MANILA regional trial court (RTC) Branch 46 has denied for lack of merit the appeal of Rappler, Inc. and its CEO and Executive Editor Maria A. Ressa and former researcher Reynaldo Santos, Jr. to dismiss their cyber-libel case, with the arraignment of the case thus proceeding on April 16.

In a nine-page order denying the Motion to Quash, Judge Rainelda H. Estacio-Montesa of Branch 46 stated that the elements of libel which include allegations of discreditable act, publication of the charge, identity of the person defamed, and existence of malice were present in the information filed against the court.

“Considering that all the essential elements of the offense as defined under RA (Republic Act) 10175 (Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012) were sufficiently established in the Information, the allegations contained therein, indeed, constitute an offense,” the order read.

The case stemmed from the complaint filed by businessman Wilfredo D. Keng in October 2017 over an article Rappler published on May 29, 2012, which he said was updated in February 2014, titled “CJ Using SUVs of Controversial Businessman,” which reported that Mr. Keng, the alleged owner of the vehicle used by former Chief Justice Renato C. Corona, is involved in various illegal activities.

The Department of Justice (DoJ) indicted them of cyber-libel in January 2019 while the information was filed to the court the next month.

The court also denied the argument of Rappler that the prosecution retroactively applied the said law while a temporary restraining order (TRO) was issued by the Supreme Court on its implementation from Oct. 9, 2012 until April 22, 2014.

The court said the TRO “merely suspends the implementation and enforcement of RA 10175,” so crimes committed during the period cannot be prosecuted, but it did not suspend the effectivity of the law.

“So while crimes committed during the said period cannot be prosecuted during the effectivity of the TRO, they may be prosecuted after the lifting of the same just like what is done in this case,” the court said.

The court also upheld the DoJ’s claim that the prescriptive period for the filing of the cyber-libel case is 12 years, as the sentence for cyber-libel is until eight years of imprisonment, contrary to the argument of Rappler that the prescriptive period for the case should be one year, similar to ordinary libel.

It also said that Rappler, Inc. has corporate liability in the case as it published the article on Mr. Keng.

“The re-publishing of the article is the illegal act imputed to Rappler Inc., as the publishing platform of the article, which accusation as supported by the prosecutor’s resolution and attached documents the court finds probable cause to proceed with the trial of the case,” it said. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas