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In July 1998, Eliseo Soriano, head of the Ang Dating Daan was indicted for two counts of libel. The accusations were as follows:
1. He called the leader of the Jesus Miracle Crusade International Ministry as “BULAANG PROFETA”, “TARANTADO”, “GAGO”; its pastors as “PASTOR NG DEMONYO”, “IMPAKTO”, “GAGO”; and its members as “ISANG DAKOT NA GAGO”, “SIRA ULO”, and;
2. He called Wilde Almeda, evangelist of JMCIM, as “PASTOR NG DEMONYO”.
This all happened because the pastors of JMCIM particularly Almeda supported Joe De Venecia in the 1998 presidential elections even declaring him as the next president – but De Venecia lost. This prompted Soriano to call the pastors of JMCIM as such.
In his defense, Soriano invoked religious freedom. He invoked that his utterances were expressions of religious beliefs.
ISSUE: Whether or not Soriano’s speech is protected by religious freedom.
HELD: No. The utterances in both cases are not protected by religious freedom. Plain and simple insults directed at another person cannot be elevated to the status of religious speech. The words used by Soriano are malicious in themselves.
However, Soriano must be acquitted in the first case. The elements of libel are as follows: the imputation (a) must be defamatory; (b) must be malicious; ( c) must be given publicity; and ( d) the victim must be identifiable.
In the first case, Soriano did not identify anyone with particularity. As ruled by the Supreme Court in a previous case: there was no fairly identifiable person who was allegedly injured by the imputation. Since the persons allegedly defamed could not be identifiable, private complainants have no individual causes of action; hence, they cannot sue for a class allegedly disparaged. Private complainants must have a cause of action in common with the class to which they belong to in order for the case to prosper. Further, it cannot be considered that Soriano’s statements were sweeping enough as to injure the reputation of all the members of JMCIM.