Circumstances leading to defamation important in oral-defamation cases

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Persida Acosta

Dear PAO,
I have a neighbor named May. We always quarrel because of her unbearable attitude. On one occasion, she concocted a story that I had a relationship with a married man. This was relayed to me by a friend. So, in order to clear my name, I went to her house and confronted her. I also warned her that if she will not stop, I will file the appropriate case against her. As expected, an argument ensued. She denied that she spread the rumor and even shouted the words, “Pxxxng ina mo!” Her utterances were made in front of our neighbors, who were just watching us. I filed a complaint before our barangay (village) authorities but the dispute was not settled. Hence, a Certificate to File Action was issued. I am now planning to file an oral-defamation case against May. Please guide me on this matter.
Alene

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DearAlene,
Oral defamation is punishable under Article 358 of the Revised Penal Code. This law provides: “Oral defamation shall be punished by arresto mayor in its maximum period to prision correccional in its maximum period if it is of a serious and insulting nature; otherwise, the penalty shall be arresto menor or a fine not exceeding 200 pesos.”

The term “pxxxng ina” is indeed a defamatory remark or an insult; however, the circumstances on how it was said must be considered. In the decision of the court in Victorio et al. vs. Court of Appeals,(G.R. No. L-32836-37, May 3, 1989), former Associate Justice Abdulwahid Bidin stated:

“To determine whether the offense committed is serious or slight oral defamation, the court adopted the following guidelines:

. . . We are to be guided by a doctrine of ancient respectability that defamatory words will fall under one or the other, depending upon, as Viada puts it, ‘…upon their sense and grammatical meaning judging them separately, but also upon the special circumstances of the case, antecedents or relationship between the offended party and the offender, which might tend to prove the intention of the offender at the time: … Balite v. People, Ibid., quoting Viada, Codigo Penal, Quinta edicion, page 494).”

In the case at hand, it seems that the words uttered by May were said not really to insult, but were expressed in the heat of anger or out of disgust. Remember that she said them when you confronted her regarding the gossip that she allegedly spread and during the time that you were quarrelling.

The said words are not defamatory if the same were made in the heat of anger. This finds support in the decision of the court in Reyes vs. People of the Philippines (G.R. Nos. L-21528 and L-21529, March 28, 1969), where the former Chief Justice Querube Makalintal ruled:

“The charge of oral defamation stemmed from the utterance of the words, ‘Agustin, putang ina mo.’ This is a common enough expression in the dialect that is often employed, not really to slander but rather to express anger or displeasure. It is seldom, if ever, taken in its literal sense by the hearer, that is, as a reflection on the virtues of a mother. Xxx xxx.”

We hope that we were able to answer your queries. Please be reminded that this advice is based solely on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. Our opinion may vary when other facts are changed or elaborated.

Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to dearpao@manilatimes.net

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