Maria Ressa, Rappler move to dismiss cyber libel charge

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 26 2019 03:34 PM | Updated as of Feb 26 2019 07:19 PM

MANILA (UPDATED) - News organization Rappler and its CEO, Maria Ressa, have asked a Manila court to dismiss a cyber libel charge filed by the Department of Justice against them.

In a motion to quash, Rappler, Ressa, and former reporter Reynaldo Santos Jr. sought the junking of information put forward by the prosecution in the DOJ resolution indicting them.

The information cited stated: "That on or about 19 February 2014, the above named accused, did then and there willfully, unlawfully, and knowingly re-publish an article entitled 'CJ using SUVs of Controversial Businessman'."

It then lifted parts of the report first published by Rappler in 2012, which, citing an intelligence report, said businessman Wilfredo Keng, who supposedly owns the vehicle seen being used by then-Chief Justice Renato Corona, was allegedly involved in illegal activities, including human trafficking and drug smuggling.

The said article was “republished” in 2014, when the Cybercrime Prevention Act was implemented and declared constitutional, according to the DOJ resolution.

Rappler, Ressa, and Santos, collectively represented by Free Legal Assistance Group, said the prosecution misapplied the “multiple publication” principle to cyber libel “as there is no basis in law for such application.” The basis for determining whether an offense exists is the original 2012 posting.

They argued that theirs was an “issue of first impression,” of which the court must be guided by a New York Court of Appeals ruling that the “multiple republication” principle does not apply to online media.

“No offense exists” because the Cybercrime Prevention Act “cannot be applied retroactively” without offending the Constitution and the Revised Penal Code, they said.

Even if, in argument, “multiple republication” applies, the February 2014 update “does not constitute republication” because no substantial change was implemented.

The update only corrected the misspelling of the word “evasion,” which was initially spelled as “evation.” Not a single sentence in the original post was changed, they said.

“Because there was only one single publication, i.e., May 2012, this Information which charges the crime of cyber libel based on a ‘republication’ in 2014 must be quashed for failure to state an offense,” their petition read.

The petition also said the information specific to Rappler must be quashed “because it does not state an offense” committed by the news entity.

It also maintained that the prescriptive period for cyber libel is one year as provided by the Revised Penal Code and covers the 2012 publication. The complaint filed by Keng was instituted in 2017 and the prosecution filed the information in 2019, it said.

“It does not take much to conclude that the one year period for prescription has lapsed, thus making the supposed act of libel time barred and the instant Information subject to no judicial action other than quashal,” it said.

Rappler, Ressa, and Santos argued that "any doubt must be resolved in the accused's favor" even if "multiple republication does not apply" in their case and that the prosecution's theory is based on an application of law, even assuming that a new period of prescription may be conjured following the implementation of the Anti-Cybercrime Act in 2012.

Ressa, recognized among Time Magazine's Person of the Year along with incarcerated and murdered journalists, was arrested inside the Rappler office earlier this month. She posted bail a day after spending the night in the custody of the National Bureau of Investigation.