In this part of this six-part series, we will discuss the defenses raised by the main respondent in one of the two libel complaints filed before the Pasig City Prosecutor’s Office. You may also read Parts I, II, IV, V, and VI.
In his Counter-Affidavit, the main respondent claims that the complaint is merely a part of a sinister design to harass former employees who are trying to make their living away from the said company. Said respondent also claims that only members have exclusive access to greedyolddumbass.com. In the said internet forum, being exclusive, every member is open and free to express his thoughts in whatever topic. The allegedly libelous statements or comments, on the other hand, are merely expressions of outbursts common among Filipinos and that they are figures of speech.
Interestingly, the respondent also claimed that there is yet no law that considers that posting of internet chat messages through internet forum a publication to constitute the crime libel.
The elements of libel are present
Unfortunately for the respondent, the Investigating Prosecutor found that there is probable cause to charge him, together with the main respondent in the other complaint, with libel. The amount of bail is set at PhP10,000.00 each.
According to the Investigating Prosecutor, the following are the elements of libel:
1. the allegation of a discreditable act or condition concerning another;
2. publication of the charge;
3. identity of the person defamed; and
4. existence of malice.
An allegation made by a person against another is considered defamatory if it ascribes to the latter the commission of a crime; the possession of a vice or defect, whether real or imaginary; or any act, omission, condition, status or circumstance which tends to dishonor or discredit or put him in contempt, or which tends to blacken the memory of one who is dead.
Every defamatory imputation is presumed to be malicious, even if it is true, if no good intention and justifiable motive for making it is shown. Thus, where there is a defamatory imputation, proof of malice is not required as it is incumbent upon the author thereof to demonstrate that such is not malicious and that good intentions and justifiable motives attended the same.
There are, of course, exceptions to the foregoing. Absolutely privileged communications are not actionable. This class includes statements made by members of Congress in the discharge of their functions. Likewise exempted are private communications made by any person to another int he performance of any legal, moral or social duty and a fair and true report, made in good faith, without comments and remarks, of any judicial, legislative or other official proceedings. Furthermore, where statements relating to the conduct of public officials are involved, malice is not presumed.
In the libel complaints, the individual respondents never denied authorship of the comments, which are manifestly defamatory. Such being the case, it was incumbent upon the respondents to present proof that such are not malicious and that good intentions and justifiable motives attended the same. Apart from their self-serving denials, the respondents failed to present proof that the statements are indeed not as malicious as they appear or that the same were made with good intentions and/or justifiable motives.
In any case, due to the legal presumption of malice, a prima facie case for libel exists against the respondents and whatever defenses they may have in refutation of the same would be best ventilated in a court of law on the occasion of a full-blown trial.
Libel covers matters posted in the internet
One of the defenses raised by the respondent is that libel under the Revised Penal Code does not cover and regulate the internet. According to the Investigating Prosecutor, the crime of libel as defined and penalized under the Revised Penal Code is broad enough to cover “publication” of malicious and defamatory statements over the internet. Publication has been defined as the communication of the defamatory matter to some third person or persons and the internet is just one among the main media available to all and sundry nowadays for the communication and dissemination of thoughts, words and ideas.
One significant distinction, however, is to be made as to the scope and breadth of the statutory definition of the crime of libel with respect to the personalities who may be held liable for articles or comments made over the internet. Insofar as the worldwide web is concerned, we cannot apply the traditional concept of a publisher of a newspaper or periodical insofar as his/her liability for libel is concerned to all the actors involved in the setting up, ownership, and management or supervision of an internet site, web log (blog) or forum. This matter is discussed in detail below (referring the the part on Abe Olandres).
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