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The freedom of speech and expression is one of the most valued rights. People have perpetually fought against their suppression. But just like all other rights, this is not absolute. There are limitations set by law in order to protect people from indiscriminate expressions of opinion that can taint honor, reputation, or character.
With the advent of the Digital Age, the boundaries of protected speech are being pushed and challenged. But certain classes of speech--like libel and slander--remain prohibited and even penalized with imprisonment.
The following are basic facts you should know about libel and slander. Click on a section to immediately get to that part. You may also just keep reading:
1. WHAT IS LIBEL?
The Revised Penal Code defines libel 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.” (Article 353 of the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines)
2. WHAT MAKES A STATEMENT LIBELOUS?
A statement becomes libelous when all the following elements are present:
a. There is a defamatory statement attributing to a person a crime, a vice or defect, whether real or imaginary, or any act, omission, status, or circumstance. Such a defamatory statement tends to cause dishonor, discredit, or contempt.
b. There is malice in the statement. The law expressly states that “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.” Hence, truth alone is not a defense in libel. It must likewise be proven that it was made with good intentions and not to injure the reputation of the subject of the defamatory statement.
c. The statement was made publicly. In libel, publication means the communication of the defamatory statement to a third person. Communication to at least one person already constitutes as “publication.”
d. The victim--a natural, juridical, or dead person--is identifiable. Even if he is not named, this element is satisfied if the victim can be identified by a third person or a stranger.
For example, in a case filed by Annabelle Rama and Eddie Gutierrez against Cristenelli “Cristy” Fermin, the latter was found guilty of libel. The Honorable Supreme Court ruled that there was “evident imputation of the crime of malversation (that the complainants converted for their personal use the money paid to them by fellow Filipinos in America in their business of distributing high-end cookware); of vices or defects for being fugitives from the law (that complainants and their family returned to the Philippines to evade prosecution in America); and of being a wastrel (that Annabelle Rama Gutierrez lost the earnings from their business through irresponsible gambling in casinos).
“The attribution was made publicly, considering that Gossip Tabloid had a nationwide circulation. The victims were identified and identifiable. More importantly, the article reeks of malice, as it tends to cause the dishonor, discredit, or contempt of the complainants.” (Fermin vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. NO. 157643, March 28, 2008)
(Photo by NS Newsflash via Flickr Creative Commons)