by Karina Marie Celicious

US v. FELIPE BUSTOS ET AL., GR No. 12592, 1918-03-08

Facts:

In the latter part of 1915, numerous citizens of the Province of Pampanga assembled, and prepared and signed a petition to the Executive Secretary through the law office of Crossfield & O'Brien, and five individuals signed affidavits, charging Roman

Punsalan, justice of the peace of Macabebe and Masantol, Pampanga, with malfeasance in office and asking for his removal.

The justice of the peace was notified and denied the charges.

The judge of first instance found the first count... not proved and counts 2 and 3 established. In view of this result, the judge, the Honorable Percy M. Moir, was of the opinion "that it must be, and it is hereby, recommended to the Governor-General that the respondent be removed from his position as justice of the peace of

Macabebe and Masantol, Province of Pampanga, and it is ordered that the proceedings had in this case be transmitted to the Executive Secretary."

Later the justice of the peace filed a motion for a new trial... the judge of first instance granted the motion and reopened the hearing;

"That on or about the month of December, 1915, in the municipality of Macabebe, Pampanga, P. I., the said accused, voluntarily, illegally, and criminally and with malicious intent to prejudice and defame Mr. Roman Punsalan Serrano

The Honorable Percy M. Moir found all the defendants, with the exception of Felix Fernandez, Juan S. Alfonso, Restituto Garcia, and Manuel Mallari, guilty and sentenced each of them to pay a fine of P10 and one thirty-second part of the costs, or to suffer subsidiary... imprisonment in case of insolvency.

"1. The court erred in overruling the motion of the convicted defendants for a new trial.

"2. The court erred in refusing to permit the defendants to retire the objection inadvertently interposed by their counsel to the admission in evidence of the expediente administrativo out of which the accusation in this case arose.

"3. The court erred in sustaining the objection of the prosecution to the introduction in evidence by the accused of the affidavits upon which the petition forming the basis of the libelous charge was based.

"4. The court erred in not holding that the alleged libelous statement was unqualifiedly privileged.

"5. The court erred in assuming and impliedly holding that the burden was on the defendants to show that the alleged libelous statements were true and free from malice.

"6. The court erred in not acquitting the defendants.

"7. The evidence adduced fails to show the guilt of the defendants beyond a reasonable doubt This is especially true of all the defendants, except Felipe Bustos, Dionisio Mallari, and Jose T. Reyes."

Issues:

This appeal presents the specific question of whether or not the defendants and appellants are guilty of a libel of Roman Punsalan, justice of the peace of Macabebe and Masantol, Province of Pampanga.

Ruling:

Express malice has not been proved by the prosecution, further, although the charges are probably not true as to the justice of the peace, they were believed to be true by the... petitioners.

Good faith surrounded their action.

Probable cause for them to think that malfeasance or misfeasance in office existed is apparent.

The ends and the motives of these citizens to secure the removal from office of a person thought to be venal were justifiable. In no... way did they abuse the privilege.

We find the defendants and appellants entitled to the protection of the rules concerning qualified privilege, growing out of constitutional guaranties in our bill of rights. Instead of punishing citizens for an honest endeavor to improve the public service, we should rather... commend them for their good citizenship. The defendants and appellants are acquitted with the costs de officio. So ordered.

Principles:

The interest of society and the maintenance of good government demand a full discussion of public... affairs.

Complete liberty to comment on the conduct of public men is a scalpel in the case of free speech.

criticism does not authorize defamation.

Nevertheless, as the individual is less than the State, so must expected criticism be born for the common good.

Rising superior to any official or set of officials, to the Chief Executive, to the

Legislature, to the Judiciary to any or all the agencies of Government public opinion should be the constant source of liberty and democracy.

The guaranties of a free speech and a free press include the right to criticize judicial conduct.

The administration of the law is a matter of vital public concern. Whether the law is wisely or badly enforced is, therefore, a fit subject for proper comment.

If the people... cannot criticize a justice of the peace or a judge the same as any other public officer, public opinion will be effectively muzzled.

it is a duty which every one owes to society or to the State to assist in the investigation of any alleged... misconduct.

Privilege is classified as either absolute or qualified. With the first, we are not concerned. As to qualified privilege, it is as the words suggest a prima facie privilege which may be lost by proof of malice.

A pertinent illustration of the application of qualified privilege is a complaint made in good faith and without malice in regard to the chLracter or conduct of a public official when addressed to an officer or a board having some interest or duty in the matter.

Even when the... statements are found to be false, if there is probable cause for belief in their truthfulness and the charge is made in good faith, the mantle of privilege may still cover the mistake of the individual.

But the statements must be made under an honest sense of duty; a... self-seeking motive is destructive.

The privilege is not defeated by the mere fact that the communication is made in intemperate terms.

A privileged communication should not be subjected to microscopic examination to discover grounds of malice or falsity. Such excessive scrutiny would defeat the protection which the law throws over privileged communications. The ultimate test is that of bona fides.

As a general rule... words imputing to a judge or a justice of the peace dishonesty or corruption or incapacity or misconduct touching him in his office are actionable. But as suggested in the beginning we do not have present a simple case of direct and vicious accusations published in the press,... but of charges predicated on affidavits made to the proper official and thus qualifiedly privileged

Malicious and untrue communications are not privileged.