Monday, March 05, 2012

Soriano vs. IAC [167 SCRA 222 November 9, 1988]

Facts: Tantuico, then the Chairman of the Commission on Audit, filed a libel case with the RTC of Leyte against Marcelo Soriano, editor of “The Guardian” and six other people in connection with press releases and articles imputing to Tantuico the tampering by COA personnel of election returns in the May 1984 Batasan elections, at his residence in Tacloban City and in the COA Regional Office in Palo, Leyte. This election offense was allegedly committed at Tantuico’s behest to assure the victory of certain candidates in the said Batasan elections. 

Soriano filed a motion to quash the information on the ground of improper venue. He contends that the Leyte RTC has no jurisdiction over the offense charged because under Art. 360 of the RPC, the libel case should have been filed at Quezon City where Tantuico holds office and where the publication house of “The Guardian” is located. 

The trial court denied the motion. Its decision stated that “considering that the libelous article complained contained in a press release was printed and first published in the City of Tacloban and venue for this case has been properly laid in accordance with Art. 360 of the RPC, the motion to quash the information herein filed by Marcelo Soriano is hereby denied.” 

Soriano appealed to the IAC raising the same question but it held that the Leyte RTC has jurisdiction over the case. Hence this petition. 

Issue: Does the Leyte RTC have jurisdiction over the case? 

Held: No. The applicable law is Art. 360 of the RPC, as amended by RA 1289 and RA 4363. It provides: 

“Persons responsible. – Any person who shall publish, exhibit or cause the publication or exhibition of any defamation in writing or by similar means, shall be responsible for the same. 

“The author or editor of a book or pamphlet, or the editor or business manager of a daily newspaper, magazine or serial publication, shall be responsible for the defamations contained therein to the same extent as if he were the author thereof. 

“The criminal action and civil action for damages in cases of written defamations, as provided for in this chapter shall be filed simultaneously or separately with the court of first instance of the province or city where the libelous article is printed and first published or where any of the offended parties actually resides at the time of the commission of the offense: Provided, however, That where one of the offended parties is a public officer whose office is in the City of Manila at the time of the commission of the offense, the action shall be filed in the CFI of Manila or of the city or the province where the libelous article is printed and first published, and in case such public officer does not hold office in the City of Manila, the action shall be filed in the CFI of the province or city where he held office at the time of the commission of the offense or where the libelous article is printed and first published and in case one of the offended parties is a private individual, the action shall be filed in the CFI of the province or city where he actually resides at the time of the commission of the offense or where the libelous matter is printed and first published: xxx.” 

In Agbayani vs. Sayo, the SC said: 

1. Whether the offended party is a public official or a private person, the criminal action may be filed in the CFI of the province or city where the libelous article is printed and first published. 

2. If the offended party is a private individual, the criminal action may also be filed in the CFI of the province where he actually resided at the time of the commission of the offense. 

3. If the offended party is a public officer whose office is in Manila at the time of the commission of the offense, the action may be filed in the CFI of Manila. 

4. If the offended party is a public officer holding office outside of Manila, the action may be filed in the CFI of the province or city where he held office at the time of the commission of the offense. 

The SC follows the “multiple publication rule” in the Philippines. Each and every publication of the same libel constitutes a distinct offense. Every time the same written matter is communicated, such communication is considered a distinct and separate publication of the libel. 

Marcelo Soriano was included as one of the accused in the libel case in his capacity as editor-publisher of the “Guardian”. Soriano’s criminal liability, as based on Art. 360 of the RPC was based on a press release prepared in Tacloban City and mailed or delivered to various newspapers. The press release was the basis for the article published in the “Guardian”. This article, “Impeach Tantuico Case Looms” prepared by accused Cesar Villegas in Tacloban was reproduced in Soriano’s newspaper, whose publishing house is in Quezon City. 

As the respondent COA Chairman held office in Quezon City and the offending newspaper is published in Quezon City, the case should be filed with a Quezon City court.

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