• Uttering defamatory words constitutes only slight felony

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    Persida Acosta

    Persida Acosta

    Dear PAO,
    My brother is a former politician in our province. Last week, he quarelled with a man who lives in a different barangay (village). They were at our town plaza discussing and comparing their respective political bets, that one is better than the other. After several exchanges, this man said my brother does not know what he is saying. Annoyed, my brother told him to shut up and called him an uneducated monkey. The man then cursed my brother, accusing him of being a political thief whose pieces of property that my brother’ss family owns now are fruits of his illegal activities during his tenure. The people who were there at the time managed to pull them apart.

    My brother wants to know if he can file a complaint for grave slander against this man. He believes that his reputation as a politician has been tarnished.

    Please advise me.
    Reed44

    Dear Reed44,
    Our Supreme Court, in a long line of cases, has held that:

    “The term oral defamation or slander as now understood has been defined as the speaking of base and defamatory words which tend to prejudice another in his reputation, office, trade, business or means of livelihood” (33 Am. Jur. 39, cited in the case of Victorio vs. Court of Appeals, G.R. Nos. L32836-37, May 3, 1989).

    If the defamatory words uttered against a person are serious and insulting in nature, it is considered grave and the penalty imposable on the assailant is arresto mayor in its maximum period to prision correccional in its minimum period. On the other hand, if it is not serious and insulting in nature, it is only considered slight oral defamation and the penalty to be imposed is arresto menor or a fine not exceeding 200 pesos (Article 358, Revised Penal Code of the Philippines).

    In the situation that you have presented, it is quite clear that insulting words were uttered against your brother and the same may have a damaging impact on his reputation considering that he was a former politician in your province. Such fact alone, however, may not be sufficient to say that filing a complaint for grave slander is his proper recourse. We take note of the fact that your brother somehow provoked the man when he called the latter an uneducated monkey. This may have prompted him to vilify your brother, in which case a complaint for slight oral defamation may be more appropriate.

    While the courts take into account the position or social standing of the victim in a slander case, it also considers all other surrounding circumstances, which may have led the assailant to utter such defamatory words. As explained by the High Court:

    “x x x There is grave slander when it is of a serious and insulting nature. The gravity of the oral defamation depends not only (1) upon the expressions used, but also (2) on the personal relations of the accused and the offended party, and (3) the circumstances surrounding the case. Indeed, it is a doctrine of ancient respectability that defamatory words will fall under one or the other, depending not only upon their sense, grammatical significanc and accepted ordinary 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.

    In our previous rulings, we held that the social standing and position of the offended party are also taken into account and thus, it was held that the slander was grave, because the offended party had held previously the Office of Congressman, Governor and Senator and was then a candidate for Vice President, for which no amount of sophistry would take the statement out of the compass of grave oral defamation. However, we have, likewise, ruled in the past that uttering defamatory words in the heat of anger, with some provocation on the part of the offended party constitutes only a light felony. x x x” (Noel Villanueva vs. People of the Philippines and Yolanda Castro, G.R. No. 160351, April 10, 2006, emphasis supplied)

    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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