On March 3, 2000, then Secretary of Justice Artemio Tuquero (Secretary Tuquero) dismissed the PDI Staff’s Petition for Review of the Resolution of the City Prosecutor. Secretary Tuquero rejected the argument of therein petitioners that the complaint should be dismissed on the ground of lack of supporting affidavits from third persons. According to Secretary Tuquero, affidavits of third persons are not essential for a libel complaint to prosper, as it is enough that the person defamed can be identified. As regards the factual basis presented by Contreras, Secretary Tuquero noted it cannot be said that Judge Cruz was indeed facing a sexual harassment suit in this Court. The Motion for Reconsideration was denied in a Resolution dated October 12, 2000.
The PDI Staff with the exception of Hidalgo (herein petitioners) filed a Petition for Certiorari with the Court of Appeals to challenge the aforementioned Resolutions of Secretary Tuquero. The Petition was docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 62479.
On July 8, 2005, the Court of Appeals rendered the assailed Decision dismissing the Petition for Certiorari. Applying our ruling in Advincula v. Court of Appeals, the appellate court held that since the Information had already been filed with the trial court, the primary determination of probable cause is now with the latter. The Court of Appeals denied the ensuing Motion for Reconsideration in the assailed Resolution dated September 29, 2005.
Hence, petitioners filed this Petition for Review with this Court, raising the following issues:
(A) WHETHER OR NOT A CRIMINAL COMPLAINT FOR LIBEL IS FATALLY DEFECTIVE OR DEFICIENT IF IT IS NOT SUPPORTED BY AFFIDAVITS OF THIRD PERSONS.
(B) WHETHER OR NOT A NEWS REPORT ON THE ACTUATIONS OF A PUBLIC OFFICIAL IS PRIVILEGED IN NATURE AND HENCE, THE PRESUMPTION OF MALICE IS DESTROYED.
(C) WHETHER OR NOT THE PRIVILEGED NATURE OF A PUBLICATION IS A GROUND FOR DISMISSAL AND THAT THE RESPONDENT NEED NOT WAIT UNTIL TRIAL TO RAISE THE ISSUE OF PRIVILEGE.
(D) WHETHER OR NOT THE PUBLISHER AND EDITORS ARE JOINTLY LIABLE WITH THE AUTHOR OF THE ALLEGEDLY OFFENDING NEWS REPORT EVEN IF THEY DID NOT PARTICIPATE IN THE WRITING AND EDITING OF SAID NEWS REPORT.
In raising the above issues, petitioners essentially questioned the Makati City Prosecutors Office’s finding of probable cause to charge them with libel, as affirmed by the Secretary of Justice. As stated above, the Court of Appeals dismissed the Petition for Certiorari by applying the procedural doctrine laid down in Advincula.
Similar to the present case, in Advincula, respondents Amando and Isagani Ocampo filed a Petition for Certiorari and Prohibition with the Court of Appeals questioning the Resolution of the Secretary of Justice which had earlier led to the filing of Informations against them in court. The Court of Appeals granted the Petition and set aside the Resolution of the Secretary of Justice. In reversing the Decision of the Court of Appeals, we applied the rule that certiorari, being an extraordinary writ, cannot be resorted to when other remedies are available. The Court observed that respondents had other remedies available to them, such as the filing of a Motion to Quash the Information under Rule 117 of the Rules of Court, or allowing the trial to proceed where they could either file a demurrer to evidence or present their evidence to disprove the charges against them.
At the outset, it should be made clear that the Court is not abandoning the foregoing ruling in Advincula. However, Advincula cannot be read to completely disallow the institution of certiorari proceedings against the Secretary of Justice’s determination of probable cause when the criminal information has already been filed in court. Under exceptional circumstances, a petition for certiorari assailing the resolution of the Secretary of Justice (involving an appeal of the prosecutor’s ruling on probable cause) may be allowed, notwithstanding the filing of an information with the trial court.
In Ching v. Secretary of Justice, petitioner filed a Petition for Certiorari with the Court of Appeals assailing the Resolution of the Secretary of Justice finding probable cause for violation of Presidential Decree No. 115, otherwise known as the Trust Receipts Law. Conformably with said Resolution, the City Prosecutor filed 13 Informations against petitioner. Upon denial of the Motion for Reconsideration, petitioner filed a petition for certiorari, prohibition and mandamus with the Court of Appeals assailing the Resolution of the Secretary of Justice. While this Court ultimately affirmed the Court of Appeals’ ruling denying the Petition for Certiorari, the discussion affirming the resort to said extraordinary writ is enlightening:
In Mendoza-Arce v. Office of the Ombudsman (Visayas), this Court held that the acts of a quasi-judicial officer may be assailed by the aggrieved party via a petition for certiorari and enjoined (a) when necessary to afford adequate protection to the constitutional rights of the accused; (b) when necessary for the orderly administration of justice; (c) when the acts of the officer are without or in excess of authority; (d) where the charges are manifestly false and motivated by the lust for vengeance; and (e) when there is clearly no prima facie case against the accused. The Court also declared that, if the officer conducting a preliminary investigation (in that case, the Office of the Ombudsman) acts without or in excess of his authority and resolves to file an Information despite the absence of probable cause, such act may be nullified by a writ of certiorari.
Indeed, under Section 4, Rule 112 of the 2000 Rules of Criminal Procedure, the Information shall be prepared by the Investigating Prosecutor against the respondent only if he or she finds probable cause to hold such respondent for trial. The Investigating Prosecutor acts without or in excess of his authority under the Rule if the Information is filed against the respondent despite absence of evidence showing probable cause therefor. If the Secretary of Justice reverses the Resolution of the Investigating Prosecutor who found no probable cause to hold the respondent for trial, and orders such prosecutor to file the Information despite the absence of probable cause, the Secretary of Justice acts contrary to law, without authority and/or in excess of authority. Such resolution may likewise be nullified in a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Revised Rules of Civil Procedure.
In light of the particular factual context of the present controversy, we find that the need to uphold the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the press and crystal clear absence of a prima facie case against the PDI staff justify the resort to the extraordinary writ of certiorari.
Libel is defined 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 discredit or cause the dishonor or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead. Consequently, the following elements constitute libel: (a) imputation of a discreditable act or condition to another; (b) publication of the imputation; (c) identity of the person defamed; and, (d) existence of malice. The glaring absence of maliciousness in the assailed portion of the news article subject of this case negates the existence of probable cause that libel has been committed by the PDI staff.