• Language offensive to plaintiff doesn’t make it actionable by itself

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    Persida Acosta

    Dear PAO,
    In the presence of several people and within the hearing distance of everyone present during an event, a woman shouted expletives at me and accused me of being a thief. I want to know if this is enough ground for me to file a criminal case for slander against her.
    Sincerely yours,
    Toni

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    Dear Toni,
    Article 358 of the Revised Penal Code covers the gist of your query. It provides:

    “Art. 358. Slander. – Oral defamation shall be punished by arresto mayor in its maximum period to prision correccional in its minimum period if it is of a serious and insulting nature; otherwise, the penalty shall be arresto menor or a fine not exceeding 200 pesos.”

    Succintly, the Supreme Court in Enrique de Leon vs. People of the Philippines (G.R. No. 212623, January 11, 2016) through the ponencia of Associate Justice Jose Mendoza defined and expounded on the elements and nature of oral defamation:

    “Oral defamation or slander is libel committed by oral [spoken]means, instead of in writing. It is defined as ‘the speaking of base and defamatory words which tend to prejudice another in his reputation, office, trade, business or means of livelihood.’ The elements of oral defamation are: (1) there must be an imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, status or circumstances; (2) made orally; (3) publicly; (4) and maliciously; (5) directed to a natural or juridical person, or one who is dead; (6) which tends to cause dishonor, discredit or contempt of the person defamed. Oral defamation may either be simple or grave. It becomes grave when it is of a serious and insulting nature.

    An allegation is considered defamatory if it ascribes to a person the commission of a crime, the possession of a vice or defect, 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. To determine whether a statement is defamatory, the words used in the statement must be construed in their entirety and should be taken in their plain, natural and ordinary meaning as they would naturally be understood by persons reading them, unless it appears that they were used and understood in another sense. It must be stressed that words which are merely insulting are not actionable as libel or slander per se, and mere words of general abuse however opprobrious, ill-natured or vexatious, whether written or spoken, do not constitute a basis for an action for defamation in the absence of an allegation for special damages. The fact that the language is offensive to the plaintiff does not make it actionable by itself.”

    It was further explained:

    “Whether the offense committed is serious or slight oral defamation depends not only upon the sense and grammatical meaning of the utterances but also upon the special circumstances of the case, like the social standing or the advanced age of the offended party. “The gravity depends upon: (1) the expressions used; (2) the personal relations of the accused and the offended party; and (3) the special circumstances of the case, the antecedents or relationship between the offended party and the offender, which may tend to prove the intention of the offender at the time. In particular, it is a rule that uttering defamatory words in the heat of anger, with some provocation on the part of the offended party constitutes only a light felony.”

    Hence, if your case contains all of the above-mentioned requirements, then it may fall under a case of slander.
    Again, we find it necessary to mention that this opinion is solely based on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. The opinion may vary when the 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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