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Court asked to reverse cyber-libel conviction
A JOURNALIST critical of President Rodrigo R. Duterte has asked a Manila trial court to reverse her conviction for cyberlibel.
In a 132-page motion, Rappler Chief Executive Officer Maria A. Ressa and former researcher Reynaldo Santos, Jr. said the court had erred when it held that cyber-libel had a time limit of 12 years within which a suit may be filed.
“Cyberlibel is not a new offense” but is just a different means to committing libel, they said, citing jurisprudence.
The two were sentenced to an indeterminate imprisonment of six months to six years. Rappler as a company was cleared. They were also ordered to jointly pay businessman Wilfredo D. Keng P400,000 in moral and exemplary damages.
The solicitor general during oral arguments had said the prescriptive period for the crime of libel is one year, according to the pleading.
There was no proof that the article had been republished on the news website in 2014, and there was no evidence that Ms. Ressa and Mr. Santos had participated in the republication, they said.
“There is no allegation that the act was done in collusion with each other or in conspiracy,” they said. “Thus, the participation of each of the accused in the supposed republishing must be shown beyond a reasonable doubt. No evidence, let alone evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, has been presented to show this.”
They also argued that the court had “erred in taking adversely the silence” of the two because they had not taken the witness stand.
“The court makes much of the decision not to present both accused-movants Santos Jr. and Ressa as witnesses during the trial,” they said. “This is surprising because there is no law or rule that compels the accused to take the stand to testify.”
Ms. Ressa and Mr. Santos also questioned the court’s imposition of imprisonment rather than just fines. “With due respect, the penalty of imprisonment must be set aside and reconsidered,” they said.
The cyber libel case was filed by Mr. Keng over a Rappler article published on May 29, 2012, months before the Cyber-crime Prevention Act was signed into law in September 2012. The story was updated in February 2014.
The article alleged that Mr. Keng had owned a vehicle used by the late Chief Justice Renato C. Corona — whom the Senate impeached on corruption charges — and that he was involved in illegal activities.
Mr. Keng filed his complaint in October 2017. The Department of Justice indicted them in January 2019.
Local and international media watchdogs and human rights groups have condemned her arrest. New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has called on Mr. Duterte’s government “to cease and desist this campaign of intimidation aimed at silencing Rappler.”
Global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders earlier said the twin convictions showed the Philippine justice system’s “lack of independence from the Executive branch.
The sentence bears the “malevolent mark” of Mr. Duterte and his desire, by targeting Rappler, to eliminate all criticism whatever the cost, it said.
Ms. Ressa, a former CNN investigative reporter, earlier said Philippine authorities had managed to “twerk” the cases against her and Rappler.
Rappler, which Mr. Duterte has called a “fake news outlet,” is also appealing last year’s order by the Securities and Exchange Commission to close its operations for violating foreign-equity restrictions in mass media. Ms. Ressa is also facing tax evasion cases.
The presidential palace has said Mr. Duterte did not have a hand in the court ruling. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas