MANILA, Philippines — The Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 46 on Monday (June 15) convicted Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and a former researcher-writer of the news agency, Reynaldo Santos Jr. for cyberlibel in a case filed by a private individual some eight years ago.
The issue stemmed from an article written on May 29, 2012 which alleged a businessman of murder and drug trafficking which the news agency cited from an intelligence report of an unspecified agency.
The article, written by Santos, was published about four months before the country’s Cybercrime Law was enacted in September of the same year.
It was updated for a “typographical error” in 2014 wherein the mis-spelled word ‘evation’ was rectified to ‘evasion,’ which the prosecutor claimed as republication.
“It does not matter kung correction. Kasi nga sabi ng juris prudence kahit hindi nagbago, kahit wala kang binago it still constitute as republication. It’s a new publication dahil ini-update mo (It doesn’t matter if its a correction because the jurisprudence said that even if there was no revision in the article, it still constitutes as republication. It’s a new publication because you updated it),” explained Atty. Ryan John Cruz, the complainant Wilfredo Keng’s legal counsel.
Specifically, the article claimed that Keng had lent expensive vehicles to former Chief Justice Renato Corona who was then facing impeachment.
According to Cruz, the portion of the article that his client was complaining about was the part where it cited an intelligence report linking Keng to illegal activities. Cruz said there was no other way to clear his client’s name but to file a case in court.
“The allegation was that the private complainant in this case was involved in illegal drugs, in human trafficking, and also murder. These are heinous crimes that were maliciously [thrown] to them.” Cruz argued.
“Dapat maging lesson ito na maging maingat tayo sa pagpo-post sa paga-akusa lalo na lalo na kapag ang maaapektuhan ay isang pribadong indibidual, (This case should serve as lesson and a reminder to everyone to be cautious in posting and accusing others especially if it affects a private citizen),” added one of Keng’s lawyers Atty. Melissa Andaya.
Ressa, who had denied any wrong doing, was allowed to post bail.
“This is a blow to us. But it’s also not unexpected considering that we are going to stand up against any kind of attacks against press freedom,” the embattled journalist said.
“It’s very sad. For someone who’s doing his job, to be here I think it could be not just me but other people who are doing his or her job properly could be in the same situation that I am in right now,” added her co-accused Reynaldo Santos Jr.
Rappler’s lawyer Atty. Theodore Te said they have 15 days to study the verdict and decide to file an appeal against the court ruling with the Court of Appeals or even with the Supreme Court.
The Manila RTC sentenced Ressa and Santos to jail for six months and one day up to 6 years and were asked to pay the complainant a total of ₱400,000 for moral and exemplary damages. MNP (with reports from Rey Pelayo)
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