Is imputation of criminal intention libelous? The answer seems to be in the negative, based on a case at the appellate level (People vs. Baja) that had always intrigued me when I first read the libel case laws. This is because the case seems to hold that there is a distinction between a crime and intent to commit a crime. The distinction is relevant in the recent charge against Ella brought up by Dr. Esperanza Cabral (see my earlier post).
Dr. Cabral laid out her libel case in a recent letter to the editor of a major newspaper to refute certain assertions made by a columnist (Mr. Manuel L. Quezon, III). She wrote:
“Contrary to Quezon’s assertions that no one accused us of pilfering the relief goods, the blog itself made malicious insinuations that the goods were going to be used in the elections, or would end up being sold in public markets. If that is not a baseless accusation of thievery directed at us, then I can’t imagine what is.”
It seems that Dr. Cabral interprets the offending blog as accusing her of thievery (theft being a crime, though there is some doubt as to whether it is theft if one has not done a “taking” given that the relief goods were not spirited out of the DSWD warehouse). This is supposedly because the blog “made malicious insinuations that the goods were going to be used in elections …”
But by her own words, Dr. Cabral states that the blog insinuated (“… made malicious insinuations…”) an intention on her part or that of DSWD personnel or some others to do something improper with respect to relief goods. In her letter to the editor, she uses the words “were going to be used…” or “would end up being sold…”
Assume, for the sake of argument, that “insinuation” is equivalent to “imputation.” Here is what a textbook authority has said on statements imputing criminal intention, based on the Baja case:
“Imputation of criminal intention [is] not libelous… because intent to commit a crime is not a violation of the law. This is more so, when it is a mere assertion or expression of opinion as to what will be the future conduct of another (People vs. Baja, 40 O.G., Supp. 5, 206).” [from Luis B. Reyes, The Revised Penal Code, Book Two, 15th ed., Revised 2001, p. 934.]
I think it is reasonable to reach a conclusion that Ella did not accuse Dr. Cabral of theft, but that she (Ella) opined that the DSWD was slow in doing its job, based on what she (Ella) and other volunteers had witnessed at the DSWD warehouse. She also suggested that there might well have been an intention to misuse the relief goods, but imputation of such an intention is, applying the Baja case, not libelous.
The above argument is within the spirit of the qualified-privilege defense available to Ella, Dr. Cabral being a public figure and the matter being in the public interest.