552 Phil. 469
|Policy Number||Issue Date ||Date of Self-Liquidation|
|PN 2156675||June 9, 1987||June 9, 1997|
|PN 2160551||November 24, 1987||November 24, 1996|
|PN 2164830||December 23, 1987||December 23, 1997|
|PN 2168149||April 18, 1988||April 18, 1997|
IF YOU ARE A VICTIM OF INSULAR LIFE ASSURANCE'S REFUSAL TO HONOR ITS REPRESENTATION THAT YOUR POLICY BECOMES SELF-LIQUIDATING AFTER A LAPSE OF SEVEN (7) YEARS, PLEASE ATTEND A SPECIAL MEETING OF SIMILARLY SITUATED POLICY HOLDERS AND CO-OWNERS OF INSULAR LIFE ON OCTOBER 16, 1996, 2:00 P.M. AT THE MAKATI SPORTS CLUB, ALFARO ST., SALCEDO VILLAGE, MAKATI, TO CONSIDER COLLECTIVE ACTION TO PROTECT YOUR INTERESTS. RSVP – CALL MRS. VILLAROYA OR MRS. CARIAGA AT 817-22-35 OR 816-25-64In addition, respondent filed on December 11, 1996 a civil case for specific performance, sum of money, and damages before the Regional Trial Court of Makati City against petitioner, Atty. Montalban, Insurance Underwriter Mila Ramos, Agency Manager Portia Valdez, and District Sales Manager Alfredo Sta. Maria, docketed as Civil Case No. 96-2009.
THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN AFFIRMING THE INCORRECT FINDINGS OF THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE INSOFAR AS IT CONCLUDED THAT THE ELEMENT OF DEFAMATORY IMPUTATION IS MISSING, HENCE, THE PUBLICATION, SUBJECT OF THE CRIMINAL COMPLAINT IS NOT LIBELOUS.The general rule is that the courts do not interfere with the discretion of the public prosecutor in determining the specificity and adequacy of the averments in a criminal complaint. The determination of probable cause for the purpose of filing an information in court is an executive function which pertains at the first instance to the public prosecutor and then to the Secretary of Justice. The duty of the Court in appropriate cases is merely to determine whether the executive determination was done without or in excess of jurisdiction or with grave abuse of discretion. Resolutions of the Secretary of Justice are not subject to review unless made with grave abuse.II.
THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN NOT FINDING THAT THERE WAS GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION ON THE PART OF THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE WHEN IT REFUSED TO FILE THE INFORMATION AGAINST RESPONDENT DESPITE THE PUBLICATION OF THE SUBJECT LIBELOUS NOTICE.
x x x [P]robable cause does not exist against respondent Manuel Serrano to warrant his indictment in Court for the crime of libel, considering that he did not act with malice in causing the publication of the notice in question in the issues of Manila Bulletin, on October 8 and 11, 1996, since he can be considered as a victim or was made to suffer from an act of the Insular Life Assurance Co. Ltd. in not honoring that his insurance policies will self-liquidate after paying premiums thereon for a period of seven (7) years. The notice in question did not portray Insular Life Assurance Co. Ltd. as a swindler but it merely notifies (sic) Diamond Jubilee policy holders similarly situated as himself to meet and consider collective action in order to protect their rights and interests which to the respondent's personal perception have been violated by the said insurance company for its refusal to honor the representation of its agents that his insurance policies will become self-liquidating after the lapse of seven (7) years. It must be noted that Serrano even filed a complaint before the Regional Trial Court of Makati, Branch 150, for Specific Performance, Sum of Money and Damages against the Insular Life Assurance Co. Ltd. and its agents in order to vindicate the wrong committed against him by the said insurance company and its agents.Corroborating the City Prosecutor's conclusion, the Secretary of Justice added:
Furthermore, the fact that it took the complainant insurance company seven (7) months to file the case against herein respondent Serrano from the last day of the publication of the notice in question x x x certainly cast doubts (sic), [on] the veracity of the instant complaint. (emphases ours)
x x x x It is our perception that respondent acted with utmost good faith and without malice when he caused the publication of the alleged libelous "urgent notice" to all those who may feel victim of Insular Life's refusal to honor its representation that their policy becomes self-liquidating after a lapse of seven (7) years. In the first place, we see nothing libelous in the published "urgent notice."In determining whether there was prima facie case for libel against respondent, the City Prosecutor and the Secretary of Justice viewed the subject article in its entirety, and considered the same as a mere notice of meeting addressed to Diamond Jubilee policyholders. The words "victim" and "refusal to honor its representation," although used in the notice, were dismissed as not defamatory per se. Mere assertion that a person failed or refused to perform a contractual obligation does not, in and of itself, injure that person's business reputation or deprive him of public confidence. Whatever defamatory interpretation of which the subject notice may have been susceptible of was considered debunked by the good faith that motivated the respondent in causing the publication of the notice, i.e., to redress what he considered to be a violation of his rights and those of others similarly situated as himself. Respondent's action was considered inconsistent with "malice" which is characterized by a reckless disregard of the truth or falsity of one's remarks.
To say in public that Insular Life Assurance refused to honor its representation that the policy issued becomes self-liquidating after a lapse of seven (7) years does not amount to an imputation of a "crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status or circumstance that tends to cause the dishonor, discredit or contempt of the person defamed." x x x But if it is [at] all defamatory, it is qualified privileged communication made on an occasion of privilege without actual malice. Through the published "urgent notice," respondent apparently made in good faith a communication on a subject matter in which he has an interest or in reference to which he has duty of reaching out to other persons having corresponding interest or duty, although it may contain matters which, without this privilege would be actionable, and although the duty is not a legal one but only a moral or social duty of imperfect obligation. Circumstances exist or are reasonably believed to exist which cast upon respondent the duty of making a communication to certain third persons in the performance of such duty or where the person [is] so situated that it becomes right in the interest of society that he should tell third persons certain facts which he, in good faith, proceeds to do (People v. Cantos [CA] 51 O.G. 2995; 33 Am. Jur. 124-125). (emphases ours)
The institution of a criminal action depends upon the sound discretion of the [prosecutor]. He may or may not file the complaint or information, follow or not follow that presented by the offended party, according to whether the evidence in his opinion, is sufficient or not to establish the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt. The reason for placing the criminal prosecution under the direction and control of the [prosecutor] is to prevent malicious or unfounded prosecution by private persons. x x x Prosecuting officers under the power vested in them by law, not only have the authority but also the duty of prosecuting persons who, according to the evidence received from the complainant, are shown to be guilty of a crime committed within the jurisdiction of their office. They have equally the legal duty not to prosecute when after an investigation they become convinced that the evidence adduced is not sufficient to establish a prima facie case.IN VIEW WHEREOF, the petition is DENIED. The assailed Decision dated October 9, 2003 and Resolution dated April 15, 2004 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 76341 are AFFIRMED.
x x x The Courts cannot interfere with the [prosecutor]'s discretion and control of the criminal prosecution. It is not prudent or even permissible for a Court to compel the [prosecutor] to prosecute a proceeding originally initiated by him on an information, if he finds that the evidence relied upon by him is insufficient for conviction. Neither has the Court any power to order a [prosecutor] to prosecute or file an information within a certain period of time, since this would interfere with the [prosecutor]'s discretion and control of criminal prosecutions. x x x In a clash of views between a judge who did not investigate and the [prosecutor] who did, or between the [prosecutor] and the offended party or the defendant, those of the [prosecutor]'s should normally prevail. x x x