Catalino P. Arafiles vs. Philippine Journalists, Inc., et al., G.R. NO. 150256, March 25, 2004


At 2:00 a.m. on April 14, 1987, Emelita Despuig, an employee of the National Institute of Atmospheric Sciences (NIAS), lodged a complaint against Catalino P. Arafiles, NIAS director, for forcible abduction with rape and forcible abduction with attempted rape at the Western Police District (WPD) Headquarters along United Nations Avenue, Manila. At that time, Romy Morales, a reporter of Peoples Journal Tonight, was present and interviewed Emelita. His report came out on the same day, serving as headline on Peoples Journal Tonight.

About a year after publication, Arafiles instituted a complaint for damages against respondents. In his complaint, Arafiles alleged that on account of the “grossly malicious and overly sensationalized reporting in the news item” prepared by Morales, edited by respondent Buan, Jr., allowed for publication by respondent Villareal, Jr. as president of Philippine Journalists, Inc., and published by respondent Philippine Journalists, Inc., aspersions were cast on his character; his reputation as a director of the NIAS at the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (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.

In their Answer, respondents prayed for the dismissal of the Complaint, alleging 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 is therefore privileged and falls within the protective constitutional provision of freedom of the press…,” and by way of Compulsory Counterclaim, they prayed for the award of moral and exemplary damages plus attorney’s fees.

Branch 97 of Quezon City RTC ruled against the respondents, noting that the publication stated that a “pretty coed was raped by her boss,” and not qualifying said statement that it was merely a report, with such phrases as “allegedly” or “reportedly.” The RTC also observed that the questioned article continued reporting as if it were fact and truth the alleged abduction of the same girl by her boss, identified as “Director of the National Institute of Atmospheric Science” and did not even hint that it was merely based on interview with the said girl or that it was reflected in the police blotter.

On appeal to the Court of Appeals, the RTC decision was reversed and set aside.

Hence, this petition.




Nature of the Action under Article 33, NCC

It bears noting that the complaint petitioner instituted is one for damages under Article 33 of the Civil Code which provides:

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 New Civil Code and not by the Revised Penal Code governing the criminal offense charged and the civil liability arising therefrom.

How publication alleged to be libelous construed – in its entirety

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 the 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.

In order to ascertain the meaning of a published article, the whole of the article must be considered, each phrase must be construed in the light of the entire publication x x x The headlines of a newspaper must also be read in connection with the language which follows.

Malice vs. Proof / Basis of the Report

Petitioner brands the news item as a “malicious sensationalization” of a patently embellished and salacious narration of fabricated facts involving rape and attempted rape incidents. For, so petitioner argues, the police blotter which was the sole basis for the news item plainly shows that there was only one count of abduction and rape reported by Emelita.

However, though the Police Blotter entry only recorded a case for abduction with rape, the second abduction incident was contained in the sworn statement of Emelita, who confirmed it during her personal interview with Morales.

The presentation of the news item subject of petitioner’s complaint may have been in a sensational manner, but is not per se illegal.

Respondents could of course have been more circumspect in their choice of words as the headline and first seven paragraphs of the news item given the impression that a certain director of the NIAS actually committed crimes complained of by Emelita. The succeeding paragraphs sufficiently convey to the readers, however, that the narration of events was only an account of what Emelita had reported at the police headquarters.

Freedom of Newspaper to Present a News Item

In determining the manner in which a given event should be presented as a news item and the importance to be attached thereto, newspaper 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 reports 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.

In fine, this Court finds that case against respondents has not been sufficiently established by preponderance of evidence.

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