The Court of Appeals has upheld the dismissal of a libel case against two major broadsheets in connection with the publication of a paid advertisement concerning two warring religious groups.
In a decision penned by Associate Justice Zenaida Galapate-Laguilles said the Department of Justice, then headed by former Justice chief Raul Gonzalez, committed grave abuse of discretion when it reversed an October 2008 ruling from a Marawi Prosecutor's Office that dismissed the libel cases against the Philippine Daily Inquirer and the Philippine Star.
"The Resolution dated 13 October 2008 of the City Prosecutor's Office of Marawi City dismissing the Complaint-Affidavit of private respondents Hildebrand M. Cabrera and Iglesia Ni Cristo is reinstated," the CA said.
The libel case was filed in May 2008 by Hildebrand Cabrera, a Mindanao-based district minister of the Iglesia ni Cristo church, in connection with a paid advertisement by former INC members who joined the religious group led by Eliseo Soriano.
The advertisement recounted several incidents when alleged "INC bullies" either mauled or threatened former INC members who had joined Soriano's group.
Apart from members of Soriano's religious group, also named respondents kn the libel case were PDI publisher Isagani Yambot and editor-in-chief Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc, as well as Philippine Star publisher Isaac Belmonte and EIC Ana Marie Pamintuan.
Libel provisions in the
Revised Penal Code, as amended
Article 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.
Article 354. Requirement for publicity. - Every defamatory imputation is presumed to be malicious, even if it be true, if no good intention and justifiable motive for making it is shown, except in the following cases: 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.
Article 355. Libel means by writings or similar means. - A libel committed by means of writing, printing, lithography, engraving, radio, phonograph, painting, theatrical exhibition, cinematographic exhibition, or any similar means, shall be punished by prision correccional in its minimum and medium periods or a fine ranging from 200 to 6,000 pesos, or both, in addition to the civil action which may be brought by the offended party.
In their defense, the Inquirer and Star both argued among other things that there was no "malice in fact and actual malice" when the advertisement was published.
In October 2008, the Marawi prosecutor dismissed the libel complaint because it lacked the essential elements of libel. The petitioner's motion for reconsideration was later denied.
Cabrera then elevated the case to then Justice Sec. Gonzalez, who eventually granted Cabrera's request and reversed the prosecutor's ruling in May 2009. The newspapers appealed the case but they were denied by the DOJ.
This prompted the two media entities to elevate the case to the appeals court, insisting among others that the advertisement was "not defamatory of INC and was privileged in nature." They also said the element of identifiability in libel was also not present.
In its ruling, the CA sided with the newspapers, saying there was no probable cause to indict them for libel.
The Philippine Star had earlier withdrawn its petition with the CA after Cabrera withdrew the libel case against the newspaper.
"The statement made in the subject paid advertisement are not all-sweeping nor all-embracing as to apply to every member of the INC," the appeals court said.
"No third person would reasonably conclude that the alleged defamatory remarks in the subject paid advertisement specifically points to each and every member of the INC, so that he can bring the action separately, if need be," it added.
The CA said the DOJ committed grave abuse of discretiom when it ordered the City Prosecutor's Office of Marawi City to file a libel case in court. — ELR, GMA News