G. R. Nos. 118757 & 121571 - October 19, 2004
ROBERTO BRILLANTE, Petitioner, vs. COURT OF APPEALS and THE PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
Every man has a right to build, keep and be favored with a good name. This right is protected by law with the recognition of slander and libel as actionable wrongs, whether as criminal offenses or tortious conduct.
In these consolidated petitions for review on certiorari,1 petitioner Roberto Brillante (Brillante), also known as Bobby Brillante, questions his convictions for libel for writing and causing to be published in 1988 an open letter addressed to then President of the Republic of the Philippines Corazon C. Aquino discussing the alleged participation of Atty. Jejomar Binay (Binay), then the "OIC Mayor"2 and a candidate for the position of Mayor in the Municipality (now City) of Makati, and Dr. Nemesio Prudente (Prudente), then President of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, in an assassination plot against Augusto Syjuco (Syjuco), another candidate for Mayor of Makati at that time.
On January 7, 1988, Brillante, then a candidate for the position of Councilor in Makati, held a press conference at the Makati Sports Club which was attended by some 50 journalists. In the course of the press conference, Brillante accused Binay of plotting the assassination of Syjuco. He further accused Binay of terrorism, intimidation and harassment of the Makati electorate. Brillante also circulated among the journalists copies of an open letter to President Aquino which discussed in detail his charges against Binay.3
Several journalists who attended the press conference wrote news articles about the same. Angel Gonong, a writer for the Peoples Journal, wrote a news article entitled "Binay Accused of Plotting Slays of Rivals." It was cleared for publication by Max Buan, Jr. (Buan), and Luis Camino (Camino), Editor-in-Chief and News Editor, respectively, of the Peoples Journal. Gloria Hernandez (Hernandez) wrote a similar article entitled "Binay Slay Plan on Syjuco" which was cleared for publication by Augusto Villanueva (Villanueva) and Virgilio Manuel (Manuel), Editor-in-Chief and News Editor, respectively, of the News Today.4
The open letter was subsequently published under the title "Plea to Cory--Save Makati" in newspapers such as the Peoples Journal, Balita, Malaya and Philippine Daily Inquirer.5 The pertinent portions of the open letter read:
As a result of the publication of the open letter, Binay filed with the Makati fiscals office four complaints for libel against Brillante, as the author of the letter; Gonong, Buan and Camino for writing and publishing the news article on Brillantes accusations against him in the Peoples Journal;7 Hernandez, Villanueva and Manuel for writing and publishing a similar news article in the News Today;8 and for publishing the open letter, Buan and Camino of the Peoples Journal;9 and Arcadio A. Sison (Sison) as President of A. Sison and Associates, an advertising agency.10
Francisco Baloloy (Baloloy), who was identified in the open letter as among the persons who attended the meeting organized by Binay and Prudente to plan the assassination of Syjuco, likewise filed a criminal complaint for libel against Brillante, Domingo Quimlat (Quimlat), Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Balita, and Sison as President of A. Sison and Associates.11
Subsequently, five Informations for libel against Brillante were filed with the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Makati.
Similarly, on January 15, 1988, Prudente filed four complaints for libel against Brillante and the editors and publishers of the newspapers where the open letter was published. On January 16, 1989, four Informations for libel were filed against Brillante and several co-accused with the RTC of Manila. Brillantes co-accused in these cases were: (i) Buan, Editor-in-Chief of the Peoples Journal;12 (ii) Amado P. Macasaet (Macasaet), Publisher, and Noel Albano (Albano), Editor, of the Malaya;13 (iii) Sison, Public Relations Officer and Federico D. Pascual (Pascual), Publisher and Executive Editor of the Philippine Daily Inquirer;14 and (iv) Sison, Public Relations Officer and Quimlat, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Balita.15
Buan was not included in the trial of the cases in the RTC-Manila because he eluded arrest and was not arraigned. The charges against Pascual and Quimlat were dropped upon motion of the Assistant Prosecutor. The charges against Macasaet and Albano were also eventually dismissed upon motion of the prosecution. Only Brillante and Sison remained as accused.16 Both pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.
On January 25, 1993, the RTC-Manila acquitted Sison but found Brillante guilty of libel on four counts. The dispositive portion of the trial courts Decision in the consolidated cases reads:
Subsequently, Brillante appealed the Decision of the RTC-Manila to the Court of Appeals.18 Brillante contended that when the Informations in Criminal Cases No. 89-69614 to 17 were filed by the prosecutor on January 16, 1989, the offense had already prescribed because more than one year had elapsed since the publication of the open letter on January 10, 11 and 12, 1988. He also averred that the open letter which he wrote and caused to be published was not defamatory and was without malice. Brillante also claimed that the publication is considered privileged communication. Finally, he argued that he is entitled to equal protection of the laws and should be acquitted of the offenses charged like his co-accused.19
On September 27, 1994, the Court of Appeals promulgated its Decision in CA-G.R. No. 14475 affirming the decision of the RTC-Manila. The appellate court held that the offense of libel had not yet prescribed because the one-year prescription period should be reckoned from the time that the private complainant Prudente filed his complaint with the fiscals office on January 15, 1988 and not when the Informations were filed by the prosecutor on January 16, 1989. The Court of Appeals added that under Section 1, Rule 110, which took effect during the pendency of the cases against Brillante, the institution of the complaint before the fiscals office or the courts for preliminary investigation interrupts the prescriptive period of the offense charged. It held that being a procedural rule, Section 1, Rule 110, applies to the cases against Brillante.20
The Court of Appeals further held that the RTC-Manila did not err in finding that Brillante had committed libel against Prudente. It explained that the open letter, when read in its entirety, gives the impression that Prudente is part of a purported criminal conspiracy to kill Syjuco. According to the appellate court, the open letter is a malicious defamation which produced in the minds of the readers Brillantes intent and purpose to injure the reputation of Prudente, thereby exposing him to public hatred, contempt and ridicule.21 The Court of Appeals rejected Brillantes argument that the open letter may be considered privileged communication because the evidence does not show that Brillante wrote and published it out of a legal, moral or social duty.22
The appellate court also debunked Brillantes allegation that he was denied the equal protection of the laws because while the charges against his co-accused were dropped, those against him were not. According to the appellate court, he and his co-accused are not similarly situated because he was convicted of libel upon a finding that there existed evidence beyond reasonable doubt to sustain his conviction. In contrast, the charges against his co-accused were dismissed and their guilt was not proven beyond reasonable doubt.23
Brillantes contention that his conviction for libel on four counts gave rise to double jeopardy because under our jurisdiction protection against double jeopardy may be invoked only for the same offense or identical offenses was also overruled by the appellate court. It held that each and every publication of the same libel constitutes a separate distinct offense and the charge for one instance of publication shall not bar a charge for subsequent and separate publications.24
Brillante filed a Motion for Reconsideration of the decision of the Court of Appeals, but the motion was denied in a Resolution dated January 19, 1995.25
In the meantime, Brillante was likewise convicted for libel on five counts by the RTC-Makati in Criminal Cases Nos. 88-1410, 88-1411, 88-1412, 88-3060 and 89-721. The dispositive portion of the Decision dated March 22, 1993 of the RTC-Makati reads:
Brillante appealed the Decision of the RTC-Makati to the Court of Appeals,27 raising essentially the same arguments in his appeal in CA-G.R. CR No. 14475.
On February 28, 1995, the Court of Appeals rendered its Decision in CA-G.R. CR No. 15174 affirming the decision of the RTC-Makati. It held that the filing of the complaint before the fiscals office interrupts the period of prescription because Article 91 of the Revised Penal Code did not make any distinction whether the complaint is filed in court for preliminary investigation or for trial on the merits, because the filing of the complaint for preliminary investigation is the initial step of criminal proceedings. It added that it would be unfair to deprive the injured party of the right to obtain vindication on account of delays which are not within his control.28
The appellate court also ruled that the open letter cannot be considered privileged communication because it contains libelous matter and was circulated to the public. Citing U.S. v. Galeza,29 it held that while it is the right and duty of a citizen to file a complaint regarding a misconduct on the part of a public official, such complaint must be addressed solely to the officials having jurisdiction to inquire into the charges.30
Lastly, the Court of Appeals sustained the trial courts observation that unlike Brillante, his co-accused editors and publishers could not be held liable for libel because the news reports regarding the January 7, 1988 press conference which were published in their respective newspapers sufficiently informed the readers that the reference to Binays involvement in the assassination plot were allegations made by Brillante during the press conference and that said allegations were reported for the sole purpose of informing the public of the news regarding the candidates adverted to in the report.31
Brillante filed a Motion for Reconsideration of the appellate courts decision, but the motion was denied in a Resolution dated August 17, 1995.32
Thereafter, Brillante filed the present Petitions for Review on March 13, 1995 in G.R. No. 118757 and on October 10, 1995 in G.R. No. 121571. In G.R. No. 118757, he raises the following arguments:
In G.R. No. 121571, he makes the following assignments of error:
With respect to the issue of prescription, Brillante anchors his claim on the Courts ruling in People v. Tayco35 that the prescriptive period of a crime is interrupted only upon the filing of the complaint in court and not the filing thereof with the fiscals office. According to Brillante, the ruling in People v. Olarte36 did not modify the doctrine in Tayco because in Olarte, the Court referred to a complaint filed "in court," not in the "fiscals office." The ruling in Francisco v. Court of Appeals37 that a complaint filed with the fiscals office also interrupts the prescriptive period of a criminal offense allegedly cannot overturn the ruling in Olarte because the latter was decided by the Court En Banc while Francisco was decided by a mere division of the Court.38
It is further asserted by Brillante that the rule in the 1985 Rules on Criminal Procedure that the filing of the criminal complaint with the fiscals office interrupts the prescriptive period, cannot be applied retroactively to the cases against him because it impairs his vested right to have the cases against him dismissed on the ground of prescription.39 In addition, he claims that Section 6(b), Rule 3 of the 1985 Rules on Criminal Procedure which states that "[t]he pendency of a petition for suspension of the criminal action still undergoing preliminary investigation in the fiscals office shall interrupt the prescriptive period for filing the corresponding complaint of information" supports his position that prior to the amendment of the Rules on Criminal Procedure in 1985, the prevailing rule was that only the filing of the complaint or information in court tolls the prescriptive period for a criminal offense.40
Brillante denies that he is liable for libel for causing to be published his open letter implicating Binay, Prudente and their associates in a planned assassination of Syjuco as well as election-related terrorism, and in uttering remarks against Binay and his associates during the January 7, 1988 press conference. According to Brillante, his statements and utterances were privileged communication because he made them public out of a legal, moral and social duty to safeguard the sanctity of the elections to be held on January 18, 1988, and to avoid the unnecessary loss of life.41 Since his statements were privileged communication, malice cannot be presumed from them.42 Brillante adds that at the time he made the statements, he honestly believed that they were true. Citing an American case, Bays v. Hunt,43 he contends that where there is an honest belief in the truth of the charges made, and the publication is in good faith, one is not responsible even for publishing an untruth.44
It is further asserted by Brillante that since Binay, the subject of the allegedly defamatory statements is a public figure, his (Brillantes) comments affecting Binays reputation is constitutionally protected speech.45
Brillante also urges the Court to reverse his convictions, reasoning that at most, what he may have committed is "political libel" which should exempt him form criminal liability, considering that election campaigns can become very heated and candidates from rival camps often make charges and countercharges which are offensive to the name, honor and prestige of their opponents. He contends that statements made by a candidate against his rivals, although derogatory, are for the purpose of convincing the electorate to prevent suspicious characters from holding public office. In essence, he posits the view that "political libel" should be deemed constitutionally protected speech.46
Brillante likewise argues that the multiple publication rule, i.e., that each publication constitutes one offense of libel, should not have been applied to him, considering the factual background of the open letter and the statements uttered by him during the press conference.47
Anent the issue of equal protection, Brillante contends that he should have been acquitted like his co-accused Angel Gonong who wrote the news article in the Peoples Journal regarding the January 7, 1988 press conference and Buan and Camino who were the editors of that publication.48
The Solicitor General filed a Comment on each of the petitions.
The Solicitor General insists that the one-year prescriptive period for libel should be reckoned from the date of filing of the complaints with the office of the prosecutor as clarified by the Court in Olarte and Francisco and as stated in the 1985 Rules on Criminal Procedure, as amended in 1988, which applies to the complaints filed against Brillante as of October 1988.49
On the issue of libel, the Solicitor General insists that Brillantes statements in the open letter clearly impute upon Prudente and Binay a criminal conspiracy to assassinate Syjuco.50 The Solicitor General also maintains that contrary to Brillantes claims, the open letter cannot be considered privileged communication because it was published without justifiable motives and it was circulated for the information of the general public instead of addressing the letter solely to the authorities who had the power to curb the dangers alleged by Brillante in the letter.51
The Solicitor General disagrees with Brillantes contention that his statements are constitutionally protected because they are criticisms of official conduct and deal with public figures. According to the Solicitor General, the record shows that Brillante did not have enough basis to pass off his accusations as true considering that he admitted to relying on unnamed "intelligence sources."52
It is also argued by the Solicitor General that Brillantes statements cannot be exempt from criminal liability on the ground that such statements were "political libel." Brillantes claim, the Solicitor General asserts, has no basis in law or jurisprudence.53
With respect to the issue of equal protection, the Solicitor General avers that Brillante cannot be acquitted like his co-accused publishers, editors and writers because their alleged participation in the commission of the libel are different from Brillante who is the author of the libelous statements. The writers of the news reports were only narrating what took place during the January 7, 1988 press conference, and wrote the news articles to inform the public of Brillantes statements. In the case of the editors and publishers who published the open letter, they indicated in their respective publications that the open letter was a paid advertisement. The publication of the news reports in the newspapers was also done to inform the public of what transpired during the January 7, 1988 press conference.54
The Solicitor General further argues that the penalty imposed upon Brillante is not excessive but is in accordance with law, which considers one publication of a libelous statement as a distinct offense from another publication of the same statement.55
Thus, the Solicitor General prays that Brillantes petitions be denied.56
Brillante thereafter filed a Reply to each of the Solicitor Generals Comments. The replies reiterate Brillantes arguments in his petitions.57
The Court is tasked to resolve the following issues: (1) whether the offense of libel had already prescribed when the Informations were filed with the RTC-Manila and RTC-Makati; (2) whether Brillante is guilty beyond reasonable doubt of libel; (3) whether Brillante was denied the equal protection of the laws; and (4) whether the penalty imposed upon him is excessive.
Save for the issue on the amount of moral damages, there is no merit in the petitions.
With respect to the issue of prescription, the fourth paragraph of Article 90 of the Revised Penal Code provides that the "crime of libel or other similar offenses shall prescribe in one year." In determining when the one-year prescriptive period should be reckoned, reference must be made to Article 91 of the same code which sets forth the rule on the computation of prescriptive periods of offenses:
The aforequoted provision expressly states that prescriptive period shall be interrupted by the filing of the complaint or information. The meaning of the phrase "shall be interrupted by the filing of the complaint or information" in Article 91 has been settled in the landmark case of People v. Olarte,58 where the Court settled divergent views as to the effect of filing a complaint with the Municipal Trial Court for purposes of preliminary investigation on the prescriptive period of the offense. The Court therein held that the filing of the complaint for purposes of preliminary investigation interrupts the period of prescription of criminal responsibility. It explained thus:
Thereafter, the Court in Francisco v. Court of Appeals60 clarified that the filing of the complaint with the fiscals office also suspends the running of the prescriptive period of a crime:
As is a well-known fact, like the proceedings in the court conducting a preliminary investigation, a proceeding in the Fiscal's Office may terminate without conviction or acquittal.
As Justice Claudio Teehankee has observed:
There is no conflict in the pronouncements of the Court in Olarte and Francisco as Brillante erroneously suggests. Olarte laid down the doctrine that a complaint filed for purposes of preliminary investigation tolls the running of the prescriptive period of a criminal offense. The criminal complaint for libel in that case was filed, for the purpose of preliminary investigation, with the Justice of the Peace Court in Pozorrubio, Pangasinan. Hence, in setting the doctrine, the Court referred to the "filing of the complaint in the Municipal Court."62 The question of whether the doctrine laid down in Olarte also applies to criminal complaints filed with the prosecutors office was settled in Francisco. Specifically, the Court in Francisco amplified the Olarte doctrine when it categorically ruled that the filing of a complaint with the fiscals office suspends the running of the prescriptive period of a criminal offense.
Thus, the Court of Appeals committed no reversible error in ruling that the offense of libel had not yet prescribed when the informations against Brillante and his co-accused were filed in the RTC-Manila and RTC-Makati.
Neither did the appellate court err in sustaining Brillantes conviction for libel.
Libel is defined under Article 353 of the Revised Penal Code as "a public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status, or circumstance tending to cause the dishonor, discredit or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead."
To be liable for libel, the following elements must be shown to exist: (a) the allegation of a discreditable act or condition concerning another; (b) publication of the charge; (c) identity of the person defamed; and (d) existence of malice.63
There could be no dispute as to the existence of the first three elements of libel in the cases at bar.
An allegation made by a person against another is considered defamatory if it ascribes to the latter the commission of a crime; the possession of a vice or defect, whether real or imaginary; or any act, omission, condition, status or circumstance which tends to dishonor or discredit or put him in contempt, or which tends to blacken the memory of one who is dead.64 Brillantes statements during the January 7, 1988 press conference and in the open letter explicitly referred to reprehensible acts allegedly committed by Binay, Prudente and their associates, such as the use of goons to threaten Binays opponents in the election and the plotting of Syjucos assassination.
The element of publication was likewise established. There is publication if the defamatory material is communicated to a third person, i.e., a person other than the person to whom the defamatory statement refers.65 In the cases at bar, it was proven that Brillante uttered defamatory statements during the press conference attended by some fifty journalists and caused the open letter to be published in several newspapers, namely, News Today, Peoples Journal, Balita, Malaya and Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Further, Brillante himself admitted that he named Binay, Prudente and their associates as the persons who participated in the planning of the election-related terrorism and the assassination of Syjuco not only in his open letter but also during the press conference.
Thus, the determination of Brillantes culpability for libel hinges on the question of whether his statements were made with malice.
Malice is a term used to indicate the fact that the offender is prompted by personal ill-will or spite and speaks not in response to duty, but merely to injure the reputation of the person defamed; it implies an intention to do ulterior and unjustifiable harm.66 It is present when it is shown that the author of the libelous remarks made such remarks with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard as to the truth or falsity thereof.67
Article 354 of the Revised Penal Code states, as a general rule, that every defamatory imputation is presumed to be malicious, even if true, if no good intention and justifiable motive is shown.68
As an exception to the rule, the presumption of malice is done away with when the defamatory imputation qualifies as privileged communication.69
Privileged communication may either be absolutely privileged or conditionally privileged. The Court in Orfanel v. People of the Philippines70 differentiated absolutely privileged communication from conditionally privileged communication in this manner:
Conditionally or qualifiedly privileged communications are those mentioned in, Article 354 of the Revised Penal Code, to wit:
Brillante claims that he wrote the open letter and uttered the statement complained of during the January 7, 1988 press conference out of a social duty to disclose to all concerned the dangers to which he and his fellow candidate Syjuco were exposed in view of the concerted actions of Binay and Prudente.73 In effect, he argues that his defamatory statements and utterances fall under Article 354, No. 1 and are in the nature of privileged communication; hence, malice cannot be presumed but must be established beyond reasonable doubt.
The Court is not convinced.
In order to prove that a statement falls within the purview of a qualifiedly privileged communication under Article 354, No. 1, the following requisites must concur: (1) 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; (2) 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; and (3) the statements in the communication are made in good faith and without malice.74
With respect to the first requisite, the Court in U.S. v. Cañete75 clarified that the interest sought to be protected by the person making the communication need not be his own, but may refer to an interest shared by the other members of society.
It may therefore be argued that Brillantes statements, which according to him were made in order to protect himself and Syjuco as Binays rivals in the 1988 elections, as well as to protect the electorate from possible acts of terrorism by Binay, Prudente and their associates and from casting their votes for undeserving candidates, satisfy the first requisite.
However, as the Solicitor General noted, Brillantes statements were based merely on unconfirmed intelligence reports. His belief in such intelligence reports hardly justifies the publication of such serious imputations against his political rivals. As a journalist and as a candidate for public office, Brillante should have known that it is necessary to further verify the truth or at least the reliability of the intelligence reports before making them public. His hasty publication thereof negates the existence of good faith and justifiable motives.
The pronouncement of the Court in U.S. v. Galeza76 is enlightening:
It is, however, the absence of the second element of a privileged communication that unequivocally negates the characterization of Brillantes statements as privileged communication. The law requires that for a defamatory imputation made out of a legal, moral or social duty to be privileged, such statement must be communicated only to the person or persons who have some interest or duty in the matter alleged, and who have the power to furnish the protection sought by the author of the statement.
In the cases at bar, although the open letter was primarily addressed to then President Aquino, the communication thereof was not limited to her alone. It was also published in several newspapers of general circulation and was thus made known to the general public. Even if the interest sought to be protected belongs not just to Brillante but to the public in general, certainly, the general public does not have the power to remedy the alleged dangers sought to be prevented by Brillante in publishing the open letter or in uttering similar statements during the January 7, 1988 press conference. Brillante employed the shotgun approach to disseminate the information which essentially destroyed the reputations of the complainants. His lack of selectivity is indicative of malice and is anathema to his claim of privileged communication.
In Daez v. Court of Appeals,78 Daez was charged with libel for publishing a letter which accused the Mayor of Meycauayan, Bulacan of corruption. The letter addressed to the Mayor was sent not only to him but also to the Municipal Court, Municipal Council and Chief of Police of Meycauayan, Bulacan. Daez contended therein that he was not guilty of libel because he was not motivated by malice or ill-will in publishing the letter, but rather, he did it out of good intentions and a social duty to bring about reforms in the administration of the municipal government of Meycauayan, Bulacan. The Court affirmed his conviction for libel and held:
Thus, the Court agrees with the finding of the Court of Appeals that the statements made by Brillante during the press conference and in the open letter do not qualify as privileged communication.
Indeed, the purpose of affording protection to privileged communication is to permit all interested persons or citizens with grievances to freely communicate, with immunity, to the persons who could furnish the protection asked for. However, to shield such privilege from abuse, the law itself requires at all times that such petitions or communications shall be made in good faith or with justifiable motives. If it is established that the communication was made maliciously or to persons who could not furnish the protection sought, then the author thereof cannot seek protection under the law.80 As was explained by the Court in Cañete:
The Court in Lu Chu Sing v. Lu Tiong Gui82 clarified that the fact that a communication is privileged does not mean that it is not actionable; the privileged character of the communication simply does away with the presumption of malice, and the plaintiff has to prove the fact of malice in such case.
However, since the open letter and the statements uttered by Brillante during the January 7, 1988 press conference are defamatory and do not qualify as conditionally privileged communication, malice is presumed and need not be proven separately from the existence of the defamatory statement.83
Considering that all the elements of libel are present in the cases against Brillante, the Court finds that no reversible error was committed by the Court of Appeals in affirming his convictions by the RTC-Manila and RTC-Makati.
Neither does the Court find any basis in law to uphold Brillantes proposition that his statements made during the January 7, 1988 press conference and those in his open letter constitute "political libel" and should thus be exempt from liability. Unfounded and malicious statements made by one against another in the course of an election campaign, or by reason of differences in political views are not per se constitutionally protected speech. Our laws on defamation84 provide for sanctions against unjustified and malicious injury to a persons reputation and honor. Although wider latitude is given to defamatory utterances against public officials in connection with or relevant to their performance of official duties,85 or against public figures in relation to matters of public interest involving them,86 such defamatory utterances do not automatically fall within the ambit of constitutionally protected speech. If the utterances are false, malicious or unrelated to a public officers performance of his duties, the same may give rise to criminal and civil liability.
With respect to the third issue, the Court agrees with the appellate court that Brillantes right to equal protection of the laws was not violated when he was convicted of libel while his co-accused were acquitted.
The equal protection clause is not absolute; rather, it permits of reasonable classification. If the classification is characterized by real and substantial differences, one class may be treated differently from another.87 It is sufficient that the law operates equally and uniformly on all persons under similar circumstances or that all persons are treated in the same manner, the conditions not being different, both in the privileges conferred and the liabilities imposed.88
As mentioned earlier, the cases against some of some of Brillantes co-accused were dismissed during the pendency of the cases before the trial courts.89 Still, some of his co-accused remained at large,90 leaving the trial courts with no option but to archive the case as against them. Brillantes other co-accused were acquitted since, unlike Brillante, their guilt was not proven beyond reasonable doubt.91
The foregoing clearly shows that Brillante was in a situation different from his co-accused. The prosecution was able to prove beyond reasonable doubt his liability for libel, as the author of the open letter and the source of the defamatory statements uttered against Binay, et al. during the January 7, 1988 press conference.
As such, his conviction for libel was not violative of the equal protection clause.
The Court likewise finds no error on the part of the Court of Appeals in affirming the penalties imposed upon him by the trial courts of Manila and Makati.
The penalty for libel by means of writing or similar means is prision correccional in its minimum and medium periods, or a fine ranging from 200 to 6,000 pesos, or both, in addition to the civil action which may be brought by the offended party.92 It is likewise settled that a single defamatory statement, if published several times, gives rise to as many offenses as there are publications. This is the "multiple publication rule" which is followed in our jurisdiction, as explained in Soriano v. Intermediate Appellate Court:93
We explained this as follows:
There is therefore no legal basis for Brillantes claim that the penalties imposed upon him are excessive.
The Court however agrees with Brillante that the awards of moral damages in the two cases to private complainants Binay, Prudente and Baloloy are excessive considering the circumstances surrounding the making and the publication of the defamatory statements. Accordingly, the award of moral damages in favor of private complainant Prudente is reduced to a total of Five Hundred Thousand Pesos (
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the petitions are GRANTED in part.
The Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR No. 14475 is AFFIRMED with the MODIFICATION that the award of moral damages to private complainant Dr. Nemesio Prudente in Criminal Cases No. 89-69614, 89-69615, 89-69616 is reduced to Five Hundred Thousand Pesos (
Puno, Austria-Martinez, Callejo, Sr., and Chico-Nazario*, JJ., concur.
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