How much to pay in LIBEL or SLANDER cases?

In Visitacion v. People (G.R. No. 194214, January 10, 2018), Visitacion assails the award of moral damages. She does not question the basis for the award of moral damages per se but bewails the unjust amount set by the trial court.

Moral damages is the amount awarded to a person to have suffered physical suffering, mental anguish, fright, serious anxiety, besmirched reputation, wounded feelings, moral shock, social humiliation, and similar injury. It is given to ease the victim's grief and suffering, and should reasonably approximate the extent of the hurt caused and the gravity of the wrong done.

The RTC found Punongbayan entitled to moral damages because Visitacion's libelous act caused her to suffer ridicule, sleepless nights, and moral damage. In Tulfo v. People, the Supreme Court explained that moral damages can be recovered in cases of libel or slander, viz:
It was the articles of Tulfo that caused injury to Atty. So, and for that Atty. So deserves the award of moral damages. Justification for the award of moral damages is found in Art. 2219 (7) of the Civil Code, which states that moral damages may be recovered in cases of libel, slander, or any other form of defamation. As the cases involved are criminal cases of libel, they fall squarely within the ambit of Art. 2219 (7).

Moral damages can be awarded even in the absence of actual or compensatory damages. The fact that no actual or compensatory damage was proven before the trial court does not adversely affect the offended party's right to recover moral damages.
For moral damages to be awarded, proof of pecuniary loss is unnecessary but the factual basis of damages and its causal connection to the defendant's acts must be satisfactorily established. In short, the complainant's injury should have been due to the actions of the offending party.

Here, the evidence on record justifies the award of moral damages to Punongbayan. She was a high-ranking officer of an educational institution whom Visitacion accused of criminal or improper conduct. Such accusations were not made known only to the victim but also to other persons such as her staff and employees of a bank the school had transactions with. Thus, Punongbayan's reputation was besmirched and she was humiliated before her subordinates and other people. Clearly, her reputation was tarnished after being accused of unsavory and questionable behavior, primarily attributable to Visitacion's act of circulating the letter imputing wrongdoing of Punongbayan.

In addition, it is noteworthy that in her petition for review on certiorari before the Supreme Court, Visitacion simply challenges the unreasonable amount of moral damages awarded and prays for its reduction. By inference, she admits she had caused Punongbayan injury, thus, the issue remains to be the amount of moral damages warranted under the circumstances.

In Yuchengco v. The Manila Chronicle Publishing Corporation, the High Court explained that in awarding moral damages, the surrounding circumstances are controlling factors but should always be commensurate to the perceived injury:
While there is no hard-and-fast rule in determining what would be a fair and reasonable amount of moral damages, the same should not be palpably and scandalously excessive. Moral damages are not intended to impose a penalty to the wrongdoer, neither to enrich the claimant at the expense of the defendant.

Even petitioner, in his Comment dated June 21, 2010, agree that moral damages "are not awarded in order to punish the respondents or to make the petitioner any richer than he already is, but to enable the latter to find some cure for the moral anguish and distress he has undergone by reason of the defamatory and damaging articles which the respondents wrote and published." Further, petitioner cites as sufficient basis for the award of damages the plain reason that he had to "go through the ordeal of defending himself everytime someone approached him to ask whether or not the statements in the defamatory article are true."

In Philippine Journalists, Inc. (People's Journal) v. Thoenen, citing Guevarra v. Almario, We noted that the damages in a libel case must depend upon the facts of the particular case and the sound discretion of the court, although appellate courts were "more likely to reduce damages for libel than to increase them." So it must be in this case.

Moral damages are not a bonanza. They are given to ease the defendant's grief and suffering. Moral damages should be reasonably approximate to the extent of the hurt caused and the gravity of the wrong done. The Court, therefore, finds the award of moral damages in the first and second cause of action in the amount of P2,000,000.00 and P25,000,000.00, respectively, to be too excessive and holds that an award of P1,000,000.00 and P10,000,000.00, respectively, as moral damages are more reasonable.
With this in mind, the Supreme Court found the award of P3,000,000.00 as moral damages to be unwarranted. Such exorbitant amount is contrary to the essence of moral damages, which is simply a reasonable recompense to the injury suffered by the one claiming it. It was neither meant to punish the offender nor enrich the offended party. Thus, to conform with the present circumstances, the moral damages awarded should be equitably reduced to P500,000.00.

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