Of gossips and intrigues- An Overlooked Crime in the Philippine Culture (Part 2)
Christian Andrew Labitoria Gallardo
In the previous article, we have discussed the concept of libel and its need for publication. In this article, we shall discuss the other forms of defamation and the instances when publications and utterances, while damaging, are not punishable under the law.
Grave or Simple Slander
Depending on the gravity of the insult or defamation, slander may be grave or simple. The gravamen of the offense depends not only on the expressions used, but also on the circumstances surrounding the event, including the personal relations between the accused and the victim. It was held in one case that uttering defamatory words in the heat of anger constitutes only slight slander. Moreover, if the words used are common expressions to show anger or frustration, it will not even be considered defamatory for criminal purposes. Thus, in one case, when the accused used the words “putang ina mo! Limang daan na ba ito?”, the court acquitted the accused as “putang ina” was only a remark to convey anger, and not to demean a person. Using the same standard, the words “fuck”, “son of a bitch”, “motherfucker” or “hijo de puta” is merely an expression of anger, and not slanderous by nature.
However, if the statement is made not only as an expression of anger or frustration but also to insult or injure another person, the same can be considered as simple slander. In one case, an accused, who pointed a dirty finger at the vice-mayor in front of an audience, was held liable for simple slander. While raising a middle finger ordinarily means “fuck you” in verbal form, such act was made not only as an expression of anger but also as a means to demean a person. It must be noted further that if an expression of anger is accompanied by threat, it may constitute the crime of “threat” under the law.
Privileged Private Communication
The law itself provides that a private communication made by any person to another in the performance of any legal, moral or social duty is not presumed to be malicious. This means that the person claiming to be defamed must prove that the words were uttered with malice and bad faith.
In order to make a private communication protected against libel or slander, it must be (I) made by a person out of his legal, moral or social duty, (II) addressed to an officer or superior having an interest or duty in the matter and (III) uttered in good faith. If, for example, Aling Bebang believes in good faith that her neighbor stole a huge sum of money from the company where he is working as he suddenly bought a house and lot in a posh subdivision, as well as a brand new German car, and reported the matter to the police, she cannot be held liable for slander or libel even if it was later found out that the said neighbor won the lottery, which thereby capacitated him to suddenly acquire all those properties. If, instead of reporting the incident to the proper authorities, she made an issue out of it in the neighborhood and gossiped it to their neighbors, she can be held liable for slander.
While as a general rule, every defamatory and public imputation is deemed malicious, jurisprudence admits an exception- fair commentaries on public persons on matters regarding their public capacities. In order for a defamatory imputation against public personalities to be actionable, it must be proven first that the allegation is false, or that the opinion is based on false suppositions. This is so because they are deemed matters of public interest, which ought to be freely talked about.
Note however that, in order to be protected, the statement must be made in good faith and it must relate solely to the public function of the public person. Hence, in one case, Bobby Brillante, a reknowned writer, implicated Jejomar Binay, then the Mayor of Makati City, and Dr. Nemesio Prudente, then the President of Polytechnic University of the Philippines, in an assassination plot against Augusto Syjuco, another candidate for Mayor of Makati at that time, in a press conference and newspapers articles. The Court ultimately convicted Brillante of Libel since the utterances regarding assassination is not related to the functions of a City Mayor and University President, respectively.
Moreover, the defamatory imputation must not be made in utter disregard of knowing whether the imputation is true or not. In one case involving the newpaper Remate, famous journalist Erwin Tulfo wrote in his column that one Atty Ding So of the Bureau of Customs is involved in the South Harbor corruption. The Court held Tulfo liable for libel even though Atty So is a public official, primarily because Tulfo himself dmitted that he did not conduct a more in-depth research of his allegations before he published them, and relied only on his source at the Bureau of Customs.
Note that the above principles includes all types of personalities. It is not limited to government officials, but includes as well famous journalists, singers, actors and actresses and priests, among others.
Applying these principles in the local context, if Aling Puring remarked that, due to the uncollected garbage and dirty sidewalks, their baranggay chairman is incompetent and lazy, she cannot be held liable for slander as the comment relates to the public function of the public official concerned. If however, she remarked to her neighbors that, not only is the barangay chairman incompetent, but also a pedophile since she saw him walking in the street while holding the hands of a very young woman, she can be held liable for slander since the sexual life of the officer is outside his official function. If she reported the incident however to the police authorities since she believes that the chairman is sexually abusing the little woman, she cannot be held liable for slander.
Truthfulness and Good Faith
Uttering defamatory imputations with good motives and justifiable ends does not constitute libel or slander under criminal law. It must be noted that truthfulness is not even required to acquit the accused of the crime of defamation. What matters is not the truthfulness of the statement, but the motives behind uttering it. However, the defense of good motive and justifiable intention in defamation may further be strengthened by the proof of truthfulness of the utterance.
The same however does not apply conversely. Proof of truthfulness in itself is not enough to acquit the accused in the absence of proof of good motive and justifiable intentions. However, it admits of one exception- proof of truthfulness of imputation of a crime or function-related act is a defense even though no good motives or justifiable intention was proven. This is so because the law presumes good motive, given that the utterance is in relation to public function or a crime.
Applying it by example, if Aling Susan told her neighbors that their neighbor Ligaya is infected of HIV and Gonorrhea because she slept with an infected man, she can be held liable of slander even if it can be later proven that she is indeed infected of HIV and Gonorrhea. Truth is not a defense in the absence of proof of good motives. However, if Aling Susan instead told her neighbors and the police that they must be careful of Ligaya as she saw her killing a man while the latter was having sexual intercourse with her, good motive is presumed by law since the killing constitutes murder or homicide which is a crime under Philippine laws.
Deeply embedded in our culture is the sense of community. While it may foster a sense of unity and harmony for the members of the community, it may also harbor a sense of exclusion for those whose values or point of view are not typical of the community. Moreover, it becomes a power structure, where the majority who are members of the community holds power over the minorities who are excluded by the community. A by-product of these flaws in the system is the culture of gossiping and intrigues, where the majority can effectively exclude the minority through subtle contempt.
Given that defamatory imputations can be a source of both civil and criminal liability, one must be more careful in participating in spreading gossips. Be it as a form of hobby or a way to exclude other people, the repercussions of such act can be grave and expensive. Liked this article? Please join our facebook page for more free online legal advice.
 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org).  People v Pader, G.R. No. 139157 (2000).  Villanueva v People, G.R. No 160351 (2006).  Martinez v People, G.R. No. 198694 (2013).  Judge Marlo B Campanilla, Criminal Law Reviewer Volume II (2019).  People v Villanueva, G.R. No. 160351 (2006).  Reyes v People, G.R. Nos L-21528-29 (1969).  Art 354, Revised Penal Code.  Brillante v CA, G.R. Nos 118757 and 121571 (2004).  Sulivan v New York Times, 376 U.S. 254  Id.  Brillante v CA, G.R. No. 118757 and 121571 (2004).  Erwin Tulfo v People, G.R. No. 161032 (2008).  Fermin v People, G.R. No. 157643 (2008).  Art 354, Revised Penal Code.  Judge Marlo B Campanilla, Criminal Law Reviewer Volume II (2019).  Vasquez v CA, G.R. No. 118971 (1999).