Duterte washes hands of Ressa’s cyber libel case

Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 14 2019 09:58 PM | Updated as of Feb 14 2019 11:44 PM

BULACAN (UPDATE) - President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday denied any involvement in the cyber libel case filed against veteran journalist and Rappler chief Maria Ressa.

Speaking to reporters, Duterte said he does not even know who is Wilfredo Keng, the one who filed the cyber libel complaint against Ressa.

“Hindi ko kilala iyang si Keng. Frankly, I don’t know him, what prompted him to file a case,” Duterte said after the proclamation rally of the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino - Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) in San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan.

Duterte also denied that his government is launching a crackdown on media.

“Susmaryosep. Far from it actually,” he said.

Named by TIME Magazine as one of four press freedom fighters for "Person of the Year" in 2018, Ressa was arrested Wednesday over a 2012 Rappler article which its subject, businessman Wilfredo Keng, claimed was "clearly defamatory."

Freed on bail after spending a night in detention, Ressa her legal ordeal was an example of the government's "abuse of power and weaponization of the law."

"This is not just about me, and it is not just about Rappler. The message the government is sending is very clear and someone actually told our reporter this: be silent," she told reporters after posting bail.

“I'm saying and appealing to you not to be silent, even if and especially if you're next," she added.

The cyber libel case against Ressa and former Rappler reporter Reynaldo Santos, Jr. stemmed from a report in 2012 about businessman Keng's alleged ties to the late ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona.

While investigators initially dismissed Keng's 2017 complaint in February 2018 on the ground that it was filed beyond the 1-year prescriptive period for libel, it was later revived and filed before the Department of Justice.

The DOJ also argued that the cyber libel law applies to the article because it was "republished" in 2014.

The story, Ressa’s lawyer JJ Disini said, was only updated in 2014 to correct punctuation marks.

In January 2019, prosecutors indicted Ressa, Santos and Rappler not for libel but cyber libel, using the 2012 Cybercrime Prevention Act which has a different prescription period.

Press organizations, human rights groups, members of the academe, and opposition figures have scored the government over Ressa’s arrest.