MANILA - A libel case filed against Rappler as it reeled from the cancellation of its license to operate was not politically motivated, the camp of complainant and businessman Wilfredo Keng said Tuesday.
"There is no politics involved in our case. Our client is a private citizen, a legitimate businessman," Keng's lawyer Joseph Banguis told DZMM.
Rappler head Maria Ressa had said that the complaint about a 5-year-old story was part of "a concerted effort to turn journalism into a crime."
"I still see this as a continuing pattern to harass and to shut down Rappler," she said Monday when she met state investigators to answer the raps.
The complaint against Rappler stemmed from a story in 2012 that linked Keng to human trafficking and drug smuggling.
Keng has "no pending record, case or investigation" for any crime. The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency has also released a document clearing him of alleged links to the narcotics trade, said Banguis.
The lawyer said they had reached out to Rappler through e-mail to give their side, but received no reply.
Keng sued the media outlet because their story maligned his reputation in the business community and made him fear that he will become a target in the government's anti-narcotics campaign, said Banguis.
He also noted that their camp filed an initial letter complaint against Rappler in October 2017, long before the firm's incorporation papers were revoked by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The release of subpoenas against the respondents was a "case of bad timing," said Banguis.
"Talaga pong tumapat lang kami dito sa mga may other issues ang Rappler," he said. (Our case just coincided with Rappler's other issues.)
Rappler has repeatedly drawn the ire of President Rodrigo Duterte, who called the firm a "fake news outlet" last week.
The media outlet had vowed to fight the SEC ruling all the way to the Supreme Court, insisting that it did not violate the law by giving foreign investors control over its operations.
Journalists meanwhile held a demonstration on Friday to defend press freedom against what they say is government-led bullying in a country reputed for having one of Asia's most liberal media environments. With a report from Reuters