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Of gossips and intrigues- An Overlooked Crime in the Philippine Culture (Part 1)

Christian Andrew Labitoria Gallardo[1]


“A perverse man stirs up dissension; and a gossip separates close friends.” (Proverbs 16:28)


Early in the morning after taking the children or grandchildren to school and going to the wet market, a group of women gathers in the corner of the street to share stories of the recent affairs in their community. Dressed in home clothes with only the meager leaves of the old tree protecting them from the scorching midday heat, the discussion would run for hours,until an hour before noontime when it is time to prepare lunch while watching the noontime variety show. After siesta, they then congregate for another round of discourse on the lives of others, until the setting of the sun which signifies that they have to rush going home to prepare supper for their family. “Simple living”, they call it- a Philippine way of life which transcends through time.


In the course of their discussion however, stories were weaved in such a way to make it more appealing to the audience. Usual exaggerations, and a little addition of white lies, were made to satisfy the thirst of the community for an unusual and interesting story. Question is, can a person who spreads stories about the personal lives of others, be it falsified or not, be held liable under the law?


Civil Case for Damages


There is no doubt that a person causing intrigues and spreading gossips against another can be held civilly liable for damages. Article 26 of the Civil Code explicitly states that “every person shall respect the dignity, personality, privacy and peace of mind of his neighbors and other persons”.[2] It then goes to cite specific acts which tend to violate the privacy of another, which includes “Meddling with or disturbing the private life or family relations of another and Intriguing to cause another to be alienated from his friends”[3].


In the case of Gonzales v Arcilla, the accused uttered publicly the words “Mangaagaw ng asawa ng may asawa! Tibihon! Putanginamo! Walang hiya! Pataygutom!”[4]These words were considered as defamatory as they were uttered with an intent to dishonor or discredit another. The accused can therefore be held liable for civil damages.


Criminal Case for Damages


More than a civil case for compensating the damages suffered by the victim, the same act of spreading gossips and intrigues can be a ground for criminal liability. Article 358 of the Revised Penal Code punishes oral defamation.[5] Libel, or “dafamacion” in Spanish, is defined by law as the


“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”[6]


If libel or defamation is committed by means of writing, printing, radio, painting or similar means, the penalty prescribed by law is stiffer as compared to libel by oral means.[7] Be it committed orally, verbally or by deed, in order to constitute a criminal offense, the writing, utterance or act must be (I) defamatory, (II) malicious and (III) public and (IV) the victim must be identifiable.


As stated, to be considered as defamatory, the allegation must ascribe anything that constitutes dishonor or discredit against another.[8]This means that, taken in its ordinary and plain meaning, the words are calculated to induce the hearers to believe that a certain person is guilty of a crime or some dishonorable act.[9]

To be considered malicious on the other hand, the accused must be prompted by ill-will, spite or some evil motive which does not arise from a sense of moral duty.[10] However, when the imputation is defamatory by nature, the law presumes malice on the part of the accused, which can be overcome only by sufficient proof that the utterance was made with good intentions and justifiable motives.[11]


To constitute publication as to make a person liable for libel, it must be communicated to a person other than the person defamed.[12] It is not material that the person defamed have read or heard the defamatory statements. What is important is the fact that other persons have in fact read or heard it as to injure the reputation of the person defamed.[13]


Lastly, in order to make the victim identifiable, it is sufficient that at least a third person or a stranger was able to identify the offended party as object of the defamatory statement.[14] In other words, if it contains descriptions or statement of facts and circumstances which can easily allude the person that it refers to, such can still be considered as defamatory. Hence, despite the use of “code names”, statements can still be considered libelous if the audience can still identify the person being pertained thereto. “Blind items” and similar games, whether broadcasted in talkshows or used as games in the neighborhood, may constitute defamation.


It must be noted that members of a particular group can be offended parties in libel.[15] However, if the membership in the group is so large that the person to whom it is pertaining is not readily identifiable, the element of identifiability is absent, therefore one cannot be heldliable for libel. In the case of Eliseo Soriano v People, the accused Soriano remarked in his radio program that members of one “Jesus Miracle Crusade” are “dakot na gago” and “siraulo”. Since it does not refer to a member of such group specifically, and it is not sweeping as to injure the reputation of all the members of the said group, the accused was acquitted of the charge of libel.[16]


But what if there is no publication, although hurtful words have been uttered to the damage of another? Can a criminal case, other than libel, be filed? Please wait for the continuation of this article next week. Meanwhile, should you feel that your rights have been violated by any false or defamatory remarks by another, Sangalang and Gaerlan, Business Lawyers, would always be willing to assist you in defending your rights. Meanwhile, Please join our facebook page for more free online legal advice.


https://www.facebook.com/groups/businesslaborforum/


Cover Photo by Tamara Gak on Unsplash

[1] Christian Andrew Labitoria Gallardo is a recent graduate of the Ateneo School of Law with a Juris Doctor degree, and is currently an associate of the Sangalang and Gaerlan, Business Lawyers, a law firm specializing in labor, corporate and business law. You may reach him through a phone call or message (09157042132) or via email (andrew.gallardo@paladinslaw.org). [2]Art 26, Republic Act no 386, Civil Code of the Philippines. [3]Id. [4]Marcela N. Gonzales v. GumersindoArcilla, et al, G.R. No. L-27923 (1991). [5]Art. 358, Act no 2815, Revised Penal Code. [6]Art 353, Revised Penal Code. [7]Art 355 and Art 358, Revised Penal Code. [8]Vasquez v CA, G.R. No. 118971 (1999). [9]Manila Bulletin Publishing Corporation v Domingo, GR. No. 170341 (2017). [10]Alonzo v CA, G.R. No. 110088 (1995). [11]Art 354, Revised Penal Code. [12]Magno v People, G.R. No. 133896 (2006). [13]Manila Bulletin Publishing Corporation v Domingo, GR. No. 170341 (2017). [14]Id. [15]People v Aquino, G.R. No L-8777-79 (1956). [16]Eliseo Soriano v People, G.R. No. 225010 (2018).

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