Monday, April 2, 2012

Orfanel v People December 26, 1969 G.R. No. L-26877

C. J. Conception

Defendant Godofredo Orfanel wrote to the Director of Printing and sent by ordinary mail a letter (Exhibit A) charging Jesus Ballesteros, an employee in the Bureau of Printing, of using office materials and facilities for his personal purposes such as printing Christmas cards and term papers. He also claimed that Ballesteros had businesses and wealth from his illicit activities.
The complaint was forwarded to the Civil Service Commission which exonerated Ballesteros. Subsequently, the Director of Printing forwarded Exhibit A to the Department of General Services for administrative action. A criminal complaint was then filed against Orfanel for libel. He was convicted in bothe the RTC and the CA.
Defendant maintains that the Court of Appeals has erred: (1) in not holding that Exhibit A is a "privileged communication which would exempt the author thereof from criminal responsibility"; (2) in basing his conviction on a "presumption of malice"; (3) in failing to hold "that Exhibit A merely contained an opinion or belief" for which defendant "incurred no criminal liability"; (4) in holding that the failure of the defense to present Artemio Holgado as a witness "should be taken against" him (defendant); and (5) "in holding that there had been publication of the letter Exhibit A."

1.Did the CA err in in not holding that Exhibit A is a "privileged communication which would exempt the author thereof from criminal responsibility?
2. Did the CA err in basing his conviction on a "presumption of malice"?
3. Did the CA err in failing to hold "that Exhibit A merely contained an opinion or belief" for which defendant "incurred no criminal liability?
4. Did the CA err in holding that the failure of the defense to present Artemio Holgado as a witness "should be taken against" him (defendant)?
5. Did the CA err "in holding that there had been publication of the letter Exhibit A."?

Held: No to all. Petition dismissed.

1. it should be noted that a privileged communication may be either absolutely privileged or conditionally privileged. A communication is said to be absolutely privileged when it is not actionable, even if its author has acted in bad faith. This class includes statements made by members of Congress in the discharge of their functions as such, official communications made by public officers in the performance of their duties, and allegations or statements made by the parties or their counsel in their pleadings or motions or during the hearing of judicial proceedings. Upon the other hand, conditionally or qualifiedly privileged communications are those which, although containing defamatory imputations, would not be actionable unless made with malice or bad faith.
It has, moreover, been held that there is malice when the defamer has been prompted by ill-will or spite and speaks not in response to duty, but merely to injure the reputation of the person defamed.
Exhibit A is not an absolutely privileged communication. It belongs to the class of communications regarded as qualifiedly privileged in the RPC:
ART. 354. Requirement for Publicity. Every defamatory imputation is presumed to be malicious, even if it be true, if no good intention and justifiable motive for making it is shown, except in the following cases:
1. A private communication made by any person to another in the performance of any legal, moral, or social duty
Exhibit A falls under the first subdivision of the above-quoted provision. Being conditional or qualified, the privileged nature of said communication does not warrant defendant's acquittal, if he acted in bad faith or with malice.
2. At the outset, it is not disputed that the imputations made in Exhibit A are per se defamatory. The defendant testified that he made them in good faith, believing that it was his duty to send Exhibit A to the Director of Printing; but, the trial court and the Court of Appeals found his testimony unworthy of credence.
This finding is one of fact, which is beyond our power to review, in this appeal by certiorari from a decision of the Court of Appeals. Section 29 of Republic Act No. 296 explicitly provides that decisions of said Court, when rendered in the exercise of its exclusive appellate jurisdiction over cases properly brought to it from Courts of First Instance, "shall be final", subject to the discretionary power of review by certiorari of the Supreme Court, on questions of law.
The findings of fact on the appellate court are conclusive at the Supreme Court.
The CA found that he acted with malice based on the following circumstances:
The imputations contained in his letter Exhibit A appear to be absolutely groundless. Indeed, the administrative investigation prompted by said communication resulted in the complete exoneration of complainant Jesus Ballesteros. What is more, in the present criminal action, defendant did not even try to prove either the truth of said imputations, or that there was any semblance of truth.
In Exhibit A, defendant said that he had in his possession a sample copy of the wedding invitation card allegedly "printed in the Bureau of Printing" and sold by the complainant to Artemio Holgado. Yet, defendant did not introduce or offer in evidence, either the aforementioned sample copy of the invitation or the testimony of Mr. Holgado. Defendant did not even explain why he failed to do so. Neither did he try to prove that complainant had actually "bought a choice lot in Las Piñas subdivision" and "a coconut plantation in Catanauan, Quezon", in addition to having "a fat bank account in a bank in Manila", as alleged in the fourth specification in said Exhibit A.
Worse still, he did not introduce any evidence of specific facts or circumstances that could have led a reasonably prudent man to believe honestly and earnestly that said imputations are true.
Also the defendant was motivated by a civil case for a parcel of land. He was a relative of the plaintiff and the lower courts presumed that he had a grudge on him. This was the finding of the lower courts, hence there was a presumption of malice.
In short, he was merely interested in embarrassing his cousin or putting him under a cloud of suspicion. Defendant's purpose was not to forestall the irregularities in the Bureau of Printing, in general. In his own words, his objective was "to stop the racketeering activities of Ballesteros", not of the other employees said to be involved in the racket because he didn’t name the other employees involved in the racket.
3. Under his third assignment of error, defendant insists that he cannot be punished for writing and sending Exhibit A, because he merely expressed therein his opinion or belief.
To begin with, this assertion is inaccurate. It is true he expressed in Exhibit A the "opinion or belief" that there was a "flourishing racket" in the Bureau of Printing and that this had been "going on for two years already." The defendant, however, went farther. He denounced in Exhibit A that complainant was the person engaged in such racket.
Then, again, in order to escape criminal responsibility for libel or slander, it is not enough for the party who writes a defamatory communication to another to say that he (the writer) expresses therein no more than his opinion or belief. The communication must be made in the performance of a "legal, moral, or social duty." Defendant had no such "legal, moral, or social duty" to convey his opinion or belief about complainant's moral fiber, to the Director of Printing or the Secretary of General Services. Defendant's civil duty was to help the Government clean house and weed out dishonest, unfit or disloyal officers and employees thereof, when there is reasonable ground to believe that they fall under this category.
He had no legal right, much less duty, to gossip, or foster the circulation of rumors, or jump at conclusions, and more so if they are gratuitous or groundless. Otherwise, the freedom of speech, which is guaranteed with a view to strengthening our democratic institutions and promoting the general welfare, would be a convenient excuse to engage in the vituperation of individuals, for the attainment of private, selfish and vindictive ends, thereby hampering the operation of the Government with administrative investigations of charges preferred without any color or appearance of truth, and with no other probable effect than the harassment of the officer or employee concerned, to the detriment of public service and public order.
Furthermore, the evidence on record does not satisfactorily show that the defendant really entertained the "opinion or belief" he claimed to have.
It is only logical to believe that, before writing Exhibit A on May 5, 1961, he must have made further inquiries and sought, with greater earnestness, evidence to support the charges therein set forth, and that he found no such evidence, because, otherwise, he would have introduced the same in the administrative investigation against complainant herein or, at least, in the case at bar.
Worse still, he did not introduce in the present case some of the evidence presented by him at the administrative investigation above referred to.
Defendant's own testimony, in said investigation, was to the effect that, on February 8, 1961, he paid Ballesteros P3.00 for a lead mold for calling cards. Defendant's other witnesses, in that investigation, were Antonio Muñoz and Cornelio Regala, Acting Chiefs, respectively, of the Job and Tabular Section and the Composing Division, of the Bureau of Printing. Both, in effect, affirmed that Ballesteros did not and could not have committed, in said office, the irregularities imputed to him by the defendant. Hence, defendant's evidence in said administrative investigation showed that nobody had given him the information mentioned in Exhibit A.
Newell-  The person must honestly believe in the truth of the charge he makes at the time he makes it. And this implies that he must have some ground for the assertion; it need not be a conclusive or convincing ground; but no charge should ever be made recklessly and wantonly, even in confidence. The inquirer should be put in possession of all known means of knowledge; if the only means of knowledge is hearsay, he should be told so. A rumor should never be stated as a fact; and in repeating a rumor care should be taken not to heighten its color or exaggerate its extent. If the only information possessed is contained in a letter, he should be given the letter and left to draw his own conclusions. A person should not speak with the air of knowing of his own knowledge that every word is a fact when he is merely repeating gossip or hazarding a series of reckless assertions. If time allows, and means of inquiry exist, he should make some attempt to sift the charge before spreading it. In short, confidential advice should be given seriously and conscientiously; it should be manifests that the person does not take pleasure in maligning the party, but is compelled to do so in the honest discharge of a painful duty.
Then, too, in the present case, there is proof of a litigation between immediate members of the family of both parties, which may have created a feeling of enmity between the complainant and the defendant, whereas, in the cases above-mentioned, there was nothing that could have so marred the personal relations between the complainant and the accused, apart from the fact that there was satisfactory proof of the latter's good faith and absence of malice.
4. Defendant claimed to believe in the truth of the charges contained in his letter Exhibit A, upon the ground that Artemio Holgado had allegedly informed him about it. It was his duty to prove that he had been, in fact, so tipped by Holgado. He should have known that Holgado's testimony would have been the best proof thereon. His failure, not only to introduce said testimony, but, also, to explain why he did not do so, necessarily weakened his defense.
Inference from not producing Evidence, distinguished. The principle has been already examined that a party's failure to produce evidence which, if favorable, would naturally have been produced, is open to the inference that the facts were unfavorable to his cause.
5. Under the last assignment of error, defendant assails the decision appealed from, upon the ground that he should not be held accountable for the fact that Exhibit A was read by the Administrative officer of the Bureau of Printing, who, apparently opens letters addressed to the Director of Printing, and, also, by his secretary, Mario Banzuela, to whom the Director had referred it, as well as by those who participated in the aforementioned investigation, inasmuch as said communication was addressed to no other than the Director of Printing.
It should be noted, however, that defendant had, likewise, sent a copy of Exhibit A to the Secretary of General Services. Moreover, considering that the former had explicitly asked an investigation of the charges preferred in said communication, it is obvious that the reading of Exhibit A by other persons than its aforementioned addressee was precisely what the defendant had envisaged and sought.
Indeed, "(a) libel is 'published' not only when it is widely circulated, but also when it is made known or brought to the attention or notice of another person" than its author and the offended party.

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