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Rappler’s Ressa says ‘law has been weaponized’ after DoJ recommends cyber-libel case

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PHILSTAR/EDD GUMBAN

THE DEPARTMENT of Justice (DoJ) has recommended the filing of a cyber-libel case against Rappler, Inc., Chief Executive Officer Maria Angelita Ressa, and one of its reporters over an article published in 2012 in connection with businessman Wilfredo D. Keng.

In an eight-page resolution dated Jan. 10, the DoJ said Rappler, Ms. Ressa and Reynaldo Santos, Jr. violated Section 4(c)(4) of Republic Act No. 10175, the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 in the article.

“It is clearly defamatory,” the DoJ said.

“Under Article 354 of the Revised Penal Code, every defamatory imputation is presumed to be malicious, even if it be true, if no good intention and justifiable motive for making it is shown,” it added.

The case stemmed from a May 29, 2012 article titled “CJ Using SUVs of Controversial Businessman,” which reported that former chief justice Renato C. Corona, who passed away in 2016, used a vehicle registered under the name of Mr. Keng.

The article tackled Mr. Keng’s past, alleging that he was involved in illegal activities such as human trafficking and drug smuggling. It also stated that the businessman was involved in a murder case.




Mr. Keng said he asked Rappler in 2012 to take down the article, but his request was turned down, and the article was updated in February 19, 2014.

He filed a complaint before the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in October 2017.

The DoJ said Rappler claimed that they cannot be charged with cyber-libel because the article was published four months before the law was enacted in Sept. 12, 2012.

In a statement yesterday, Ms. Ressa said, “This indictment is evidence that the law has been weaponized: the NBI’s own lawyers recommended the case be thrown out, and the prosecutors wrongly named me an editor.”

The prosecutors disputed Rappler’s argument, citing the Feb. 19, 2014 updated version of the article and the “multiple publication rule,” which states that “a single defamatory statement, if published several times, gives rise to as many offenses as there are publications.”

“Accordingly, we hold that the republication of the article as may have been modified or revised is a distinct and separate offense, for which the author, respondent Santos, should be prosecuted. Respondent Ressa, being the editor, should be included in the indictment,” the DoJ said.

The DoJ also said that the article does not fall under “any of the absolutely or qualifiedly privileged communications,” which are the circumstances where malice in law is not present.

Meanwhile, the complaint against respondents Manuel I. Ayala, Nico Jose Nolledo, Glenda M. Gloria, James Bitanga, Felicia Atienza, Dan Albert De Padua, and Jose Maria G. Holifeña were dismissed, noting that they had no participation in the writing and publication of the report. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas

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