Forms of Libel

a). The facilities of the mass media i.e print and broadcast media such as articles, news items, columns, caricatures, editorials in newspapers and magazines; comments, opinions, news aired over the television or radio stations

b). Modern communication facilities such as through the internet or  cellphones, CDs, DVDs

b). Literary outlets such as through letters, books, poems, songs, stage plays, movies, paintings, drawings, pictures, sculpture and the like


A. First Element: There must be a defamatory imputation

1. This means that the matter claimed to be libelous must impute a crime, vice, defect, or any act, or omission, condition, status or circumstance, tending to cause the dishonor, discredit or contempt to a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead.

The purpose is to lower the esteem or honor, or respect, in which a person is regarded, such as :  

a). The victim is humiliated or publicly  embarrassed

b). The victim is vilified, hated, becomes the subject of gossip, nasty stories, suspected of wrongdoings, is avoided

c). The victim losses face, becomes a laughing stock, is the object of ridicule

2. Rules to determine whether the language is defamatory or not:

a). What should be considered is what the matter conveyed to a fair and reasonable man and not the intention of the author or the accused.

b). Statements should not be interpreted by taking the words one by one out of context; they must be taken in their entirety.

c). Words are to be given the ordinary meaning as are commonly understood and accepted in the in daily life. The technical meanings do not apply. This is especially true to idiomatic sayings. Thus “Babae ng Bayan “ does not mean a heroine. “Hayok sa Laman” does not mean a meat eater. “Adu client nya nga pagbigasan”

3. How the imputation is made:

a). By the use of direct and express defamatory words, descriptions or accusations. Examples: (i). He is a thief, swindler, “babaero”, ugly, wife beater, a crook (ii) drawing a caricature of a person depicting him as a crocodile

b). By the use of Figures of Speech such as:

(i) Hyperbole - exaggeration according to which a person is depicted as being better or worse, or larger or smaller than is actually the case. Example: (a). Mr.  X is the gambling lord (b) She is the mother of all cheaters. (c) Praise undeserved is slander in disguise

(ii) Irony or sarcasm or where words are used to convey a meaning contrary to their literal sense. Examples: (a). “Maria belongs to the ladies called “Kalapating mababa ang lipad” (b). Don’t bother asking him for a treat. He is boxer ( i.e stingy or a miser) (c) He has a face only a mother can love (d) She is my wife when she is beside me, yours when she is near you. (e). She is very famous because she is a public sweetheart.

(iii) Metaphor  or the use of words or phrases denoting one kind of idea in place of another word or phrase for the purpose of suggesting a likeness between the two. Examples: (a) He is Satan personified on earth. (b) She has an angelic face but covered with a skin as thick as the hide of a  carabao

c) Or words or phrases with double meanings such as those which apparently are innocent but are deliberately chosen because in reality they convey a different and a derogatory meaning. Example: “He will make a good husband. He is a mama’s boy”.

(i) Where the alleged libelous matter is susceptible of two or more interpretations, one libelous and the other not libelous, the courts are justified in holding that the real purpose of the writer was to have the public understand what he wrote in the light of the worst possible meaning

4.  What are not defamatory

a). Words commonly used as expletives, denoting anger or disgust rather than as defamation, such as the expressions “Putang inaka, tarandado ka”, “Ulol”, “Punyeta ka”.

b). Expressions of an opinion made by one who is entitled to state an opinion on a subject in which he is interested.  Examples:

(i) An heir writes that their was unfairness in the distribution of the properties

(ii) A lady complains over the radio that there was discrimination against Cordillera girls women in the selection of candidates to the Miss Baguio Pageant

(iii). A law student writes in the school news organ that he believes the faculty in the college of law are generally lazy and are not kept abreast with new jurisprudence

(iv). A teacher declared in an interview that the students of one school are less intelligent than those in another school

c). Words which are merely insulting are not actionable as libel or slander per se, and mere words of general abuse however opprobious, ill-natured, or vexatious whether written r spoken, do not constitute a basis for an action for defamation in the absence of allegation for special damages. The fact that the language is offensive to the plaintiff does not make it actionable by itself ( MVRS Pub. Inc. vs Islamic  Da’wah  Council of the Phil. 444 Phil. 20;  Binay vs. Sec. of Justice Sept. 8, 2006)

B. Second Element: Publicity of the Libelous Matter

1. This means the accused caused the libelous material to be known or read or seen or heard by a third person, other than the person to whom it has been written i.e. the victim. Somebody must have read, seen or heard the libelous material due to the acts of the accused.

(A). The addressing of defamatory words directly to the person concerned, and to no other person, does not constitute an actionable libel.

(B). If it was the victim himself and not the accused, who showed, informed or relayed the libelous material to others, then the accused is not liable.

(C). Circulation or publicity is not necessarily through the newspaper.

(D). Examples:

i). Posting the material in the internet or posting in a bulletin board

ii). Showing the caricature, or naked picture, of the victim to another

iii)  Announcements in the radio, or paid advertisements such as “The public is warned not to purchase the skin lotion products of ABC Corp. to prevent possible cancer”

iv). Asking someone to write a defamatory letter about the victim

iv). Sending the letter to the victim through a messenger but it is in an unsealed envelope ( the presumption is that the letter is intended to be read by anyone other than the victim). Thus if the letter is sent in a sealed envelope, the element of publicity is missing.

2. Effect: Each separate publication of a libelous matter is a separate crime, whether published in part, or in the same newspaper. Example: (i) There as many crimes of libel as there are various showing or staging of a libelous drama or stage play in different venues and at various times.

(ii) If the same libelous news is published in two or more newspapers, then there be such number of separate libels corresponding to the different newspapers which published the material. 

C. Third Element: The Person libeled must be identified. (Identity of victim)

1. This means the complainant or plaintiff must prove he is the person subject of the libelous matter, that it his reputation which was targeted.

2. This element is established by the testimony of witnesses if the complainant was not directly mentioned by name. They must be the public or third persons who can identify the complainant as the person subject of the libel. If third persons can not say it is the plaintiff or complainant who is the subject, then it cannot be said that plaintiff’s name has been tarnished.

a). Where the publication is ambiguous as to the person to whom it applies, the testimony of  persons who read the publication is admissible for the purpose of showing who is intended to be designated by the words in said publication

3. How the identification or referral to the plaintiff is made

a). Directly by his name

b). By descriptions of his person, his address, nature of his office or work, his actions, or any other data personally connected or related to the plaintiff; or identification from similar other the circumstances

c) From the likeness of his face or features to the libelous drawing, caricature, painting or sculpture

4. The victims maybe natural persons who are alive or juridical persons, or deceased persons as to their memory.

5. Rule if several persons were defamed or libeled

a). If several persons were libeled in one article, but  all are identifiable, then there are as many charges of liable as there are persons libeled

b). If the article is directed to a class or group of several persons in general terms only without specifying any particular member, there is no victim identified or identifiable, hence there is no actionable libel. No person can claim to have been specifically libeled as to give that person the right to file charges of libel.  

(i). Some lady students in the 4th year law class section A, are ugly

(ii). Two thirds of the law students are cheaters

(iii). Majority of the policemen are crooks

(iv). Most lawyers are thieves disguised in coat and tie

c). If the defamation is directed against a group or class and the statement is so sweeping or all-embracing as to apply to every member of that group or class, then any member can file an action for libel in his own name, not in the name of the group/class.  (Note: Philippine laws do not recognize group libel). Or if the statement is sufficiently specific so that each individual can prove that the statement specifically point to him then he may bring an action in his own name.


(i). All those belonging to 4th year law class section A are sex perverts

(ii) Each and every employee in the accounting office is secretly taking home part of the tuition fees paid.

(iii) If you are a faculty member of the college of law of U.B. then you have no integrity but you are a yes-man of the school President

d). But even if directed against a group or class but the statement is directly and personally addressed to a member or members  thereof, then only such member(s) can bring an action.

Example: A radio announcer addresses himself to Mr. X and Mr. Y and says: “ Mr. X, and you Mr. Y. You Pangalatoks   are sex maniacs”. Only Mr. X and Mr. Y can file an action for libel.

D. Fourth Element: That there be malice on the part of the accused.

1. Malice is the legal term to denote that the accused is motivated by personal ill-will, spite, hatred, jealousy, anger, and speaks not in response to duty but to do ulterior and unjustifiable harm. The purpose is really to destroy, to injure, to inflict harm.

2. There are two kinds of malice

a). Malice in Law or Presumed Malice.

(i) The plaintiff need not prove the existence of malice. It is for the accused to disprove this presumption

(ii) This presumption, that accused was actuated with an evil purpose or malice, arises if the article is defamatory on its face, or due to the grossness of the defamatory imputation even if the facts are true, but there was no good intention or justifiable motive.

(iii) Examples:

(a). X writes an article about the sexual escapades of a society matron complete with the details of time, place, and supported by pictures. In such case the law presumes that X was actuated by malice even if what he wrote is true.

(b). X calls the radio and announces that the family of Juan de la Cruz is a family of thieves and crooks.

b). Malice in Fact or Malice as a Fact. -. It is the malice which must be proven by the plaintiff. He must prove the purpose of the accused is to malign or harm or injure his reputation. This arises either because:

(i) the article is not defamatory on its face or if libelous it is ambiguous

(ii) the accused was able to overcome the presumption of malice.

Prosecution for Libel

A. Remedies of the Victim: (i) the person libeled may file a criminal case or a separate civil case for damages (ii) but he may opt to recover damages in the same criminal case

B. Jurisdiction and Venue of the criminal action

1. a). Actions based on libel, whether civil or criminal, are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Regional Trial Court even if the penalty is within the Jurisdiction of the Municipal Trial Courts.

b).The civil case must also be tried in the RTC trying the criminal case (No separate civil action)

c) If the libel imputes any of the private crimes, the Prosecution must be upon a complaint filed by the offended party

2. Venue: as a general rule the action for libel shall be in the RTC of the province/city where the article was first printed and published ( Rule of Place of First Print and Publication) but it may also be filed elsewhere as follows:

a). If a private person:  in the RTC of the province/city where he resides

b). If a public official and holding office in Manila: In the RTC of Manila

c) If a public official holding office outside Manila: in the RTC of the province/city where he holds office   

C. Persons Liable for Libel

1. In case of written libel:

a). The Authors of the written defamatory article, the artists, sculptor, or painter

b). Any person who shall publish, exhibit or cause the publication or exhibition thereof ( i.e. those persons other than the author,  who make known the libelous matter to a third person)

c). the editor or business manager of the print media where the article was published

2. In case of non-written libel

a). the speaker, announcer or utterer of the defamatory statements aired over the broadcast media; the host of the show where the libelous statement is made

b). the producers and makers of the libelous cinematographic film, stage show, play or drama

3. Other persons under the principle of “Libel by Republication” i.e. a person is liable, though he is not the author of has nothing to do with the libelous matter, if he knowingly republishes or circulates the said libelous matter.    

Defenses Allowed in Libel

1. Concept:

A. In general: if the accused proves the absence of any of the elements, then he is not liable. Thus he may show: the material is not defamatory; there is no publicity; it is impersonal and does not refer to the plaintiff; or that there is no malice.

B. There are however specific defenses which may refer to any of the elements of libel or are independent defenses in themselves. These defenses were established by jurisprudence, particularly by United States Decisions, as our Libel law is based primarily on American concepts. 

II. The Doctrine of Privilege Communication

A. This is a defense against the element of malice and it applies to both libel and oral defamation. This means that even if the material is considered libelous still there is no malice in the eyes of the law.  These consist of two kinds: (a) Absolutely Privilege Communication and the (b) Qualifiedly Privileged Communication.

B. Absolutely Privileged Communication: this refers to a communication, whether oral or written which is defamatory and may even be made in bad faith but which cannot give rise to either criminal or civil liability. This is because there are higher considerations involved which are considered more paramount than the damage to the reputation of a person.

1. Privilege Speeches in the halls of Congress

2. Communications made by public officers in the performance of their duties, such as the explanations on a matter made by a public officer to his superior though it contains harsh language

3. Statements made in judicial proceedings if pertinent and relevant to the case involved, such as the allegations in the pleadings

4. Statements and evidence submitted in a Preliminary Investigation.

C. Qualifiedly/Conditionally Privileged Communication: this refers to communications in which the law presumes the absence of malice, thus they are initially not actionable. The burden therefore is on the plaintiff to prove the existence of actual malice.

D.  Two Kinds of Qualifiedly Privileged Communications Under Article 354.

1. Private Communications, made by one to another in the performance of a legal, moral or social duty provided that: (i). The one making the communication must have an interest in the subject and (ii) the person to whom the communication was made is one who can act on the matter

(a). This communication maybe oral or written, private, public or official document which are sent for redress of grievances or to request for appropriate action.  But it must be private in that it is intended to be only between the sender and the recipient. Undue publicity removes the privilege.

Hence a so called “Open Letter” is not privileged. Also, accusations made in a public gathering are not privileged.

(b). The communication must meet these elements:

(i).  The person who made the communication had a legal, moral or social duty to make the communication, or at least, had an interest to protect, which interest may either be his own or of the one to whom it is made

(ii). The  communication is addressed to an officer or a board, or superior, having some interest or duty in the matter, and who has the power to furnish the protection sought ( or that the recipient is a proper person who  can act on the communication) and

(iii). The statements in the communication are made in good faith and without malice ( Binay vs. Sec. of Justice, Sept. 08, 2006)

Legal duty: presupposes a provision of law imposing upon the accused the duty to communicate. Such as the complaint by a citizen concerning the misconduct of a public official to the latter‘s superior even if, upon investigation, the matters are not substantiated.  But it may be shown that the charges were maliciously made without reasonable ground for believing them to be true.

Also, a report to the police by a citizen about the suspected criminal activities of another person, even if latter it is proved the suspicions were groundless, is privileged.

(d). Moral or social duty presupposes the existence of a relationship between the sender and the recipient of the communication, or the confidential and pressing urgency of the communication.

(e). The sender must have an interest in the subject of the communication and the recipient must be a proper person who can act on the subject to the communication.

Thus a letter-complaint describing an SLU law professor as lazy incompetent, and an absentee, is privileged if sent to the SLU President. It is not privileged if sent to the President of U.B.

If a teacher writes to his fellow teacher that a student of his is becoming irresponsible and possibly a drug user, the same letter is not privileged. But if sent to the parents of the student for their information and action, it is conditionally privileged.

(f). In Alcantara vs. Ponce ( Feb. 28, 2007)  the court adopted the ruling in the U.S case of Borg vs. Borg in that a ”written charge or information filed with the prosecutor or the court is not libelous although proved or be false and unfounded. Furthermore, the information given to a prosecutor by a private person for the purpose of initiating a prosecution is protected by the same cloak of immunity and cannot be used as a basis for an action for defamation. “

In this Alcantara case, a newsletter submitted by party in a preliminary investigation, which was defamatory, was considered as a privilege communication.

It was also ruled that under the Test of Relevancy, a matter alleged in the course of the proceedings need not be in every case material to the issues or be so pertinent to the controversy that it may become the subject of inquiry in the course of trial, so long as they are relevant.  

2.-A:  A fair and true report of any official proceeding, or of any statement, report, or speech, made thereat  

(a). The proceeding must not be confidential, such as the hearings before the Senate, as opposed to the close door executive sessions of the senate . Thus if the report is with respect to a public record, it refers only to those made accessible to the public which may be revealed for public interest or protection of the public.

(b) The report must be without any unnecessary comment or libelous remarks ( i.e. no editorializing)

(c).The report must be accurate and should not intentionally distort the facts. If there is error in the facts reported, the report is still privilege if made in good faith

(d) Examples: News report of a judicial proceeding, including the filing of a complaint in court; or what a witness testified; or of a verbal and heated argument between two councilors during the session of the city council.

(e). This defense apply most often to members of the media who write on said matters or report them as news

2-B.  Fair and True Report of the Official  Acts of a Public Official

(a). The public and official acts of a public official, including his policies, are legitimate subjects of comments and criticisms, though they may be unfair. Public officials are not supposed to be onion-skinned.  “Public officials, like Ceasar’s wife, must be beyond reproach and above suspicion”.

(b). But the communication may be actionable:

(i) If it contains an imputation which is a false allegation of a fact or a comment based on a false supposition

(ii). If the attack, criticism or imputation pertains to his private acts or private life, unless these reflect on his public character and image as a public official.

(iii) As stated in the U.S. case of New York Times vs. Sullivan, a public official may recover damages if he proves that : “the statement was made with actual damage, that is, with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not”

B. Matters Considered Privileged By Jurisprudence

1. Fair Comments on Matters of Public Interest

(a) In  Borjal vs. Ct. of Appeals, (301 SCRA 1,  Jan. 14, 1999) it was held that the enumeration in Article 354 is not an exclusive list of qualifiedly privileged communications because “fair comments on matters of public interest are privileged and constitute a valid defense in an action for libel or slander”

(b). They refer to events, developments, or matters in which the public as a whole has a legitimate interest.


(i). A news report on the welfare of youth and students in a school allegedly staffed by incompetents, or a dumping ground of misfit teachers, concerns a matter of public interest.       

(ii). An editorial criticizing the owner of a ship which sunk, for his delay in extending financial help to the family of the victims, is not libelous as the in action is a matter of public interest.

(iii). The arrest and prosecution of law violator is a matter in which the public has a right to know. Thus there is no liability for reporting that a lady was arrested for selling shabu or that a person was charged in court or convicted by a court for Estafa. The persons in question cannot file a case for libel.

(iv). A radio announcer lambasts a family for their adamant refusal to vacate and remove their structure inside a park.

2. Comments and Criticisms on the Actuations of Public Figures

(a) Public figures refer to people who place themselves in the public limelight or attention either:  by nature of their business or activity, or mode of living, or by adopting a mode of profession or calling which gives the public a legitimate interest in his doings, his affairs and in his character or which affect public interest  (these are the celebrities), or because they participate in public affairs or regularly and publicly expound their views on public affairs.

Examples of the first: movie stars; national athletes; those representing the Philippines in world beauty pageants, Manny Pacquiao; hosts of TV shows/programs such as the Tulfo brothers, musicians, novelists. The spouse of the President is a public figure.

Examples of the second: candidates for an elective position; columnists of national newspapers, TV/radio commentators, Cardinal Sin during his time, Jose Maria Sison.

( b) As with public officials, the imputation maybe actionable if  it is (i) a false allegation of fact or (ii) it is based on a false supposition.

3.  Justified Libel or the Privilege of a Reply.

This is fighting libel with libel. This refer to communications made in response to a libel  in order to counter  and/or remove the libel, provided it is limited to and related to the defamatory imputation and not unnecessarily libelous.

4. Truth And Good Motives or Justifiable Ends.

A. It is not enough that what was publicized about another is true. The accused must also prove good motives or intentions and justifiable ends, in order to disprove malice.

B. This defense is available only if: (a) What is imputed to another is a crime regardless if the victim is a private or public person or (ii) if the victim is a public officer regardless of whether a crime is imputed, so long as it relates to the discharge of their official duties

C. Illustrations: one writes about the criminal activities of another in order to show that crime does not pay, or to set an example of what conduct to avoid.

5. The Principle of Neutral Reportage.

A. This is a defense available to one charged not as the author but as  a republisher of a libelous material

B. The republisher who accurately and disinterestedly reports certain defamatory statements made against public figures, is shielded from liability, regardless of his subjective awareness of the truth or falsity of the accusation. ( See Fil Broadcasting Net Work vs. AGO Medical and Educational Center, 448 SCRA 413)  

Example: A parent of a student goes on radio to denounce a school teacher as being incompetent, absentee, bias and prejudiced. A news reporter quoted the accusations in his news article. He is not liable even if he personally knows the accusations are untrue.

356. Libel As A Threat (Blackmailing)

I. Concept: The law punishes a person who demands a compensation or money consideration by:

1. threatening to publish a libel concerning a person or his family and

2. offering to prevent the publication of a libel

II. Principles:

A. This a form of blackmailing because there is an extortion for money under threat of so called “exposing” a person. This is often called demand for “Hush Money”

B. If both modes were committed by a single person, there is only one offense. If committed by two different persons there be two separate offenses, unless both are in conspiracy.

C. The crime is consumated once the threats or offers were made.

III. Examples:

A. The accused threatened to publish in a weekly periodical certain letters written by a married woman unless she paid a certain sum of money.

B. The producer of a TV Program demanded money from a politician otherwise he would expose the sexcapades of the politician.