Ressa camp protests 'excessive' travel bond

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 14 2019 04:01 PM | Updated as of Mar 14 2019 04:46 PM

MANILA — (UPDATE) The Manila court hearing the cyberlibel case filed against Rappler CEO Maria Ressa has allowed the veteran journalist to travel in exchange for a P300,000-bond.

In a one-page order on Thursday, Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 Presiding Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa approved a reduced bond for Ressa’s travels to Singapore and San Francisco from March 15 to 29; to Italy and New York from April 2 to 14; and to New York from April 21 to 28 for a series of conferences and business engagements.

Judge Estacio-Montesa initially set a P500,000-travel bond for Ressa’s 3 travel dates in a three-page order released early Thursday.

But Ressa’s camp moved for the reduction of the travel bond in an urgent motion filed by Ressa’s counsel, the Free Legal Assistance Group through former Supreme Court spokesperson Theodore Te.

In the motion, Te argued “the P500,000 travel bond is unreasonable and excessive.”

“It is excessive and disproportionate because it is five times the amount of bail posted for accused-movant’s provisional right to liberty, which is also guaranteed under the 1987 Constitution,” he said.

Ressa posted a P100,00 bail for the cyberlibel case.

“It is excessive and disproportionate also because Ms. Ressa’s track record with travel to and from the country has been exemplary in terms of her compliance with all previous conditions. She is not a flight risk and there is nothing to indicate she is such,” Te added.

He also pointed out that other courts hearing Ressa’s tax evasion cases – Regional Trial Court of Pasig and the Court of Tax Appeals – had not imposed travel bonds and argued this was a violation of Ressa’s right to equal protection.

But instead of the P50,000 to P100,000 travel bond asked from Ressa’s camp, the Manila court decided to impose a travel bond of P100,000 for each of her travels.

In view of Ressa’s travels, the court has also reset her arraignment originally scheduled on April 12 to April 16.

Ressa’s cyberlibel case stems from a complaint filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng over a May 2012 article alleging he allowed former Chief Justice Renato Corona to use his SUV. The article also quoted an intelligence report alleging Keng’s shady past.

Keng filed a complaint for cyberlibel in 2015, even though the Cybercrime Prevention Act was not signed into law until September 2012 or 4 months after the initial publication of the article.

But the Department of Justice decided to indict Ressa, Rappler and former Rappler researcher Reynaldo Santos, Jr. citing the multiple publication rule. Rappler’s 2012 article was supposedly republished on February 2014, making it fall under the cyberlibel law.

Ressa however contested this finding arguing, among others, that the law did not take effect until April 2014 when the SC decision upholding the law’s validity became final.