In the heat of anger
A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) - October 18, 2019 - 12:00am

Pursuant to Article 358 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC), the imputation of a crime, vice or defect, or any act, omission status or circumstances, real or imaginary, which tends to cause dishonor, discredit or contempt of a natural or juridical person, made orally, publicly and maliciously, is a crime known as oral defamation or slander. It is libel committed by oral or spoken means instead of in writing or the speaking of base and defamatory words which tend to prejudice another in his reputation, office, trade, business or means of livelihood. Oral defamation may be grave or slight. When is defamation grave and when is it slight? What makes the defamation grave? These are the issues raised and decided in this case of Grace.

The case against Grace happened one afternoon at her neighbor Gina’s home. In her testimony, Gina narrated that she was then watering her plants when she noticed five school children pick up dried leaves and allegedly threw them into her yard as instructed. Gina called the attention of the children so they ran into the school where Grace works as a teacher. A little later, Grace went to Gina’s house carrying dried leaves and threw them into the latter’s yard while telling Gina, “Whom do you blame throwing leaves? Maybe you are the one who threw them because you hosted a birthday party.” Such remark triggered a quarrel between them during the course of which Grace uttered tagalog words to Gina, which, as translated, means:  “Vulva of your mother, prostitute, illiterate, you built a very big house that overshadows my house.” The altercation and utterances of Grace was corroborated by Gina’s son James and his friend, who testified that they were then watching television inside Gina’s house when the commotion ensued and when they went out of the house to check the incident they saw and heard the verbal altercation already going on with onlookers around.

So Grace was prosecuted for the crime of Grave Oral Defamation where Gina and her son James and his friend testified narrating the above incident. In her defense, Grace denied uttering those derogatory remarks. She said she was just traversing a pathway located between Gina and another neighbor’s house pathway when she saw Gina standing at her yard and suddenly got mad at her, blamed her for the garbage in her yard, and warned her not to use the pathway, because she is not the owner and has no title over it. In fact because of that incident Grace said that she even went to the police station and filed a case of grave coercion against Gina. Her testimony was corroborated by her husband Ramon who said that she pulled Grace away when he noticed the said commotion between the two with Gina armed with two stones and about to grab Grace.

The Municipal Trial Court (MTC), however, found Grace guilty of Grave Oral Defamation and sentenced her to imprisonment of one year and one day, minimum, up to one year eight months and one day maximum, and to pay Gina P20,000 moral damages. This ruling was affirmed by the Regional Trial Court (RTC) and the Court of Appeals (CA) declaring the prosecution has indeed established the fact that Grace uttered defamatory statements of a serious and insulting nature against Gina which was even corroborated. So, Grace’s bare denial cannot prevail over it.

The Supreme Court however modified the conviction of Grace and ruled that she is guilty of Slight Oral Defamation only, imposing a fine of P200 with subsidiary imprisonment plus P5,000 payment of moral damages.

According to the SC, the words used by Grace may really be offensive to Gina. But whether it is serious or slight Oral Defamation depends not only upon the sense and grammatical meaning of the utterances but also upon the social standing or the age of the offended party. The gravity depends upon the expressions used, the personal relations of the accused and the offended party, the antecedents between them which may tend to prove the intention of the offender at the time. Uttering defamatory words in the heat of anger, with some provocation on the part of the offended party constitutes only a light felony.

In this case, Grace indeed uttered those words against Gina. However no evidence was presented to show that Grace indeed started the altercation by instructing her school children to throw leaves into Gina’s yard. Her claim was not supported by her corroborative witnesses whose testimonies only pertain to matters transpiring during the height of the verbal altercation as they were inside the house when the fight started. So, while Grace indeed said defamatory words against Gina, the utterances were made in the heat of anger and were with some sort of provocation on her part (Ramos vs. People, G.R. 226454. November 20, 2017)

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