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MVRS vs. Islamic Da’wah

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  • Pages: 6
  • Word count: 1298
  • Category: Islam

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1. ISLAMIC DA’WAH COUNCIL OF THE PHILIPPINES, INC., a local federation of more than seventy (70) Muslim religious organizations, and some individual Muslims filed in the RTC of Manila a complaint for damages in their own behalf and as a class suit in behalf of the Muslim members nationwide against MVRS PUBLICATIONS, INC and some its staff arising from an article published in the 1 August 1992 issue of Bulgar, a daily tabloid.

2. The complaint:
a) The statement was insulting and damaging to the Muslims;
b) that these words alluding to the pig as the God of the Muslims was not only published out of sheer ignorance but with intent to hurt the feelings, cast insult and disparage the Muslims and Islam, as a religion in this country, in violation of law, public policy, good morals and human relations; c) that on account of these libelous words Bulgar insulted not only the Muslims in the Philippines but the entire Muslim world, especially every Muslim individual in non-Muslim countries.

3. MVRS PUBLICATIONS, INC. and BINEGAS, JR., in their defense, contended that the article did not mention respondents as the object of the article and therefore were not entitled to damages; and, that the article was merely an expression of belief or opinion and was published without malice nor intention to cause damage, prejudice or injury to Muslims.

4. The RTC dismissed the complaint holding that Islamic Da’wah et al. failed to establish their cause of action since the persons allegedly defamed by the article were not specifically identified. The alleged libelous article refers to the larger collectivity of Muslims for which the readers of the libel could not readily identify the personalities of the persons defamed. Hence, it is difficult for an individual Muslim member to prove that the defamatory remarks apply to him.

5. The Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the RTC. It opined that it was “clear from the disputed article that the defamation was directed to all adherents of the Islamic faith. This libelous imputation undeniably applied to the plaintiff-appellants who are Muslims sharing the same religious beliefs.” It added that the suit for damages was a “class suit” and that ISLAMIC DA’WAH COUNCIL OF THE PHILIPPINES, INC.’s religious status as a Muslim umbrella organization gave it the requisite personality to sue and protect the interests of all Muslims.

6. MVRS brought the issue to the SC.

The article was not libelous. Petition GRANTED. The assailed Decision of the Court of Appeals was REVERSED and SET ASIDE and the decision of the RTC was reinstated.

1. There was no fairly identifiable person who was allegedly injured by the Bulgar article. An individual Muslim has a reputation that is personal, separate and distinct in the community. Each has a varying interest and a divergent political and religious view. There is no injury to the reputation of the individual Muslims who constitute this community that can give rise to an action for group libel. Each reputation is personal in character to every person. Together, the Muslims do not have a single common reputation that will give them a common or general interest in the subject matter of the controversy.

2. Defamation, which includes libel (in general, written) and slander (in general, oral), means the offense of injuring a person’s character, fame or reputation through false and malicious statements. It is that which tends to injure reputation or to diminish the esteem, respect, good will or confidence in the plaintiff or to excite derogatory feelings or opinions about the plaintiff.

3. Defamation is an invasion of a relational interest since it involves the opinion which others in the community may have, or tend to have, of the plaintiff. Words which are merely insulting are not actionable as libel or slander per se, and mere words of general abuse however opprobrious, ill-natured, or vexatious, whether written or spoken, do not constitute a basis for an action for defamation in the absence of an allegation for special damages.

4. Declarations made about a large class of people cannot be interpreted to advert to an identified or identifiable individual. Absent circumstances specifically pointing or alluding to a particular member of a class, no member of such class has a right of action without at all impairing the equally demanding right of free speech and expression, as well as of the press, under the Bill of Rights.

5. The SC used the reasoning in Newsweek v IAC: where the defamation is alleged to have been directed at a group or class, it is essential that the statement must be so sweeping or all-embracing as to apply to every individual in that group or class, or sufficiently specific so that each individual in the class or group can prove that the defamatory statement specifically pointed to him, so that he can bring the action separately.

6. The SC cited some US cases wherein the rule on libel has been restrictive. It was held that there could be no libel against an extensive community in common law. With regard to the largest sectors in society, including religious groups, it may be generally concluded that no criminal action at the behest of the state, or civil action on behalf of the individual, will lie.

7. “Emotional distress” tort action has no application in this case because no particular individual was identified in the Bulgar article. “Emotional distress” means any highly unpleasant mental reaction such as extreme grief, shame, humiliation, embarrassment, anger, disappointment, worry, nausea, mental suffering and anguish, shock, fright, horror, and chagrin. This kind of tort action is personal in nature, i.e., it is a civil action filed by an individual to assuage the injuries to his emotional tranquility due to personal attacks on his character. Under the Second Restatement of the Law, to recover for the intentional infliction of emotional distress the plaintiff must show that: (a) The conduct of the defendant was intentional or in reckless disregard of the plaintiff; (b) The conduct was extreme and outrageous; (c) There was a causal connection between the defendant’s conduct and the plaintiff’s mental distress; (d) The plaintiff’s mental distress was extreme and severe.

8. “Extreme and outrageous conduct” means conduct that is so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency. The actions must have been so terrifying as naturally to humiliate, embarrass or frighten the plaintiff.

9. Any party seeking recovery for mental anguish must prove more than mere worry, anxiety, vexation, embarrassment, or anger. Liability does not arise from mere insults, indignities, threats, annoyances, petty expressions, or other trivialities. Intentional tort causing emotional distress must necessarily give way to the fundamental right to free speech.

10. Respondents’ lack of cause of action cannot be cured by the filing of a class suit. An element of a class suit is the adequacy of representation. In determining the question of fair and adequate representation of members of a class, the court must consider: (a) whether the interest of the named party is coextensive with the interest of the other members of the class; (b) the proportion of those made parties as it so bears to the total membership of the class; and, (c) any other factor bearing on the ability of the named party to speak for the rest of the class. Islamic Da’wah Council of the Philippines, Inc., seeks in effect to assert the interests not only of the Muslims in the Philippines but of the whole Muslim world as well. Private respondents obviously lack the sufficiency of numbers to represent such a global group; neither have they been able to demonstrate the identity.

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