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if you’re writing & publishing, you might want to find out how this case was decided (most recent libel case, conviction)

David Davis. Baby Reading Newspaper. Right-clicked from www.allposters.com, used here for  educational, non- commercial  purposes, free service by blog-use of image provided by and from said site.

David Davis. Baby Reading Newspaper. Right-clicked from http://www.allposters.com, used here for educational, non- commercial purposes, free service by blog-use of image provided by and from said site.

 

I guess this most recent Supreme Court decision on libel (a conviction) will have to be included in our  final exam, and therefore will be an additional assignment. Students have also been informed they are required to read, in the original text, the dissent of Chief Justice Reynato Puno in In Re Emil Jurado (contempt), and also in the original text, the dissent of the Chief Justice  again in In re Jake Macasaet (contempt) and in the original text too, the dissent of Justice Antonio Carpio also in said case In Re. Jake Macasaet. “Read in the original” means they also have to appreciate the language as quotes will be included and they have to give their own appreciation/ meaning, etc.  No , none of the students are required anymore to visit this blog, they have to do their own research (those who do the “media monitor” now just email me their work, i changed the policy, they’re also not required anymore to visit) (all the viewers here are voluntary; and daily they’re in the three digits, the only students who visit here are those who think they can read my head but the style of the exams are regularly changed and never repeated so it doesn’t matter what they read here). This excerpted decision will be printed in hard copy and distributed to them.

 

 

 

  XXXX

        I know this is long reading for a Friday but the writing style  is readable. The decision was excerpted into five pages with apologies; text set in itals are words of the Supreme Court.

 

G.R. No. 161032.  September 16, 2008

Erwin Tulfo Vs. People of the Philippines & Atty. Carlos T. So./Susan Cambri, Rey Salao, Jocelyn Barlizo & Philip Pichay Vs. CA, People of the Philippines & Carlos So

 EXCERPTS (with apologies due to space constraints):       

         On the complaint of Atty. Carlos “Ding” So of the Bureau of Customs, four (4) separate informations were filed on September 8, 1999 XXX as follows:  (A)ccused, xxx     of “REMATE xxx publish(ed) (the) daily column “DIRECT HIT” :

PINAKAMAYAMAN SA CUSTOMS.     Ito palang si Atty. Ding So ng Intelligence Division ng Bureau of Customs and [sic] pinakamayaman na yata na government official sa buong bansa sa pangungurakot lamang diyan sa South Harbor.

       Hindi matibag ang gagong attorney dahil malakas daw ito sa Iglesia ni Kristo.

       Hoy, So! . . nakakahiya ka sa mga INC, ikaw na yata ang pinakagago at magnanakaw na miyembro nito.

       Balita ko, malapit ka nang itiwalag ng nasabing simbahan dahil sa mga kalokohan mo.

      Abangan bukas ang mga raket ni So sa BOC.

     WHEREIN said complainant was indicated as an extortionist, a corrupt public official, smuggler and having illegally acquired wealth, all as already stated, with the object of destroying his reputation, discrediting and ridiculing him before the bar of public opinion.[2]

XXX

       (O)n May 12, 1999, in daily column “DIRECT HIT”, quoted hereunder, to wit:

SI ATTY. SO NG BOC. “LINTEK” din sa pangungurakot itong Ding So ng Bureau of Customs Intelligence Unit sa South Harbor.

         Daan-daang libong piso ang kinikita ng masiba at matakaw na si So sa mga importer na ayaw ideklara ang totoong laman ng mga container para makaiwas sa pagbayad ng malaking customs duties at taxes.

      Si   So ang nagpapadrino sa mga pag-inspection ng mga container na ito.  Siyempre-binibigyan din niya ng salapi yung ibang mga ahensiya para pumikit na lang at itikom ang kanilang nga [sic] bibig diyan sa mga buwayang taga BOC.

      Awang-awa ako sa ating gobyerno.  Bankrupt na nga, ninanakawan pa ng mga kawatan tulad ni So.

       Ewan ko ba rito kay Atty. So, bakit hindi na lang tumayo ng sarili niyang robbery-hold-up gang para kumita ng mas mabilis.

    Hoy So.. hindi bagay sa iyo ang pagiging attorney . . . Mas bagay sa iyo ang pagiging buwayang naka korbata at holdaper.  Magnanakaw ka So!!”

        WHEREIN said complainant was indicated as an extortionist, a corrupt public official, smuggler and having illegally acquired wealth, all as already stated, with the object of destroying his reputation, discrediting and ridiculing him before the bar of public opinion.[3]

XXX

(O)n May 19, 1999:   “Tulad ni Atty. Ding So ng Bureau of Customs Intelligence Division, saksakan din ng lakas itong si Daniel Aquino ng Presidential Anti-Smuggling Unit na nakatalaga sa South Harbor.

            Tulad ni So, magnanakaw na tunay itong si Aquino.

            Panghihingi ng pera sa mga brokers, ang lakad nito.

           Pag hindi nagbigay ng pera ang mga brokers, maiipit ang pagre-release ng kanilang kargamento.”

            WHEREIN said complainant was indicated as an extortionist, a corrupt public official, smuggler and having illegally acquired wealth, all as already stated, with the object of destroying his reputation, discrediting and ridiculing him before the bar of public opinion.[

XXX

(O)n June 25, 1999: Nagfile ng P10 M na libel suit itong si Atty. Carlos So ng Bureau of Customs laban sa inyong lingkod at ilang opisyales ng Remate sa Pasay City Court.  Nagalit itong tarantadong  si Atty. So dahil binanatan ko siya at inexpose ang kagaguhan niya sa BOC.

Hoy, So . . . dagdagan mo pa ang pagnanakaw mo dahil hindi kita tatantanan.  Buhay ka pa sinusunog na ang iyong kaluluwa sa impyerno.

WHEREIN said complainant was indicated as an extortionist, a corrupt public official, smuggler and having illegally acquired wealth, all as already stated, with the object of destroying his reputation, discrediting and ridiculing him before the bar of public opinion

XXX

In his appeal, Tulfo claims that the CA erred in not applying the ruling in Borjal v. Court of Appeals.[24]  In essence, he argues that the subject articles fall under “qualifiedly privileged communication” under Borjal and that the presumption of malice in Art. 354 of the RPC does not apply.  He argues that it is the burden of the prosecution to prove malice in fact. 

XXX

  In passing, it must be noted that the defense of Tulfo’s articles being qualifiedly privileged communication is raised for the first time in the present petition, and this particular issue was never brought before either the RTC or the CA.  Thus, neither the RTC nor the CA had a chance to properly consider and evaluate this defense.  Tulfo now draws parallels between his case and that of Art Borjal, and argues that the prosecution should have proved malice in fact, and it was error on the part of the trial and appellate courts to use the presumption of malice in law in Art. 354 of the RPC.  This lays an unusual burden on the part of the prosecution, the RTC, and the CA to refute a defense that Tulfo had never raised before them.  Whether or not the subject articles are privileged communications must first be established by the defense, which it failed to do at the level of the RTC and the CA.  Even so, it shall be dealt with now, considering that an appeal in a criminal proceeding throws the whole case open for review.

There is no question of the status of Atty. So as a public official, who served as the OIC of the Bureau of Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) at the time of the printing of the allegedly libelous articles.  Likewise, it cannot be refuted that the goings-on at the Bureau of Customs, a government agency, are matters of public interest.  It is now a matter of establishing whether the articles of Tulfo are protected as qualified privileged communication or are defamatory and written with malice, for which he would be liable.

The Journalist’s Code of Ethics adopted by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines shows that the press recognizes that it has standards to follow in the exercise of press freedom; that this freedom carries duties and responsibilities.  Art. I of said code states that journalists “recognize the duty to air the other side and the duty to correct substantive errors promptly.”  Art. VIII states that journalists “shall presume persons accused of crime of being innocent until proven otherwise.”

          In the present case, it cannot be said that Tulfo followed the Journalist’s Code of Ethics and exercised his journalistic freedom responsibly.

           In his series of articles, he targeted one Atty. “Ding” So of the Bureau of Customs as being involved in criminal activities, and was using his public position for personal gain.  He went even further than that, and called Atty. So an embarrassment to his religion, saying “ikaw na yata ang pinakagago at magnanakaw sa miyembro nito.”[26]  He accused Atty. So of stealing from the government with his alleged corrupt activities.[27]  And when Atty. So filed a libel suit against him, Tulfo wrote another article, challenging Atty. So, saying, “Nagalit itong tarantadong si Atty. So dahil binabantayan ko siya at in-expose ang kagaguhan niya sa [Bureau of Customs].”[28]

          In his testimony, Tulfo admitted that he did not personally know Atty. So, and had neither met nor known him prior to the publication of the subject articles.  He also admitted 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.

         In his defense before the trial court, Tulfo claimed knowledge of people using the names of others for personal gain, and even stated that he had been the victim of such a practice.  He argued then that it may have been someone else using the name of Atty. So for corrupt practices at the South Harbor, and this person was the target of his articles.  This argument weakens his case further, for even with the knowledge that he may be in error, even knowing of the possibility that someone else may have used Atty. So’s name, as Tulfo surmised, he made no effort to verify the information given by his source or even to ascertain the identity of the person he was accusing.

          The trial court found Tulfo’s accusations against Atty. So to be false, but Tulfo argues that the falsity of contents of articles does not affect their privileged character.  It may be that the falsity of the articles does not prove malice.  Neither did Borjal give journalists carte blanche with regard to their publications.  It cannot be said that a false article accusing a public figure would always be covered by the mantle of qualified privileged communication.  The portion of Borjal cited by Tulfo must be scrutinized further:

Even assuming that the contents of the articles are false, mere error, inaccuracy or even falsity alone does not prove actual malice.  Errors or misstatements are inevitable in any scheme of truly free expression and debate.   Consistent with good faith and reasonable care, the press should not be held to account, to a point of suppression, for honest mistakes or imperfections in the choice of language.  There must be some room for misstatement of fact as well as for misjudgment.  Only by giving them much leeway and tolerance can they courageously and effectively function as critical agencies in our democracy. In Bulletin Publishing Corp. v. Noel we held –

A newspaper especially one national in reach and coverage, should be free to report on events and developments in which the public has a legitimate interest with minimum fear of being hauled to court by one group or another on criminal or civil charges for libel, so long as the newspaper respects and keeps within the standards of morality and civility prevailing within the general community.

To avoid the self-censorship that would necessarily accompany strict liability for erroneous statements, rules governing liability for injury to reputation are required to allow an adequate margin of error by protecting some inaccuracies.  It is for the same reason that the New York Times doctrine requires that liability for defamation of a public official or public figure may not be imposed in the absence of proof of “actual malice” on the part of the person making the libelous statement.[29] (Emphasis supplied.)

Reading more deeply into the case, the exercise of press freedom must be done “consistent with good faith and reasonable care.”  This was clearly abandoned by Tulfo when he wrote the subject articles.  This is no case of mere error or honest mistake, but a case of a journalist abdicating his responsibility to verify his story and instead misinforming the public.  Journalists may be allowed an adequate margin of error in the exercise of their profession, but this margin does not expand to cover every defamatory or injurious statement they may make in the furtherance of their profession, nor does this margin cover total abandonment of responsibility.

XXX

Tulfo offered no proof for his accusations.  He claimed to have a source in the Bureau of Customs and relied only on this source for his columns, but did no further research on his story.  The records of the case are bereft of any showing that Atty. So was indeed the villain Tulfo pictured him to be.  Tulfo’s articles related no specific details or acts committed to prove Atty. So was indeed a corrupt public official.  These columns were unsubstantiated attacks on Atty. So, and cannot be countenanced as being privileged simply because the target was a public official.  Although wider latitude is given to defamatory utterances against public officials in connection with or relevant to their performance of official duties, or against public officials in relation to matters of public interest involving them, such defamatory utterances do not automatically fall within the ambit of constitutionally protected speech.[31]  Journalists still bear the burden of writing responsibly when practicing their profession, even when writing about public figures or matters of public interest.

XXX

The prosecution showed that Tulfo could present no proof of his allegations against Atty. So, only citing his one unnamed source.  It is not demanded of him that he name his source.  The confidentiality of sources and their importance to journalists are accepted and respected.  What cannot be accepted are journalists making no efforts to verify the information given by a source, and using that unverified information to throw wild accusations and besmirch the name of possibly an innocent person.  Journalists have a responsibility to report the truth, and in doing so must at least investigate their stories before publication, and be able to back up their stories with proof.  The rumors and gossips spread by unnamed sources are not truth.  Journalists are not storytellers or novelists who may just spin tales out of fevered imaginings, and pass them off as reality.  There must be some foundation to their reports; these reports must be warranted by facts.       

XXX

The articles clearly are not the fair and true reports contemplated by the provision.  They provide no details of the acts committed by the subject, Atty. So.  They are plain and simple baseless accusations, backed up by the word of one unnamed source.  Good faith is lacking, as Tulfo failed to substantiate or even attempt to verify his story before publication.  Tulfo goes even further to attack the character of the subject, Atty. So, even calling him a disgrace to his religion and the legal profession.  As none of the elements of the second paragraph of Art. 354 of the RPC is present in Tulfo’s articles, it cannot thus be argued that they are qualified privileged communications under the RPC.

XXX

Even assuming arguendo that the subject articles are covered by the shield of qualified privileged communication, this would still not protect Tulfo. 

In claiming that his articles were covered by qualified privileged communication, Tulfo argues that the presumption of malice in law under Art. 354 of the RPC is no longer present, placing upon the prosecution the burden of proving malice in fact.  He then argues that for him to be liable, there should have been evidence that he was motivated by ill will or spite in writing the subject articles. 

XXX] 

The trial court found that Tulfo had in fact written and published the subject articles with reckless disregard of whether the same were false or not, as proven by the prosecution.  There was the finding that Tulfo failed to verify the information on which he based his writings, and that the defense presented no evidence to show that the accusations against Atty. So were true.  Tulfo cannot argue that because he did not know the subject, Atty. So, personally, there was no malice attendant in his articles.  The test laid down is the “reckless disregard” test, and Tulfo has failed to meet that test.

XXX

Though we find petitioners guilty of the crime charged, the punishment must still be tempered with justice.  Petitioners are to be punished for libel for the first time.  They did not apply for probation to avoid service of sentence possibly in the belief that they have not committed any crime.  In Buatis, Jr. v. People,[46] the Court, in a criminal case for libel, removed the penalty of imprisonment and instead imposed a fine as penalty.   In Sazon v. Court of Appeals,[47] the accused was merely fined in lieu of the original penalty of imprisonment and fine.  Freedom of expression as well as freedom of the press may not be unrestrained, but neither must it be reined in too harshly.  In light of this, considering the necessity of a free press balanced with the necessity of a responsible press, the penalty of a fine of PhP 6,000 for each count of libel, with subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency, should suffice.[48]  Lastly, the responsibilities of the members of the press notwithstanding, the difficulties and hazards they encounter in their line of work must also be taken into consideration.

XXX

Those who would publish under the aegis of freedom of the press must also acknowledge the corollary duty to publish responsibly.  To show that they have exercised their freedom responsibly, they must go beyond merely relying on unfounded rumors or shadowy anonymous sources.  There must be further investigation conducted, some shred of proof found to support allegations of misconduct or even criminal activity.  It is in fact too easy for journalists to destroy the reputation and honor of public officials, if they are not required to make the slightest effort to verify their accusations.   Journalists are supposed to be reporters of facts, not fiction, and must be able to back up their stories with solid research.  The power of the press and the corresponding duty to exercise that power judiciously cannot be understated.

XXX

WHEREFORE, the Court finds the accused ERWIN TULFO, SUSAN CAMBRI, REY SALAO, JOCELYN BARLIZO, and PHILIP PICHAY guilty beyond reasonable doubt of four (4) counts of the crime of LIBEL, as defined in Article 353 of the Revised Penal Code, and sentences EACH of the accused to pay a fine of SIX THOUSAND PESOS (PhP 6,000) per count of libel with subsidiary imprisonment, in case of insolvency.

Considering that the accused Erwin Tulfo, Susan Cambri, Rey Salao, Jocelyn Barlizo, and Philip Pichay wrote and published the four (4) defamatory articles with reckless disregard whether it was false or not, the said articles being libelous per se, they are hereby ordered to pay complainant Atty. Carlos T. So, jointly and severally, the sum of ONE MILLION PESOS (PhP 1,000,000) as moral damages.  The claim of actual and exemplary damages is denied for lack of merit.

Costs against petitioners.

          SO ORDERED.

Associate Justice PRESBITERO VELASCO ,JR.

WE CONCUR:    

Associate Justice LEONARDO A. QUISUMBING,Chairperson

     Associate Justice CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES        

     Associate Justice ANTONIO EDUARDO B. NACHURA

Associate Justice ARTURO D. BRION

 

 

 

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2 thoughts on “if you’re writing & publishing, you might want to find out how this case was decided (most recent libel case, conviction)

  1. James says:

    Hi, I found your blog on this new directory of WordPress Blogs at blackhatbootcamp.com/listofwordpressblogs. I dont know how your blog came up, must have been a typo, i duno. Anyways, I just clicked it and here I am. Your blog looks good. Have a nice day. James.

  2. Hi James! I googled the directory that you said you found this blog in, and found out that your comment is recurring in twenty or so other blog sites, so you’re probably a machine that survived the Akismet spam screen, but i could be mistaken, i don’t consider myself an expert in languages, and i didn’t want to hurt your feelings, so i typed up this reply, just curious, just testing if i could tell the difference in one glance. There are two other commenters here talking about their grandpa, and i checked their sites, and their posts sounded like they were written by machines (computer-generated), so maybe their grandpa is the manual typewriter or the toaster. Again, i don’t consider myself an expert in languages and i didn’t want to hurt their feelings either; i let the comments survive for possible reference on machines simulating human communication, please don’t get angry, i could be wrong.

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