By Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star), Oct 25, 2017
The public and malicious imputation of a crime, or a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status or circumstances tending to cause the dishonor, discredit or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead, is punishable under the Revised Penal Code (Article 353). This is explained in these cases filed against four accused.
The accused in these cases are: Mercy, Rosie, Cora and her husband Lando, who are all residents of a remote town in a southern Luzon province. They were accused of oral defamation in six informations for allegedly having called a fellow resident Cristy, a “mangkukulam.”
Specifically, in the first case, Mercy was accused of oral defamation not only because she called Cristy a “mangkukulam” but also because she attributed to Cristy the death through witchcraft of three persons. In the second case, Mercy was also charged with oral defamation for having called Cristy an “aswang.”
The third information accuses Cora of having stated that Cristy inherited her power of witchcraft from her father and that she had probably bequeathed it to her child, who had become thinner as a consequence. In the fourth case the Information avers that Cora also called Cristy an “aswang.”
In the fifth information Lando was also accused of oral defamation for having said that Cristy had practiced witchcraft on her daughter Jill. In the sixth case, Rosie was charged with oral defamation when she also said that Cristy had practiced witchcraft (ang kumukulam) on Jill who is the daughter of Lando.
Before arraignment, the four accused filed a joint motion to quash on the ground that the facts alleged in the information do not constitute an offense punishable by law. The lower court granted the motion. According to the lower court, to call another “mangkukulam” or “witch” is not a malicious imputation because in this modern age nobody believes anymore in witches and witchcraft.
On appeal to the SC however, on the sole question of law as to whether each of the aforesaid six information allege facts that constitute a punishable offense, the decision of the lower was reversed and set aside and the case was remanded to the lower court for trial.
The SC ruled that the imputed vice or defect need not be real or existing in order that the imputation may be punishable; an imaginary vice or defect is sufficient (Article 353, Revised Penal Code). And while belief in the existence of witches may have become passe nevertheless the terms “mangkukulam” and “witch” have accepted meanings from which it is clear that they are terms of derision, and for one to be so labelled is to be an object of contempt, even of odium.
According to the SC, “mangkukulam” is one who practices witchcraft. And “witchcraft” is “the the practice of black magic; sorcery; enchantments; intercourse with evil spirits; also an instance of such practice” (p. 2939, id.). “Sorcery” is defined as “the use of power gained from the assistance or control of evil spirits, especially for divining; divination by black magic; necromancy; witchcraft” (p. 2400, id.)
So the word “mangkukulam” is undoubtedly an epithet of opprobrium. To say that Cristy is a witch and sorceress is to impute to her a vice, condition or status that is dishonorable and contemptible since it accuses her of having employed the black art; of possessing super-natural power by reason of a covenant with evil spirits; and of having trafficked with the devil.
In themselves the imputations in question fall within the meaning of oral defamation or slander punished by Article 358 of the Revised Penal Code. In the first Information, Cristy was not only called a “mangkukulam” but also having caused the death through witchcraft of three persons. There is here, therefore, an imputation of a crime. In the second case, Cristy was called an “aswang,” which is defined as “an injurious and evil character believed to be capable of assuming various and different forms, especially that of a dog, and harassing usually in the depth of night women who are about to give birth” (p. 37, National Language – English Vocabulary, published by the Institute of National Language).
The third information stated that the Cristy inherited her power of witchcraft from her father and that she had probably bequeathed it to her child, who had become thinner as a consequence. The imputation is derogatory, as it charges the complainant with having taught her child evil practices – an act which is immoral and highly reprehensible. The fourth information avers that Cristy was called an “aswang.”
Likewise derogatory are the imputations in the last two information against Lando and Rosie for having told their friends that it was Cristy who had practiced witchcraft on Jill the daughter of Lando.
So the order of dismissal appealed from is set aside, and the cases returned to the lower court for further proceedings (People vs,Carmen, Dulce, Franciso Sario and Asuncion Requiron G.R.Ls 20754-20759, June 30, 1966).