College professor sues Maria Ressa, Rappler reporter over article alleging 'thesis for sale'

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 14 2021 06:57 PM

MANILA — Rappler CEO Maria Ressa is facing her third cyber libel case, this time over an article alleging thesis for sale at the De La Salle - College of St. Benilde.

The article, published in January 2020, alleged that Benilde professor Ariel Pineda allowed students to pass their thesis subject in exchange for P20,000, through a middleman.

Pineda is a “well-known” professor in the Export Management Program and is also a program director, according to portions of the article cited in the criminal information.

Also charged with Ressa is Rappler reporter Rambo Talabong, who wrote the article. Ressa is being sued in her capacity as Executive Editor, a position she has since relinquished following her first cyber libel conviction in June last year.

Both Ressa and Talabong have posted P30,000 bail, according to their lawyer Theodore Te.

The information for the third cyber libel case was dated December 7, 2020 and was filed before the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 24.

The information said the Rappler article contained “false, malicious, derogatory and highly libelous imputation as well as offensive insinuations against the good name, character, and reputation” of Pineda.

In separate statements, Talabong and Rappler stood by their story.

“I spent weeks reporting and weeks more doing everything to ensure that the story is fair,” said Talabong.

Te expressed concern that cyber libel has now become the first option for those who disagree with a news report.

“That is the problem with libel and cyberlibel laws which make these acts criminal — a private dispute becomes a public offense where the government gets involved. As a result, the implications on freedom of expression and of the press are significant,” said Te, a former spokesman of the Supreme Court.

Te, Talabong and Rappler say the case makes decriminalization of libel and cyber libel more imperative, with the former calling on Congress to reexamine these laws.

“We reiterate the multi-sectoral call to decriminalize libel and to stop these relentless attacks against journalists who, despite obstacles thrown their way, continue to shine the light on the pandemic and other forms of everyday terror,” Rappler said.

“No journalist should be intimidated for doing their job,” added Talabong.

Arraignment is set on February 4.

Ressa is currently appealing her and former Rappler researcher/writer Reynaldo Santos’ conviction for cyber libel over a 2012 article linking businessman Wilfredo Keng to alleged shady deals.

Keng filed a second cyber libel case against Ressa over a tweet shortly after her arrest in February 2019 sharing screenshots of a 2002 Philippine Star article linking Keng to the killing of a Manila councilor and other illegal activities which was referred to in the 2012 Rappler article.

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