A local court dismissed one of the three libel cases that were earlier filed against a Baguio-based lawyer following the decision of the 8th Division of the Court of Appeals (CA) that quashed the information filed by the city prosecutor’s office on the said case.
In a 2-page order, Judge Ivan Kim Morales of the Regional trial Court (RTC) Branch 59 stated that the court will no longer include the quashed information in the setting of future hearings on the remaining two cyber libel cases that were filed against lawyer Francis Ray Camtugan as per the decision of the CA 8th Division on the latter’s petition for certiorari that quashed the information on one of the cyber libel charges.
Camtugan earlier filed a petition for certiorari before the CA assailing the decision of the city prosecutor’s office in filing three cyber libel charges against him stating that the same was done without giving him the opportunity to file a motion for reconsideration from the Office of the Regional Prosecutor’s resolution dated September 30, 2023 and the recommendation that bail be set at P48,000 in contravention to Department of Justice regulations and were done so with grave abuse of discretion.
The CA claimed that in order for one to maintain an action for an alleged defamatory statement, it must appear that the plaintiff is the person with reference to whom a statement was made. The said principle is of vital importance in cases where a group or class is defamed since, usually, the larger the collective, the more difficult it is for an individual member to show that he was the person at whom the defamation was directed.
“If the defamatory statements were directed at a small, restricted group of persons, they apply to any member of the group, and an individual member could maintain action for defamation. When the defamatory language was used towards a small group or class, including every member, it has been held that the defamatory language referred to each member so that it could maintain an action. This small group or class may be a jury, persons engaged in certain businesses, professions or employments, a restricted subdivision of a particular class, a society, a football team, a family, a small group of union officials, a board of public officers or engineers of a particular company,” the CA ruling stated.
The CA pointed out that all the elements of the offense of cyber libel were sufficiently alleged in the amended information of two of the cyber libel cases.
On the other hand, the CA observed that in one of the cases, the defamatory statements alleged in the complaint seems to be directed only towards a particular prosecutor of the city prosecutor’s office and not to all members of the said office. The ruling noted that in the information, the private complainants are the prosecutors and members of the administrative staff of the city prosecutor’s office but basing on the context of the defamatory statements provided for, it does not appear that the members of the said office as a class or group of persons, are the ones purportedly defamed.
Considering that, as stated in the amended information, the CA disclosed that it cannot be said that the defamatory statements were directed towards the city prosecutor’s office, it follows that the victim or the person supposedly maligned in the case was not properly alleged and identified, either directly or through extra news reference, in the information.