The 6th edition of Black’s Law Dictionary defines malice as “ill will or spite and speaks not in response to duty but merely to injure the reputation of the person defamed, and implies an intention to do ulterior and unjustifiable harm. Malice is bad faith or bad motive. It is the essence of the crime of libel.”
For the layman like myself, it means the intention of ripping someone’s reputation apart because of hidden, and largely dishonest motives. The unwritten presumption here, if I’m not mistaken, is that if the motive does not square with one’s supposed duty to reveal another person’s shenanigans, then there’s a good chance that what was exposed might have been done under very questionable motives.
The dictionary definition of malice is no different from its legal counterpart: “[D]esire to cause pain, injury, or distress to another […] intent to commit an unlawful act or cause harm without legal justification or excuse,” based on Merriam-Webster. The Oxford definition is snappier: “[A] feeling of hatred for someone that causes a desire to harm them.”
The etymology of the word dates back to the 12th-century Old French, which speaks of the same thing. It was sourced from the Latin malitia, meaning “badness, ill will, spite.”
I’m a writer, not a member of the bar. As a writer, however, I have always been intrigued as to how the law is practiced in this benighted country.
Well, after being a few months shy of sixty years, surely I have learned a thing or two: while malice, say, in a columnist or reporter is difficult to prove, those in power will move heaven and earth if only to “prove” it, regardless of whether such “proofs” are verifiable or not.
Bending Justice’s arm in this country seems to have been quite the pastime among the powerful, forcing honest, well-meaning and hardworking journalists to lose sleep over a libel case or charges of “terrorism”. The mental and emotional anguish can be strenuous.
Reputation, as against real-time character, costs an enormous amount of moolah when threatened; for exactly what reasons, I don’t have the darndest idea. Political reputations are oftentimes built the way two-dimensional characters are penned in bad novels: with utter, undeniable analphabetism. Pot boilers have a better chance at being bought and ending up first in the bestsellers’ list.
What people often forget is that there is such a thing as malicious prosecution. It is defined as “a sinister design to vex or humiliate a person, and that it was initiated deliberately by the defendant knowing that his charges were false and groundless.”
It is no secret that the law, more specifically the law against libel, cyber-libel and the equally draconian Anti-Terrorism Law, have been used to harass writers, journalists, activists, and all who’d dare raise a grievance against power.
How many of these charges, ranging from libel to tax evasion to terrorism, have been dropped? How many have been acquitted? Should it stop there? Would it be accurate to assume, therefore, that those who’ve charged these journalists and activists are guilty of malicious prosecution?
This manipulation and exploitation of our legal system has got to stop. Power to abuse is the very essence of abuse of power. The Constitution is not a piece of clay that one can shape or bend to follow an official’s sinister purpose.
Government must therefore think of malicious prosecution not only as a crime against our legal system, which tantamount to being against our august court, it must likewise carry the same penalty the law imputes on those who sow terror.
Why? Because the deliberate exploitation of our laws is nothing but terrorism on a pandemic scale.
Members of the Lower and Upper House should be able to discuss this and arrive at a welcome conclusion, maybe even a law to address this. I would love to see the Supreme Court and its hosts of justices weigh in on it. I mean we’re all dying to see the day when corruption and abuse of power are just a thing of the past, impunity a long-forgotten nightmare.
We can do this by pushing back against malicious prosecution, by holding those who misuse the law accountable. This has to end now.
JOEL PABLO SALUD is the author of several books of political nonfiction. He has sat for 11 years as editor-in-chief of one of the country’s foremost newsweekly and literary magazines and is currently the chair of the Writers in Prison Committee of PEN Philippines.