libeled

b). If the article is directed to a class or group of several persons in general terms only
without specifying any particular member, there is no victim identified or identifiable,
hence there is no actionable libel. No person can claim to have been specifically libeled
as to give that person the right to file charges of libel.
Examples:

(i). Some lady students in the 4th year law class section A, are ugly

(ii). Two thirds of the law students are cheaters

(iii). Majority of the policemen are crooks

(iv). Most lawyers are thieves disguised in coat and tie

c). If the defamation is directed against a group or class and the statement is so
sweeping or all-embracing as to apply to every member of that group or class, then any
member can file an action for libel in his own name, not in the name of the
group/class. (Note: Philippine laws do not recognize group libel). Or if the statement is
sufficiently specific so that each individual can prove that the statement specifically point
to him then he may bring an action in his own name.

Examples:

(i). All those belonging to 4th year law class section A are sex perverts

(ii) Each and every employee in the accounting office is secretly taking home part of the
tuition fees paid.

(iii) If you are a faculty member of the college of law of U.B. then you have no integrity
but you are a yes-man of the school President

d). But even if directed against a group or class but the statement is directly and
personally addressed to a member or members thereof, then only such member(s) can
bring an action.

Example: A radio announcer addresses himself to Mr. X and Mr. Y and says: “ Mr. X,
and you Mr. Y. You Pangalatoks are sex maniacs”. Only Mr. X and Mr. Y can file an
action for libel.

D. Fourth Element: That there be malice on the part of the accused.

1. Malice is the legal term to denote that the accused is motivated by personal ill-will,
spite, hatred, jealousy, anger, and speaks not in response to duty but to do ulterior and
unjustifiable harm. The purpose is really to destroy, to injure, to inflict harm.

2. There are two kinds of malice

a). Malice in Law or Presumed Malice.

(i) The plaintiff need not prove the existence of malice. It is for the accused to disprove
this presumption
(ii) This presumption, that accused was actuated with an evil purpose or malice, arises if
the article is defamatory on its face, or due to the grossness of the defamatory
imputation even if the facts are true, but there was no good intention or justifiable
motive.

(iii) Examples:

(a). X writes an article about the sexual escapades of a society matron complete with
the details of time, place, and supported by pictures. In such case the law presumes
that X was actuated by malice even if what he wrote is true.

(b). X calls the radio and announces that the family of Juan de la Cruz is a family of
thieves and crooks.

b). Malice in Fact or Malice as a Fact. -. It is the malice which must be proven by the
plaintiff. He must prove the purpose of the accused is to malign or harm or injure his
reputation. This arises either because:

(i) the article is not defamatory on its face or if libelous it is ambiguous

(ii) the accused was able to overcome the presumption of malice.

Defenses Allowed in Libel


1. Concept:

A. In general: if the accused proves the absence of any of the elements, then he is not
liable. Thus he may show: the material is not defamatory; there is no publicity; it is
impersonal and does not refer to the plaintiff; or that there is no malice.

B. There are however specific defenses which may refer to any of the elements of libel
or are independent defenses in themselves. These defenses were established by
jurisprudence, particularly by United States Decisions, as our Libel law is based
primarily on American concepts.

II. The Doctrine of Privilege Communication


A. This is a defense against the element of malice and it applies to both libel and oral
defamation. This means that even if the material is considered libelous still there is no malice
in the eyes of the law. These consist of two kinds: (a) Absolutely Privilege Communication
and the (b) Qualifiedly Privileged Communication.
B. Absolutely Privileged Communication: this refers to a communication, whether oral or
written which is defamatory and may even be made in bad faith but which cannot give rise to
either criminal or civil liability. This is because there are higher considerations involved
which are considered more paramount than the damage to the reputation of a person.

1. Privilege Speeches in the halls of Congress

2. Communications made by public officers in the performance of their duties, such as


the explanations on a matter made by a public officer to his superior though it contains
harsh language

3. Statements made in judicial proceedings if pertinent and relevant to the case


involved, such as the allegations in the pleadings

4. Statements and evidence submitted in a Preliminary Investigation.


C. Qualifiedly/Conditionally Privileged Communication: this refers to communications in
which the law presumes the absence of malice, thus they are initially not actionable. The
burden therefore is on the plaintiff to prove the existence of actual malice.

D. Two Kinds of Qualifiedly Privileged Communications Under Article 354.

1. Private Communications, made by one to another in the performance of a legal,


moral or social duty provided that: (i). The one making the communication must have an
interest in the subject and (ii) the person to whom the communication was made is one
who can act on the matter

(a). This communication maybe oral or written, private, public or official document which
are sent for redress of grievances or to request for appropriate action. But it must be
private in that it is intended to be only between the sender and the recipient. Undue
publicity removes the privilege.

Hence a so called “Open Letter” is not privileged. Also, accusations made in a public
gathering are not privileged.

(b). The communication must meet these elements:

(i). The person who made the communication had a legal, moral or social duty to make
the communication, or at least, had an interest to protect, which interest may either be
his own or of the one to whom it is made

(ii). The communication is addressed to an officer or a board, or superior, having some


interest or duty in the matter, and who has the power to furnish the protection sought (
or that the recipient is a proper person who can act on the communication) and

(iii). The statements in the communication are made in good faith and without malice (
Binay vs. Sec. of Justice, Sept. 08, 2006)

Legal duty: presupposes a provision of law imposing upon the accused the duty to
communicate. Such as the complaint by a citizen concerning the misconduct of a public
official to the latter‘s superior even if, upon investigation, the matters are not
substantiated. But it may be shown that the charges were maliciously made without
reasonable ground for believing them to be true.

Also, a report to the police by a citizen about the suspected criminal activities of another
person, even if latter it is proved the suspicions were groundless, is privileged.

(d). Moral or social duty presupposes the existence of a relationship between the
sender and the recipient of the communication, or the confidential and pressing urgency
of the communication.

(e). The sender must have an interest in the subject of the communication and the
recipient must be a proper person who can act on the subject to the communication.

Thus a letter-complaint describing an SLU law professor as lazy incompetent, and an


absentee, is privileged if sent to the SLU President. It is not privileged if sent to the
President of U.B.

If a teacher writes to his fellow teacher that a student of his is becoming irresponsible
and possibly a drug user, the same letter is not privileged. But if sent to the parents of
the student for their information and action, it is conditionally privileged.

(f). In Alcantara vs. Ponce ( Feb. 28, 2007) the court adopted the ruling in the U.S case
of Borg vs. Borg in that a ”written charge or information filed with the prosecutor or the
court is not libelous although proved or be false and unfounded. Furthermore, the
information given to a prosecutor by a private person for the purpose of initiating a
prosecution is protected by the same cloak of immunity and cannot be used as a basis
for an action for defamation. “

In this Alcantara case, a newsletter submitted by party in a preliminary investigation,


which was defamatory, was considered as a privilege communication.

It was also ruled that under the Test of Relevancy, a matter alleged in the course of the
proceedings need not be in every case material to the issues or be so pertinent to the
controversy that it may become the subject of inquiry in the course of trial, so long as
they are relevant.