G.R. No. 200148, June 04, 2014
RAMON A. SYHUNLIONG, Petitioner, v. TERESITA D. RIVERA, Respondent.
R E S O L U T I O N
I am expecting that[.] [G]rabe talaga sufferings ko dyan hanggang pagkuha ng last pay ko. I don’t deserve this [because] I did my job when I [was] still there. God bless ras[.]8 [S]ana yung pagsimba niya, alam niya real meaning.9 (Italics ours)ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
Kailangan release niya lahat [nang] makukuha ko diyan including incentive up to the last date na nandyan ako para di na kami abot sa labor.10 (Italics ours)ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
That on or about the 6th day of April, 2006, in Quezon City, Philippines, the said accused, with malicious intent of impeaching the honor, virtue, character and reputation of one RAMON A. SYHUNGLIONG [sic] and with evident intent of exposing the complainant to public dishonor, discredit, contempt and ridicule, did then and there willfully, unlawfully, feloniously and maliciously publish in the form of text messages and/or caused to be publish[ed] the following defamatory statements through the company’s cellular phone, to wit:chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary
x x x x
that with the said text message, the said accused meant and intended to convey as in fact she did mean and convey, malicious and offensive insinuations and imputations that tends [sic] to destroy the good name and reputation of Ramon Syhunliong, with no good or justifiable motive but solely for the purpose of maligning and besmirching the good name, honor, character and reputation of the said complainant and to expose it, as in fact [he] was exposed to public hatred, contempt and ridicule, to the damage and prejudice of said offended party.
CONTRARY TO LAW.13
[T]he grounds raised by [Rivera] in the motion to quash [are] evidentiary in nature[,] which can only be threshed out in a full blown hearing to determine if said [t]ext message falls squarely within the parameters of “Privileged Communication” or the elements of Article 353 of the Revised Penal Code [are] not fully established by the Prosecution’s evidence.
The Rule on Criminal Procedure in the prosecution of any felony or offense requires only the existence of probable cause in order to indict an accused of the crime charged. x x x [P]robable cause was established seasonably during the preliminary investigation. [Rivera] should have participated during the preliminary investigation or filed a Motion for re-investigation [if] she was not accorded such right and raised these grounds, before she enter[ed] her plea during arraignment.
The Supreme Court ruled that “[i]t should be noted that the libelous material [or text] must be viewed as a whole. In order to ascertain the meaning of [the] published article [or text message], the whole of the article must be considered, each phrase must be construed in the light of the entire publication.”
The Supreme Court held that “writing [or texting] to a person other than the person defamed is sufficient to constitute publication, for the person to whom the letter [text message] is addressed is a third person in relation to its writer and the person defamed therein. In this case, the wife of the complainant[,] who received the unsealed letter[,] is held a third person to whom the publication is made.[?]17 (Citations omitted)ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
The focal issue to the parties in the present case is whether the facts charged in the information[,] as well as the undeniable facts appearing on the record[,] show that an offense of libel has been committed. Our criminal law convincingly provide us with a definition of libel – It is a public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect ... or any act, omission, condition, status or circumstance tending to cause the dishonor, discredit or contempt of ... a person. x x x.
The first procedural requisite in the determination of the existence of libel is whether there is a defamatory imputation. The history of the law on libel abounds in examples of utterances or statements that are not necessarily considered libelous because they are a [sic] mere expression[s] of an [sic] opinion[s] of a [sic] person[s] in connection with a [sic] plea[s] or grievance[s]. Libel is inherently a limitation on the liberty of speech and press freedom, and must be construed in a manner that does not trench upon constitutionally protected freedoms.
x x x There can be libel only if the words used are calculated to induce the hearer or reader to suppose and understand them as impeaching the honesty, virtue or reputation of another. The question is not what the writer or speaker meant by his words but what they convey to those who heard or read them.
x x x x
We can break up the text message of [Rivera] to [Lumapas] into three parts. The utterance is mercifully short so that it could not be difficult to infer the whole sense and understanding of the message from the standpoint of Lumapas to whom the message was conveyed. In context, [Rivera] was seeking payment of her wage claims consequent to her resignation and receiving [BANFF’s] response through Lumapas. [Rivera] retorted with three things in her message to Lumapas – (1) that she suffered a lot in collecting her last pay from [BANFF] Grabe talaga sufferings ko dyan hanggang pagkuha ng last pay ko.[;] (2) that she does not deserve to suffer this way [because she] did [her] job when [she was] still there[;] and (3) turning to [Syhunliong] himself [she] said – God bless ras[.] [S]ana yung pagsimba niya, alam niya real meaning.
If libel is to be understood as an imputation of a crime, vice or defect to another, there can be no libel in the first two of the three statements which announced only the sufferings, albeit undeserved[,] of [Rivera]. The proposition gets to be dicey in the third statement because now she makes a distinct reference to [Syhunliong][,] [b]ut is the imputation defamatory? We hesitate to reach this conclusion, and all doubts in criminal law, we are basically taught, must be resolved in favor of the accused. To articulate the legal wisdom, [Rivera] has the right to express an opinion in a matter in which she has an undeniable interest.
[Rivera said] in the last part of the text that [Syhunliong] should understand the real meaning of the mass when he goes to attend it. It is in this tail end of the message that [Syhunliong] is mentioned. But what is conveyed by the words [“]sana alam niya real meaning?[?] Does it impute a crime, vice or defect in [Syhunliong], either directly or by way of innuendo? But the innuendo can only be explanatory of a libelous imputation and cannot alter the sense of the words claimed to be libelous. If the publication is not actionable per se, an innuendo cannot make it so, and if the publication is actionable per se, the innuendo would not even be necessary.
We hold that the text message is not actionable libel. It does not serve to cast a shadow on [Syhunliong’s] character and integrity[,] there being no direct and personal imputation of a venality to him. At best, the statement that [Syhunliong] should understand the meaning of the mass suggests that [Syhunliong] should be more compassionate and caring to the employee. But is being the converse of compassionate and caring suggestive of a vice or defect in the person alluded to? We do not think so. Otherwise, even courts should be exposed to contempt and ridicule for reaching at times decisions in favor of capital and against labor. x x x To follow the intent of the message as ordinarily conveyed by the words and the context in which they are said, it can only suggest the intention of [Rivera] to describe [Syhunliong] as strict and selfish. But[,] there are legitimate reasons why a person who acts in the interest of the employer may appear strict and selfish to the other side. One may have to be so to protect the interest of his company and, indeed, the outcome of the labor case vindicates the stand of [Syhunliong] against giving [Rivera] the claims she sought after.
A responsible officer whose decisions may affect the fortunes of others and who is faced with criticism such as in this case should not be so onion-skinned as to react through the criminal law. Instead, he should use methods of discussion and persuasion to dispel the misgivings over his decisions. He should, in particular, explain through the same source that told him of the comment why [BANFF] cannot satisfy all [of Rivera’s] claims.
x x x The matter contained in the text message is privileged communication under Article 354 of the Revised Penal Code which [negates] the existence of malice in – a private communication made by any person to another in the performance of any legal, [moral] or social duty. x x x It was Lumapas who told her of the stand of [Syhunliong] on the matter of her wage claims, and her reaction through the text message may be deemed a part of her duty to seek redress of her grievances through the same source. She was speaking in response to duty and not out of an intent to injure the reputation of the person who claims to be defamed. There was no unnecessary publicity of the message beyond the necessity of conveying it to the party concerned.28 (Citations omitted and italics supplied)ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
“Here the State is the grantor, surrendering by act of grace its rights to prosecute, and declaring the offense to be no longer the subject of prosecution. The statute is not a statute of process, to be scantily and grudgingly applied, but an amnesty, declaring that after a certain time oblivion shall be cast over the offence; x x x that from henceforth[,] he may cease to preserve the proofs of his innocence, for the proofs of his guilt are blotted out. Hence[,] it is that statutes of limitation are to be liberally construed in favor of the defendant, not only because such liberality of construction belongs to all acts of amnesty and grace, but because the very existence of the statute, is a recognition and notification by the legislature of the fact that time, while it gradually wears out proofs of innocence, has assigned to it fixed and positive periods in which it destroys proofs of guilt. Independently of these views, it must be remembered that delay in instituting prosecutions is not only productive of expense to the State, but of peril to public justice in the attenuation and distortion, even by mere natural lapse of memory, of testimony. It is the policy of the law that prosecutions should be prompt, and that statutes, enforcing such promptitude should be vigorously maintained. They are not merely acts of grace, but checks imposed by the State upon itself, to exact vigilant activity from its subalterns, and to secure for criminal trials the best evidence that can be obtained.”Indeed, there is no reason why we should deny petitioner the benefits accruing from the liberal construction of prescriptive laws on criminal statutes. Prescription emanates from the liberality of the State. x x x Any doubt on this matter must be resolved in favor of the grantee thereof, the accused.39 (Italics supplied)ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
A case in point is People vs. Moran, 44 Phil., 387. x x x [T]he court ruled that the crime had already prescribed holding that this defense can not [b]e deemed waived even if the case had been decided by the lower court and was pending appeal in the Supreme Court. The philosophy behind this ruling was aptly stated as follows: “Although the general rule is that the defense of prescription is not available unless expressly set up in the lower court, as in that case it is presumed to have been waived and cannot be taken advantage of thereafter, yet this rule is not always of absolute application in criminal cases, such as that in which prescription of the crime is expressly provided by law, for the State not having then the right to prosecute, or continue prosecuting, nor to punish, or continue punishing, the offense, or to continue holding the defendant subject to its action through the imposition of the penalty, the court must so declare.” And elaborating on this proposition, the Court went on to state as follows:“As prescription of the crime is the loss by the State of the right to prosecute and punish the same, it is absolutely indisputable that from the moment the State has lost or waived such right, the defendant may, at any stage of the proceeding, demand and ask that the same be finally dismissed and he be acquitted from the complaint, and such petition is proper and effective even if the court taking cognizance of the case has already rendered judgment and said judgment is merely in suspense, pending the resolution of a motion for a reconsideration and new trial, and this is the more so since in such a case there is not yet any final and irrevocable judgment.”The ruling above adverted to squarely applies to the present case. Here, the rule provides that the plea of prescription should be set up before arraignment, or before the accused pleads to the charge, as otherwise the defense would be deemed waived; but, as was well said in the Moran case, this rule is not of absolute application, especially when it conflicts with a substantive provisions of the law, such as that which refers to prescription of crimes. Since, under the Constitution, the Supreme Court has only the power to promulgate rules concerning pleadings, practice and procedure, and the admission to the practice of law, and cannot cover substantive rights (section 13, article VIII, of the Constitution), the rule we are considering cannot be interpreted or given such scope or extent that would come into conflict or defeat an express provision of our substantive law. One of such provisions is article 89 of the Revised Penal Code which provides that the prescription of crime has the effect of totally extinguishing the criminal liability. And so we hold that the ruling laid down in the Moran case still holds good even if it were laid down before the adoption of the present Rules of Court.42 (Italics supplied)
1Rollo, pp. 8-27.
2 Penned by Associate Justice Mario L. Guariña III, with Associate Justices Japar B. Dimaampao and Manuel M. Barrios, concurring; id. at 29-38.
3 Id. at 40-41.
4 Issued by Presiding Judge Luisito G. Cortez; id. at 56-59.
5 Id. at 60-63.
6 Id. at 46-54.
7 Id. at 29-30.
8 The initials of Syhunliong.
9Rollo, p. 30.
11 Id. at 46-47.
12 Per Syhunliong’s narration in the instant petition, the complaint was filed on August 18, 2007 (id. at 14). However, the information for libel filed with the RTC against Rivera was dated June 21, 2007 (id. at 44). The said information could not have been filed earlier than Syhunliong’s complaint. The CA decision and the orders of the RTC do not indicate when Syhunliong filed the complaint. However, in Rivera’s Petition for Certiorari filed before the CA, it was indicated that Syhunliong’s complaint was instituted on April 16, 2007 (id. at 68).
13 Id. at 44.
14 Id. at 46-54.
15 Id. at 55.
16 Id. at 56-59.
17 Id. at 58-59.
18 Id. at 60-63.
19 76 Phil. 669 (1946).
20Rollo, pp. 64-84.
21 Id. at 79.
22 483 Phil. 568 (2004).
23Rollo, p. 80.
24 Sec. 3. Grounds. – The accused may move to quash the complaint or information on any of the following grounds:chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary
(a) That the facts charged do not constitute an offense;
x x x x
25 Sec. 9. Failure to move or quash or to allege any ground therefor. – The failure of the accused to assert any ground of a motion to quash before he pleads to the complaint or information, either because he did not file a motion to quash or failed to allege the same in the said motion, shall be deemed a waiver of any objections except those based on the grounds provided for in paragraphs (a) [the facts charged do not constitute an offense], (b), (g) [the criminal action or liability has been extinguished] and (i) of section 3 of this Rule.
26 Motion to Quash.
27Rollo, pp. 29-38.
28 Id. at 33-37.
29 Id. at 40-41.
30 Id. at 16-17.
31 609 Phil. 31 (2009).
32 187 Phil. 110 (1980).
33 Rollo, pp. 86-105.
34 Id. at 14.
35 Art. 90. Prescription of crime. x x x
x x x x
The crime of libel or other similar offenses shall prescribe in one year.
36 Art. 91. Computation of prescription of offenses. – The period of prescription shall commence to run from the day on which the crime is discovered by the offended party, the authorities, or their agents, and shall be interrupted by the filing of the complaint or information, and shall commence to run again when such proceedings terminate without the accused being convicted or acquitted, or are unjustifiably stopped for any reason not imputable to him.
37 529 Phil. 90 (2006).
38 44 Phil. 387 (1923).
39 Supra note 37, at 112-113.
40 Please see note 12.
41 95 Phil. 462 (1954).
42 Id. at 464-466.
43Novicio v. Aggabao, 463 Phil. 510, 517 (2003).
44Buatis, Jr. v. People, 520 Phil. 149, 162-163 (2006).
45Rollo, p. 37.