Freedom of expression CANNOT be abused

The Civil Code, in its Article 19 lays down the norm for the proper exercise of any right, constitutional or otherwise, viz.:
Art. 19. Every person must, in the exercise of his rights and in the performance of his duties, act with justice, give everyone his due, and observe honesty and good faith.
The provision is reflective of the universally accepted precept of "abuse of rights," "one of the most dominant principles which must be deemed always implied in any system of law." It parallels too "the supreme norms of justice which the law develops" and which are expressed in three familiar Latin maxims: honeste vivere, alterum non laedere and jus suum quique tribuere (to live honorably, not to injure others, and to render to every man his due). (A.M. No. 93-2-037-SC, April 06, 1995)

Freedom of expression, the right of speech and of the press is, to be sure, among the most zealously protected rights in the Constitution. But every person exercising it is, as the Civil Code stresses, obliged "to act with justice, give everyone his due, and observe honesty and good faith." The constitutional right of freedom of expression may not be availed of to broadcast lies or half-truths — this would not be "to observe honesty and good faith;" it may not be used to insult others; destroy their name or reputation or bring them into disrepute. — this would not be "to act with justice" or "give everyone his due." (A.M. No. 93-2-037-SC, April 06, 1995)

In the case of In Re: Emil (Emiliano) P. Jurado Ex Rel: PLDT, A.M. No. 93-2-037-SC, April 06, 1995, there was involved an acknowledged and important interest of individual persons: the right to private reputation. Judges, by becoming such, are commonly and rightly regarded as voluntarily subjecting themselves to norms of conduct which embody more stringent standards of honesty, integrity, and competence than are commonly required from private persons. Nevertheless, persons who seek or accept from appointment to the Judiciary cannot reasonably be regarded as having thereby forfeited any right whatsoever to private honor and reputation. For so to rule will be simply, in the generality of cases, to discourage all save those who feel no need to maintain their self-respect as a human being in society, from becoming judges, with obviously grievous consequences for the quality of our judges and the quality of the justice that they will dispense. Thus, the protection of the right of individual persons to private reputations is also a matter of public interest and must be reckoned with as a factor in identifying and laying down the norms concerning the exercise of press freedom and free speech.

Clearly, the public interest involved in freedom of speech and the individual interest of judges (and for that matter, all other public officials) in the maintenance of private honor and reputation need to be accommodated one to the other. And the point of adjustment or accommodation between these two legitimate interest is precisely found in the norm which requires those who, invoking freedom of speech, publish statements which are clearly defamatory to identifiable judges or other public officials to exercise bona fide care in ascertaining the truth of the statements they publish. The norm does not require that a journalist guarantee the truth of what he says or publishes. But the norm does prohibit the reckless disregard of private reputation by publishing or circulating defamatory statements without any bona fide effort to ascertain the truth thereof. That this norm represents the generally accepted point of balance or adjustment between the two interests involved is clear from a consideration of both the pertinent civil law norms and the Code of Ethics adopted by the journalism profession in the Philippines. (A.M. No. 93-2-037-SC, April 06, 1995)

The norm does not require that a journalist guarantee the truth of what he says or publishes. But the norm does prohibit the reckless disregard of private reputation by publishing or circulating defamatory statements without any bona fide effort to ascertain the truth thereof. That this norm represents the generally accepted point of balance or adjustment between the two interests involved is clear from a consideration of both the pertinent civil law norms and the Code of Ethics adopted by the journalism profession in the Philippines. (A.M. No. 93-2-037-SC, April 06, 1995)

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