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PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

SECOND DIVISION

[G.R. No. 26408. February 21, 1927. ]

THE PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINE ISLANDS, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. ALEJO TITULAR, Defendant-Appellee.

Attorney-General Jaranilla and Francisco A. Delgado for Appellant.

Perfecto J. Salas Rodriguez and Jose D. Dimayuga for Appellee.

SYLLABUS


1. ELECTIONS; ANONYMOUS CRITICISM OF A CANDIDATE BY MEANS OF POSTERS OR CIRCULARS; SECTION 2649, AS AMENDED, OF THE ADMINISTRATIVE CODE CONSTRUED. — It is not the criticism of candidates for office which is punished, for the law permits the critic to place his name on posters or circulars, but it is the "anonymous" criticism of candidates which is punished. What the law penalizes is the anonymous character of a poster or circular during elections.

2. ID.; ID.; ID. — It is not necessary that the anonymous poster or circular be defamatory, but it is enough if it tends to injury or defeat any candidate for election to any public office by criticizing his personal character or political action.

3. ID.; ID.; ID. — The fact that the language used was mostly interrogatory is not important for the law cannot be evaded by framing the statement so as to avoid a direct assertion to that effect.

4. ID.; ID.; ID.; PUBLIC OPINION. — The principles here announced construing section 2649, as amended, of the Administrative Code relating to the anonymous criticism of a candidate by means of posters or circulars need not result in the suppression of public opinion. It is strictly circumscribed to anonymous matter. The citizen can still assert himself fearlessly during elections and at other times if he possesses the valor to do so under his individual responsibility.

5. APPEALS; BRIEFS; OBJECTIONABLE LANGUAGE STRICKEN FROM RECORD. — Objectionable language in a brief will be ordered expunged from the brief.


D E C I S I O N


MALCOLM, J.:


This is a prosecution for a violation of that provision of the Election Law, section 2649 of the Administrative Code, as amended by Act No. 3030, which penalizes the anonymous criticism of a candidate by means of posters or circulars. It is a case of first impression here, and so far as careful research discloses, finds no counterpart elsewhere.

The information, omitting the Tagalog original, reads as follows:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph

"El Fiscal Provincial que subscribe acusa a Alejo Titular de la ’infraccion del articulo 2649 del Codigo Administrativo Revisado, tal como ha sido enmendado por la Ley No. 3030,’ cometida como sigue:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph

"Que en o hacia y dentro del periodo comprendido desde el 20 de marzo al 12 de abril, de 1925, en el Municipio de Lipa, Provincia de Batangas, Islas Filipinas, el referido Alejo Titular, que es el acusado arriba nombrado, voluntaria, maliciosa y criminalmente redacto, imprimio, distribuyo, circulo, expuso y exhibio publicamente, e hizo que se redactara, imprimiera, distribuyera, circulara, expusiera y exhibiera publicamente, pasquin o circular anonimo en tagalog, destinado a perjudicar, injuriar y menospreciar al Hon. Claro M. Recto, candidato al cargo de Representante a la Asamblea Filipina o Camara de Representantes por el Tercer Distrito de la referida Provincia de Batangas, en las elecciones generales del 2 de junio de 1925, censurando y criticando su reputacion personal y su actuacion politica, sin que en dicho pasquin o circular apareciera el nombre del autor responsable del mismo, y que dice asi:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

x       x       x


cuya traduccion fiel y correcta al espanol es como sigue:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph

"‘ALGUNAS PALABRAS Y PREGUNTAS DEL PUEBLO ELECTOR AL

REPRESENTANTE RECTO DE BATANGAS

"‘Hemos tenido la suerte de que llegara a nuestras manos vuestra muy hermosa propaganda con su retrato, en la que se contienen muchos adornos de vuestra vida y persona, como los que constan en ella, que por su multitud, no hemos podido contar, y tal vez usted no puede tampoco recordar.

"‘Cuando nosotros le hemos elegido por primera y segunda vez en las elecciones pasadas, esperabamos que usted descubriria nuestro bien y la prosperidad de los electores pobres, como usted nos ha prometido estrictamente, y entonces usted no tenia aun los muchisimos honores aue ahora ostenta; pero transcurrio un tiempo muy largo, seis anos completos, durante los cuales usted ejercio el cargo, y cuando usted volvio a nosotros ahora que se acerca otra vez el dia de las elecciones, usted no trae mas que esos adornos de vuestra vida (y tal vez dejo o se olvido usted de algo mas importante); pero ni un poco de bienestar para nuestro distrito, asi es que usted no lo ha mencionado siquiera en su propaganda, de tal modo que parece que el dinero del pueblo que usted recibio lo invirtio solamente en procurar vuestro propio honor, olvidandose usted de vuestro distrito dentro de esos seis anos, porque la verdad si eso es lo unico que ha de hacer el elegido por nosotros como Representante, enviaremos a la Asamblea a nuestros propios hijos para que estos procuren su propio honor.

"‘Por tanto, nosotros hacemos las siguientes preguntas:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph

"‘1. Dentro de los seis anos que usted ejercio el cargo, Sr. Recto, cuanto ha recibido usted de nuestro pobre gobierno?

"‘2. Sabe usted que este dinero es del Pueblo?

"‘3. Puede usted decirnos que bienes ha podido usted hacer a los pueblos de Santo Tomas, Malvar, Lipa, Rosario, San Jose, San Juan, Taysan y Lobo?

"‘4. Donde esta, senor, el dinero que usted pomposamente telegrafio al Presidente Municipal de San Jose haber conseguido, segun usted, para la escuela de este pueblo?

"‘5. Donde esta, senor, y que ocurrio al cheque que usted dio al Pueblo de Malvar? Es dicho cheque falsificado o no, y por que no lo quieren cambiar en cualquiera parte?

"‘6. Que paso, senor, a la Carretera Castillo-Rosario para Tiaong? No ha dicho vuestro copartidario que usted ya ha conseguido tambien dinero para esta carretera?

"‘7. Donde esta vuestra promesa al pueblo de Taysan? Ahora vienen otra vez las elecciones, y tal vez tiene usted otra nueva promesa.

"‘8. Como esta, senor, nuestro Banco Nacional y parece que usted se olvida ahora de decirnos? Y quienes han sido los deudores de dicho Banco aue no han podido pagar siquiera el interes, y quienes deben hasta ahora al mismo? No ha dicho usted que usted es el guardia del mismo? Quien lo ha podido asaltar?

"‘9. Usted dice en su propaganda que es abogado que puede defender en todos los juzgados de todo Filipinas, y por que, acaso, esto es una distinci6n de usted de los demas abogados? Acaso los demas abogados no pueden defender en todos los juzgados de Filipinas?

"‘10. Como esta, senor, Zara a quien le salio contraria su propia suerte, por ser hijo de un pobre? Donde esta el ahora, senor?

"‘11. Sabe usted cumplir vuestras palabras y promesas al pueblo elector? Si es asi; cual de vuestras muchisimas promesas ha podido usted cumplir?

"‘12. Acaso no ha dicho usted "que se retire el que va delante y deje pasar al que va detras?" Acaso no fue usted tambien quien dijo al pueblo que "aunque el gogo sea muy jugoso, estando ya machacado, ya no tiene jugo?" Y lo que usted ha dicho que los que han sido ya elegidos y quieren ser elegidos otra vez, se asemejan a o son peores que la sanguijuela hambrienta. Y usted dijo todavia que los Nacionalistas, al probar comen hasta los platos, y no los quieren soltar, aunque estan ya muy hartos?

"‘13. Acaso no fue usted quien tambien dijo que cuando sea elegido el 1919, no le elijan otra vez, en caso de que presente su reeleccion, porque esto es ya ambicion al cargo?

"‘14. Que es lo que quiere usted decir al escribir en los periodicos que "nosotros los electores del Tercer Distrito de Batangas somos como los pajaros ’pipit’ cogidos y metidos en vuestra jaula?

"‘Espere usted con seguridad que nosotros no nos olvidamos de estas lecciones y recomendaciones de usted y las observaremos en las elecciones venideras, a fin de que podamos demostrarle que ya sabemos la leccion que nos ha ensenado usted: nosotros, no somos, pues, aqulellos pajaros pipit ya cogidos por usted y metidos en vuestra jaula, sino que somos el pajaro adarna que todavia vuela.

"‘Por ultimo, le haremos todavia en las siguientes muchas preguntas que nos han traido los mudos ecos . . . que duele!’

"imputando asi maliciosa y-falsamente al Hon. Claro M. Recto el haber engañado y defraudado las esperanzas del electorado del Tercer Distrito Electoral de Batangas no cumpliendo las promesas que habia hecho en elecciones anteriores; haber invertido su tiempo y el dinero recibido en concepto de sueldos y dietas como Representante de dicho distrito en la Asamblea Filipina, o Camara de Representantes, en su propio honor y provecho, olvidandose de sus deberes para con los ciudadanos de su distrito; no haber hecho nada en beneficio de los municipios de su distrito y haber engañado al Presidente de San Jose, haciendo creer que habia conseguido fondos para cierta escuela de dicho Municipio; haber dado un cheque falsificado al Municipio de Malvar, comprendido en el Tercer Distrito, que por ser falsificado nadie habia querido cambiar; no haber hecho nada por la construccion de la carretera de Rosario a Tiaong y no haber cumplido sus promesas al Pueblo de Taysan; ser deudor del Banco Nacional y no haber podido pagar siquiera los intereses y haber asaltado dicho Banco; haber abandonado a un patrocinado suyo por el mero hecho de ser hijo de un pobre; no haber cumplido sus promesas al pueblo elector; haker enunciado principios y teorias en elecciones anteriores incompatibles con su reeleccion; y el haber publicado en la prensa articulos ofensivos para los electores de su distrito, todo ello con el proposito indicado de perjudicar, injuriar y derrotar al referido candidato Hon. Claro M. Recto en las proximas elecciones del 2 de junio de 1925, censurar su actuacion politica y poner en tela de juicio sureputacion personal."cralaw virtua1aw library

The defendant interposed a demurrer on the ground that the facts stated in the information did not constitute a crime. The lower court sustained the demurrer principally for the reason that the poster in question did not injure or defame the offended party, Representative Claro M. Recto. From this order, the provincial fiscal of Batangas appealed.

As under the foregoing situation there are as yet no facts in issue, our decision can appropriately begin with the quotation of the portion of the law which the Government contends has been infringed. Section 2649 of the Administrative Code as amended provides:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph

"SEC. 2649 Anonymous criticism of a candidate in poster or circular. — Any person who intentionally writes, prints posts, or distributes, or causes to be written, printed, posted, or distributed, any circular or poster which is designed or tends to injure or defeat any candidate for election to any public office, by criticizing his personal character or political action, unless there appears upon such circular or poster in a conspicuous place the name of the writer who is responsible therefor, with residence and the street and number thereof, if any; and any person who writes, prints, publishes, or utters, or causes to be written, printed, published, or uttered, or aids and abets the printing, publication, or uttering of any anonymous or unsigned or fictitiously signed letter, communication or publication not disclosing the name of the author, criticizing or reflecting upon the personal character, conduct, or honor of any candidate for election, and any person who, knowingly, delivers or aids in the delivery of any such letter or communication, shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than one month nor more than two years, and by fine of not less than one hundred pesos nor more than two thousand pesos, and by deprivation of the right of suffrage and disqualification from public office for a period of not more than ten years."cralaw virtua1aw library

In approaching a correct conclusion with reference to the law in its relation with the information, a few outstanding guideposts in jurisprudence may be recognized. The most obvious point which comes to mind is that no law could constitutionally be passed abridging the freedom of speech or of the press. The next thought which impressed itself on the trial judge and which ordinarily should carry weight is that sharp imputations are common during election campaigns and are not to be taken too literally so as not to muzzle public opinion. (U. S. v. Perfecto [1922], 43 Phil., 225.) And the third point of interest is that it is not the criticism of candidates for office which is punished, for the law permits the critic to place his name on posters or circulars, but it is the "anonymous" criticism of candidates which is punished. May the legal distinction not be drawn between responsible publication under the Libel Law and anonymous criticism under the Election Law?

What the law penalizes is the anonymous character of a poster or circular during elections. The Legislature undoubtedly had in view to encourage civic responsibility by inducing those who disagreed with a candidate to do so openly and not to attempt to do so by skulking behind anonymity. Such purpose is readily understandable. There is something praiseworthy in the man who stands boldly before the public and the candidate and in the press or on the rostrum challenges the merits of the candidate’s platform or attacks his personal qualifications or political actions. There is nothing praiseworthy in the man who scatters anonymous posters or circulars among the electorate, thereby denying to the injured candidate the privilege of searching out his detractor and answering him, and thereby misleading the voters without early possibility of correcting the mistake.

The error which the trial judge fell into was undoubtedly caused by an imperfect translation of section 2649 into the Spanish language. In accordance with the English text of the law, it is not necessary that the anonymous poster or circular be defamatory, but it is enough if it tends to injure or defeat any candidate for election to any public office by criticizing his personal character or political action. The fact that the language used in the circular was mostly interrogatory is not important for the law cannot be evaded by framing the statement so as to avoid a direct assertion to that effect. Based on these premises, the information was not demurrable. (See in this connection Olsen v. Billberg [1915], 151 N. W., 550; and the following cases which, while having to do with the law on libel and slander, show the tendency of the courts: U. S. v. Sedano [1909], 14 Phil., 338, relating to the libel of a delegate to the Philippine Assembly; U. S. v. Contreras [1912], 23 Phil., 513, relating to the libel of the governor of a province; Powers v. Dubois [1837], XVII Wendell, New York, 63, relating to a publication of and concerning a candidate for an elective office; and Sydney Post Pub. Co. v. Kendall, 43 S. C. R. [Can. ], 461, relating to questions in a published article addressed to a candidate for office.)

The writer would dislike very much to see this decision made the vehicle for the suppression of public opinion. It need not have that effect if strictly circumscribed to anonymous matter. The citizen can still assert himself fearlessly during elections and at other times if he possesses the valor to do so under his individual responsibility.

In this court the Attorney-General has moved to strike from the record two paragraphs appearing on page 3 of appellees brief which insinuate that the provincial fiscal, while previously indifferent, was moved to action in this particular case by instructions received from President Quezon. Such statements find no place in a brief which must address itself to a legal question, predicated on an information, a demurrer, and an order on the demurrer. It will suffice in this instance if the objectionable language be ordered expunged from the brief.

The result is to reverse the order appealed from and to grant the motion to strike, with the costs de office.

Johnson, Street, Villamor, Ostrand, Romualdez and Villa-Real, JJ., concur.

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