Manila, Philippines, June 15 – High-profile Philippine veteran journalist and Rappler’s CEO Maria Ressa, former researcher-writer Reynaldo Santos Jr., and news outfit Rappler found guilty of cyber libel, Monday.
The case stemmed from a 7-year-old story that was published before the cybercrime law took effect. Businessman Wilfredo Keng accused Maria Ressa and Rappler of discrediting his reputation over a May 2012 article for supposedly allowing former chief justice Renato Corona to use his sports vehicle, which also linked him to different cases like human trafficking, and drug smuggling.
Ressa, and Santos could face 6 months up to 6 years in jail. The court also ordered to pay Businessman and property developer Wilfredo Keng total of 400,000 pesos in damages.
“Anything that happens here, will ripple all the way through the live stream that is on right on,” Ressa said during the press briefing with Atty. Theodore Te immediately after the court decision.
“I think we’re redefining what the new world is going to look like, what journalism is going to become. Are we going to lose freedom of the press? Will it be death by a thousand cuts or are we going to hold the line so that we protect the rights that are enshrined in our constitution even if power attacks you directly…how do you deal with that, when the people you’re covering are the one attacking you,” she added.
The court said Rappler did not offer proof to verify allegations against Keng. The report was published with sheer indifference to verify the claims and didn’t publish a follow-up article to air his side of the story.
Also the court said freedom of the press couldn’t be used as a shield against this,
Ressa, and Rappler also faced charges of tax fraud, violation of the anti-dummy law and the Securities Regulation Code, among others.
She was arrested on June 13 last year and released from detention a day after posting P100,000 bail.
Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa finished the case in just eight months. The decision can still be appealed against in the Court Of Appeals.
Different groups like the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) said this is a dark day not only for independent Philippine media but for all Filipinos.
“To all Filipinos, protect your rights. If you don’t use your rights, we will lose them… Press freedom is for everyone, not only in journalism,” Ressa said.
International human rights lawyer Amal Clooney said in her Op-Ed piece last Friday, June 12, the cyber libel charge against Maria Ressa is baseless. She described Maria Ressa as “one of the most brazen and consequential cases of the decade.”
“The charges are based on a law that did not exist when the article was published. The charges were brought six years after the limitation period for bringing them had expired,” Clooney said.
Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 reschedules the promulgation to June 15 as the earlier schedule, April 3, was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Ressa, has been a journalist in Asia for more than 30 years has gained a reputation for fearlessly taking on the Duterte administration. President Rodrigo Duterte has publicly slammed out Rappler, and other media outfits for their critical coverage of his policies, and officials. (FROM STANLEY BUENAFE GAJETE)