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Jul 28, 2008

G.R. No. 150256, March 25, 2004


This is a complaint for damages filed by Catalino Arafiles, Director of the National Institute of Atmospheric Science (NIAS) against People’s Journal Tonight reporter, Romy Morales.

On April 14, 1987, Morales was at the Western Police District Headquarters when NIAS employee, Emelita Despuig lodged a complaint for forcible abduction with rape and forcible abduction with attempted rape against Arafiles. After interviewing Emelita and checking the police blotter, Morales wrote a story about it, which was published that same day.

Arafiles then filed a complaint against Morales, alleging that on account of the “grossly malicious and overly sensationalized reporting in the news item” aspersions were cast on his character; his reputation as a director of the NIAS at the PAGASA was injured; he became the object of public contempt and ridicule as he was depicted as a sex-crazed stalker and serial rapist; and the news item deferred his promotion to the position of Deputy Administrator of PAGASA.

For its part, Morales et al. countered that the news item, having been sourced from the Police Blotter, which is an official public document and bolstered by a personal interview of the victim, falls within the protective constitutional provision of freedom of the press.

The RTC ruled in favor of Arafiles, stating that the article did not use phrases like “allegedly” or “reportedly” and that it reported the allegations of the victim as if it were fact and truth. On appeal to the CA, the RTC decision was reversed. CA found no proof that respondents were motivated by a sinister intent to cause harm and injury to petitioner.

Hence this case.


  • Whether or not the CA erred in holding that the publication of the news item was not attended with malice to thus free respondents of liability for damages


The SC found that the case against respondents has not been sufficiently established by preponderance of evidence.

Article 33 contemplates a civil action for the recovery of damages that is entirely unrelated to the purely criminal aspect of the case. A civil action for libel under this article shall be instituted and prosecuted to final judgment and proved by preponderance of evidence separately from and entirely independent of the institution, pendency or result of the criminal action because it is governed by the provisions of the NCC and not by the RPC governing the criminal offense charged and the civil liability arising therefrom. These pertinent NCC provisions are Article 19 and 21.

In actions for damages for libel, it is axiomatic that the published work alleged to contain libelous material must be examined and viewed as a whole.

The article must be construed as an entirety including the headlines, as they may enlarge, explain, or restrict or be enlarged, explained or strengthened or restricted by context. Whether or not it is libelous depends upon the scope, spirit and motive of the publication taken in its entirety.

A publication claimed to be defamatory must be read and construed in the sense in which the readers to whom it is addressed would ordinarily understand it. So, the whole item, including display lines, should be read and construed together, and its meaning and signification thus determined.

Was there malicious sensationalization of fabricated facts?

SC held in the negative.

The argument of the petitioner is that the sole basis of the news item is the police blotter. However, said police blotter plainly shows that there was only one count of abduction and rape reported by Emelita.

SC found that while the police blotter entry recorded Emelita’s complaint about only a case for abduction with rape, her sworn statement given in the presence of Morales, who subsequently interviewed her, reported about the second abduction incident.

The presentation of the news item subject of petitioner’s complaint may have been in a sensational manner, but it is not per se illegal. The first seven paragraphs gave the impression that a certain director of the NIAS actually committed the crimes, but the succeeding paragraphs sufficiently conveyed to the readers that the narration of events was only Emelita’s account to the police.

SC further ruled that in determining the manner in which a given event should be presented as a news item and the importance to be attached thereto, newspapers must enjoy a certain degree of discretion.

Every citizen of course has the right to enjoy a good name and reputation, but we do not consider that the respondents, under the circumstances of this case, had violated said right or abused the freedom of the press. The newspapers should be given such leeway and tolerance as to enable them to courageously and effectively perform their important role in our democracy. In the preparation of stories, press reporters and editors usually have to race with their deadlines; and consistently with good faith and reasonable care, they should not be held to account, to a point of suppression, for honest mistakes or imperfection in the choice of words.


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