GR 184800 May 5, 2010
RTC of Makati, Br. 149
Petitioners Bonifacio et al were charged with the crime of libel after private respondent Gimenez, on behalf of Yuchengco family and Malayan Insurance Co., filed a criminal complaint before the Makati City Prosecutor for libel under Article 355 in relation to Article 353 of the Revised Penal Code .
The complaint alleged that petitioners, together with several John Does, publicly and maliciously with intention of attacking the honesty, virtue, honor and integrity, character and reputation of Malayan Insurance Co. Inc., and Yuchengco family for exposing them to public hatred and contempt, and published in the said website http://www.pepcoalition.com a defamatory article persuading the public to remove their investments and policies from the said company. This is after the petitioners filed to seek their redress for their pecuniary loss under the policies they obtained from the company. Makati City Prosecutor, after finding probable cause to indict the petitioners, filed separate information against them .
Petitioners filed before the respondent RTC of Makati a Motion to Quash on the grounds that it failed to vest jurisdiction on the Makati RTC; the acts complained of in the Information are not punishable by law since internet libel is not covered by Article 353 of the RPC. Petitioners maintained that the Information failed to allege a particular place within the trial courts jurisdiction where the subject article was printed and first published or that the offended parties resided in Makati at the time the alleged defamatory material was printed and first published, and the prosecution erroneously laid the venue of the case in the place where the offended party accessed the internet-published article.
Whether petitioners’ Motion to Quash due to lack of jurisdiction is valid.
Yes. Venue is jurisdictional in criminal actions such that the place where the crime was committed determines not only the venue of the action but constitutes an essential element of jurisdiction. The venue of libel cases where the complainant is a private individual is limited to only either of two places, namely: 1) where the complainant actually resides at the time of the commission of the offense; or 2) where the alleged defamatory article was printed and first published.
The Amended Information in the case opted to lay the venue by stating that the offending article was first published and accessed by the private complainant in Makati City. In other words, it considered the phrase to be equivalent to the requisite allegation of printing and first publication. This is wrong. For the court to hold that the Amended Information sufficiently vested jurisdiction in the courts of Makati simply because the defamatory article was accessed therein would open the floodgates to the libel suit being filed in all other locations where the pepcoalition website is likewise accessed or capable of being accessed. This goes against the purpose as to why Republic Act No. 4363 was enacted. It lays down specific rules as to the venue of the criminal action so as to prevent the offended party in written defamation cases from inconveniencing the accused by means of out-of-town libel suits, meaning complaints filed in remote municipal courts (
IN FINE, the public respondent committed grave abuse of discretion in denying petitioners motion to quash the Amended Information.